A Journey to Repatriate Iwi Kūpuna and Mea Makamae Pili Aliʻi from the United Kingdom

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Following successful repatriation efforts in Germany and Austria earlier this year, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) conducted additional efforts in the United Kingdom in May to return more iwi kūpuna and several mea makamae pili aliʻi (treasures associated with aliʻi) from three museums.

Significantly, OHA authorized Lead Compliance Specialist Kamakana Ferreira to participate in the effort and gain valuable training in international repatriation. Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo was represented by myself along with Mana Caceres, Kalehua Caceres, Starr Kalāhiki, and Dane Uluwehi Maxwell. This trip also served as a training for delegation members to gain valuable, first-hand experience in planning for these complex processes.

The first repatriation involved an iwi poʻo held by the Natural History Museum in London, England, which was repatriated to Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo.

In August 2013, when I was the executive director of Hui Mālama i Nā Kūpuna o Hawaiʻi Nei, a team comprised of our members repatriated 144 iwi kūpuna from this same museum. That effort took 23 years and required passage of an Act of Parliament called the Human Tissues Act. However, at that time, the museum nonetheless withheld eight iwi kūpuna based on erroneous craniometric studies test results despite the existence of collection information indicating the places of origins of the iwi and without providing any explanation as to why the historical documentation was discounted.

I continued to pursue the return of the eight withheld iwi kūpuna, during which time an additional skull was identified. I kept OHA apprised of the status of these consultations and the progress made to get all nine iwi released. At a meeting with Natural History Museum officials during last month’s trip, we reached an agreement for Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo to pursue repatriation of the remaining skulls later this summer.

The second repatriation involved the Surgeons Hall Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSE) in Scotland.

In 2000, Hui Mālama repatriated 49 iwi poʻo from the nearby University of Edinburgh. An iwi poʻo missing from the university’s collection was thought to be held by the RCSE. However, after a visit and meeting, it was not located among the RCSE’s collections. Years later, the Surgeons Hall Museum was able to locate the missing skull once it was clarified that the Hawaiian Islands was also known as the Sandwich Isles. Following advocacy for its permanent release led by Kamakana Ferreira of OHA, this skull was repatriated by Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo on behalf of OHA.

The third repatriation involved the Ulster Museum located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This case involved the return of two iwi kūpuna and five mea makamae pili aliʻi including two lei niho palaoa, one peʻahi (fan), one ipu kuha (spittoon), and one kūpeʻe (bracelet).

This case is the first example of the return of sacred objects from an international institution and was based upon a request to respect Hawaiian humanity.

Again, Ferreira was the lead advocate on this case while I provided him with strategy advice. The Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo team, led by Mana Caceres and featuring mele by Starr Kalāhiki and the wisdom of Dane “Diggy” Maxwell, carried out the repatriation protocols at the Handover Ceremony and safely brought the iwi and mea makamae pili aliʻi home.