The First International Cases

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Photo: Edward Halealoha Ayau

After the first two years of repatriation efforts, the number of cases increases in 1992 to 12.

This total includes the first three international cases including the University of Zurich Department of Anthropology (1 iwi), the South Australian Museum (2 – iwi) and the Royal Ontario Museum Canada (1 – iwi).

The first international repatriation case takes place in March 1992 and involves the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

While a sailing ship was docked on the East Coast, a Native Hawaiian sailor got sick and was treated at a local hospital where he died. The ship captain sold his body to Johns Hopkins Medical School to be used as a teaching cadaver. Years later, a professor left Johns Hopkins to start the Department of Anthropology at the University of Zurich and took the remains with him.

I was able to figure out the proper identification number which led to the locating of these remains. After a request for repatriation, the Mayor of Zurich authorized release as the remains were viewed as the property of the city, and this kane was hand-carried home.

The challenge became where to inter him since he had never been buried. An ʻohana from Waiʻanae offers to hānai him and he was buried on their ʻāina.

The second case involves two skulls housed at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide that had been removed from Nuʻalolo Kai by Prof. Stanley Porteous of the University of Hawaiʻi. Both were returned to their place of origin and reburied.

The third involves the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, and results in the return and reburial in Waiʻanae.

Within the U.S., iwi kūpuna are returned from the Milwaukee Public Museum (1 iwi), the San Diego Museum of Man (2 iwi), the Sacramento Science Center (1 iwi), Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (112 iwi), Phoebe Hearst Museum University California-Berkeley (2 iwi), University of Oregon Museum of Anthropology (2 – iwi) and U.S. Air Force (1 – iwi).

Notable among these cases is the Molokaʻi repatriation, the first of many repatriations from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. My tūtū, Harriet Ne, instructed me to bring home the ancestors of our island first.

The next notable case involved the Hearst Museum at Cal-Berkeley because the museum agreed to repatriate two iwi kūpuna and refused to return two others, prompting our appeal to the NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation) Review Committee – their first case.

We prevailed and both iwi were returned home. Finally, the San Diego Museum of Man is notable because last year we learned that the museum had allowed a company to make casts of the two iwi and offer the casts for sale. We were able to halt the sale, and I am currently working with the company to destroy the mold and with the museum to clarify what happened.


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.