Cultural Patrimony and a Case of Theft

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In 2002 and 2003, there were a total of nine repatriation cases. The first case, in January 2002, involved four iwi kūpuna repatriated from the U.S. Air Force and ceremonially reburied at an established reburial site in Waimānalo, Oʻahu.

The following August, four iwi kūpuna were repatriated from the U.S. Army and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (via the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum) and reburied at Pōhakuloa, Hawaiʻi Island, where a designated reburial site was established. That same month, Hui Mālama, following meaningful consultation with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, ceremonially reburied three iwi kūpuna on the same DHHL property in Waimānalo.

For the first time, objects of cultural patrimony known as “Kalaina Wāwae” were repatriated in March 2003. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) defines an object of cultural patrimony as “an item having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization itself…that they may not be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual tribal or organization member.”

Kalaina Wāwae consists of three slabs of sandstone carved with human footprints and a pair of boot prints. A wahine kāula (prophet/seer) named Kuʻuna, carved the prints and prophesied about the coming of foreigners to Hawaiʻi saying that when these marks appeared on Hawaiian shores, life would change forever. The people were terrified and responded by stoning her to death.

My sister Mikiʻala and I were taught about Kalaina Wāwae by our grandmother, Harriet Ne, and through Hui Mālama, I filed a repatriation claim for the sandstones as cultural patrimony.

The stones had been cut from the ground and sent to Bishop Museum by Molokaʻi Ranch Manager George Cooke. The museum’s controversial director, William Brown, rejected our claim and instead, returned the stones to another organization, Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi, led by Kelson ʻMac’ Poepoe. However, Poepoe coordinated the repatriation with Hui Mālama, and master mason Billy Fields was retained to set the stones into a platform at Moʻomomi. Molokaʻi nō ka heke!

Photo: The stone platform at Moʻomomi
The stone platform at Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi, built to protect and preserve the Kalaina Wāwae. – Photo: Courtesy

In April 2003, two iwi poʻo were repatriated from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and reburied on Maui.

Then in October, seven moepū (funerary objects) were repatriated and reburied in Kohala. These items were later stolen and sold, and Hui Mālama was wrongfully accused of the theft by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Interior.

In response, Hui Mālama hired a private investigator who tracked the theft to two men – John Carta and Daniel Taylor. They were arrested and both plead guilty to conspiracy to traffic in Native American cultural items in violation of NAGPRA. A year later, a grand jury indicted Taylor for Theft in the First Degree, for which he was convicted, given probation and published an apology.

Finally in December 2003, two iwi kūpuna were repatriated from the State Department of Transportation to Kohala and ceremonially reburied, and five iwi kūpuna were repatriated from the U.S. Army and reburied at Fort Shafter, Oʻahu.