Sailing to the Edge of the Hawaiian Universe

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In 1997, year eight of our odyssey, there were 11 repatriation cases involving six museums pursuant to the authority of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Two of these cases involved sailing to the remote islands of Nīhoa and Mokumanamana.

In June, 65 iwi kūpuna and moepū originating from Maui were repatriated from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum by the responsible folks of Hui Alanui o Makena: Dana Naone Hall, Uncle Charley Kauluwehi Maxwell, Uncle Les Kuloloio and a young student named Ty Kāwika Tengan. Those ancestral remains were reburied on Maui.

In July, 89 iwi kūpuna and moepū from Kauaʻi were repatriated from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and returned for reburial at locations throughout the island. That same month, two niho from Mākaha, Oʻahu and Hoʻokena, Hawaiʻi Island, were repatriated from the Hawaiʻi Maritime Center and reburied. Also in July, another 97 iwi kūpuna and 45 moepū were repatriated from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. These ancestral remains and funerary possessions were removed from Ft. Kamehameha at Hickam Air Force Base, where a wastewater treatment facility was built in its place. Hui Mālama and the other Hawaiians consulted on this case were able to reach an agreement with the Air Force whereby an entire plot of land near the original location was set aside for reburial and a large stone platform was built by Fields Masonry for this purpose. The reburial ceremony began at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday and lasted until 4:00 a.m. the following day. It included an ʻawa ceremony with Air Force commanders who committed to the permanence of the reburial.

Then in September, 108 iwi kūpuna and moepū from Moku o Keawe were repatriated – although coordinating their reburial took some time as landowner authorization was required. The following month, eight iwi kūpuna were repatriated from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology. These iwi originated from Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, and origins unknown. On that same trip, one additional iwi kūpuna was repatriated from the Springfield Science Museum. Its origins were also unknown. All of these iwi kūpuna were returned home for reburial.

Two months later in November, seven iwi kūpuna removed from Nīhoa and two iwi kūpuna removed from Mokumanamana were repatriated from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) via the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.

We consulted the USFWS and had them complete their biological training to be able to access the two islands in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. We raised funds to lease a 50-foot sailboat (and two captains) for the journey through rough seas. Uncle Les Kuloloio and Lopaka Aiwohi of Maui, two experienced ocean men from the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, ferried us to each island safely. We had the great honor of sailing to the edge of the Hawaiian universe to return the ancestors to Mokumanamana. It was one of my most memorable reburial experiences. That same month we repatriated 13 moepū from the Bishop Museum to a cave in Kohala.

Finally, in December, we repatriated three moepū from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., whose origins were unknown. The items were ceremonially reburied.


Edward Halealoha Ayau is the former executive director of Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei, a group that has repatriated and reinterred thousands of ancestral Native Hawaiian remains and funerary objects.