Attempted Sale of Iwi Poʻo on eBay Leads to Federal Prosecution

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

From 2004 to 2008, there were nine repatriations: one in 2004, two in 2005, one in 2006, and five in 2008. The first case, in August 2004, involved three iwi kūpuna repatriated from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and ceremonially reburied at Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi. These iwi were identified 12 years after the original inventory was performed, and iwi repatriated, in 1992.

In June 2005, we traveled to Nīhoa island to return one iwi kūpuna for reburial. This was done in conjunction with a huakaʻi of reconnection with the islands, resources and ancestors of Papahānaumokuākea aboard the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa. It was the second reburial at Nīhoa.

Then in November 2005, a criminal prosecution was brought to conclusion with the reburial of an iwi poʻo on Maui.

A man named Jerry Hasson, 55, of Los Angeles had offered a Hawaiian skull for sale on eBay. His post read: “I personally discovered this human skull, along with the entire skeletal remains, in the summer of 1969 on the Kaanapali Beach on Maui…For the last 35 years, I’ve kept this 200-year-old Hawaiian Warrior as a souvenir of my youth but now it’s time to give him up to the highest bidder. Included with this brave warrior’s skull comes a notarized Certificate of Authenticity. Bidding starts at $1,000…”

I was informed of the situation and engaged Hasson by email, then by telephone. I advised him that, should he sell this skull, he would be in violation of federal law (I provided him with the text of the law), and asked that he instead return the skull for reburial. He refused.

An undercover investigation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) followed. Hasson sold the skull to a BIA agent and was then arrested, convicted and sentenced. I was allowed to comment at his sentencing and recommended he be declared persona non grata, barred from coming to Hawaiʻi, and that his community service be spent cutting the grass at the local cemetery. Only the last recommendation was adopted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. I repatriated this iwi poʻo to Maui with Melanie Chinen of the State Historic Preservation Division.

In 2006, one iwi kūpuna was repatriated from the U.S. Army and reburied at Pōhakuloa on the island of Hawaiʻi. In 2007, no iwi kūpuna were repatriated.

Repatriations in 2008 were as follows: one iwi poʻo from the U.S. Air Force in January and reburied at Bellows Air Force Station; one iwi poʻo was repatriated from the University of Pennsylvania in February – it was the fourth repatriation from this institution; iwi fragments were repatriated from UH Hilo and reburied at Kahaluʻu, Kona, Hawaiʻi in April; more iwi fragments were repatriated from UH Hilo and reburied at Makaʻeo, Kona, in August; and in September, another set of iwi fragments were repatriated from UH Hilo – these were ceremonially reburied at Kamaʻoa Puʻuʻeo, Kaʻū, with the assistance of Kaʻū Preservation.