Strategic Aloha


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Photo: Edward Halealoha Ayau

Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei Part 6: Empowerment Through Education

We were trained to understand that negativity demands a seat at the table and we must make room for it. By acknowledging the negative and putting it in its place, we achieve balance and establish the confidence to proceed and be successful. Strategically, our principle tools in these repatriation disputes are our humanity, our aloha, and our values of ʻohana that are respectful of kūpuna. By respecting our ancestors through repatriation and reburial, we demonstrate profound respect for ourselves. This is a powerful lesson to our keiki to love themselves, to help them know that they are never alone (that their ancestors are all around them) and to help protect their minds from extremely harmful thoughts that can at times lead to suicide, and to understand and appreciate their place in the remarkable lineage that is our Hawaiian people.

Photo: Kiʻi Lāʻau at Sotheby’s
1996 Kiʻi Lāʻau at Sotheby’s with OHA Trustee Kīnaʻu Kamaliʻi. – Photos: Courtesy of Hui Mālama

We were trained to initiate a repatriation case by envisioning the result, which is reburial. We would embrace that vision, internalize it in our naʻau and prevent any doubt from entering our minds. We would then work backward with the confidence that we would prevail because we already know the outcome. This approach proved effective over the 30 years of our repatriation and reburial work. We would project confidence and clarity of thought through our advocacy work. In the tradition of the royal twins Kamanawa and Kameʻeiamoku, I would offer the museum either peace or battle. It did not matter which option they chose, as the outcome would be the same. In international repatriation cases involving the Natural History Museum in London (which lasted 23 years) and the Staatliches Museum fur Volkerkunde in Dresden (26 years), both of which were contentious, the ancestors were repatriated. Perseverance is key, as the outcome does not come with a timeline. It is not whether they come home, it’s when.

1998 Kiʻi Lāʻau at Roger William Park Museum.

There is no legal authority in the international arena to require repatriation unless a country has a law that supports, or at least provides, for repatriation, like the 2004 Human Tissues Act in England. Most museums comply with our requests in good faith. There is no international jurisdictional prohibition on asserting aloha, ʻohana, kuleana and mālama. These are universal values that form the foundation for our good-faith claims for the iwi and moepū. Ola nā iwi.