Photo: Ulu Cashman and Halealoha Ayau with representatives from the University of Vienna
Ulu Cashman (fourth from left) and Halealoha Ayau (fifth from left) with representatives from the University of Vienna in Austria. - Courtesy Photo

By Halealoha Ayau, Mana Caceres and Kamakana Ferreira

In early April, members of Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo, the successor organization to Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei, traveled to Europe to once again conduct the repatriation of iwi kūpuna and moepū (funerary items) from five institutions on behalf of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

Since four of the museums were located in different parts of Germany and one in Austria, Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo organized into two teams. Hui 1 was led by Halealoha Ayau and included Ulu Cashman, Dane Maxwell and Kona Wong. Hui 2 was led by Mana Caceres and included Kalehua Caceres, Kaipo Torco, Starr Kalahiki and Nicole Naone.

Hui 1 traveled to Berlin and repatriated from the Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie & Urgeschichte Berlin (BGAEU) and from the Ethnologisches Museum zu Berlin (SPK). In addition, Ayau and Cashman flew to Vienna, Austria, to repatriate from the Universitat Wien on behalf of their organization.

Photo: Mana Caceres and Petra Olschowski
Mana Caceres and Petra Olschowski from the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the State of Baden-Wuttemburg at the handover ceremony at the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. – Photo: Christoph Schmidt

Hui 2 traveled to Bremen to repatriate from the Übersee Museum and then flew to Stuttgart, Germany, to repatriate from the Natural History Museum Stuttgart and the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. The teams reunited in Amsterdam, Netherlands, to escort home a total of 55 iwi kūpuna, 30 lauoho, and seven moepū.

Ayau undertook efforts to locate iwi kūpuna at the BGAEU and the Übersee Museum and consulted with the Ethnologies Museum in Berlin to return the seven moepū. In addition, he consulted with the University of Vienna.

OHA representative Kamakana Ferreira located possible iwi at the Albert Ludwig University through consultation with Dr. Michael Pietrusewsky, Professor Emeritus at the UH Mānoa Department of Anthropology. Ferreira, a former student of Pietrusewsky, recalled articles his professor had written about holdings of iwi in Germany and other European institutions and reached out to him in early 2020 for further information and research notes.

This inquiry led to the discovery of additional iwi at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart. Ferreira then worked closely with Ayau to prepare repatriation claims for each of the five institutions and consult with the respective museum staff.

Regarding the BGAEU repatriation, additional research was required to demonstrate a “context of injustice” for acquisition of the iwi in their possession. Ferreira and Ayau collaborated with scholar Noelle Kahanu to prepare a formal report analyzing the acquisition of these iwi by Dr. Eduard Arning (b.1855 – d.1936). Their research confirmed that injustice had indeed occurred; Arning’s removal of the iwi was done without consent from the government or affected families, thus it was illegal and a violation of Kingdom law. They also discovered that while Arning worked for the Hawaiian government to aid in treating leprosy, he misused his position to solicit burial information from patients and likely hid his acquisitions from his employers.

Once the repatriation claims for each institution were approved, Ferreira updated OHA leadership and coordinated the delegation of authority to Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo to retrieve the iwi kūpuna on OHA’s behalf. Ferreira, Ayau, and Mana and Kalehua Caceres worked to coordinate the necessary exportation paperwork from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and respective German Foreign Ministries, and with U.S. Customs & Border Patrol to seamlessly receive the Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo team upon the return flight home via Seattle, Wash.

During a public hand-over ceremony in Stuttgart, at the State Museum of Natural History on April 5, 2023, Hui 2 leader Caceres made the following remarks in a formal speech: “158 years ago, the world was filled with individuals who traveled the world, and everywhere they went, they looted graves and stole from the dead. People like Alexander Ecker, Wilhelm Hillebrand, Rudolf von Freydorf, Dr. Hyrtl, Dr. Brunhoff and Dr. Augustine Kramer not only stole these iwi kūpuna that we are repatriating today, they also traded them with one another like children playing with toys on a playground.

“Although we cannot turn back the hands of time to ‘unsteal’ the remains of our ancestors and their belongings, we can most certainly work together to unburden our grandchildren of these sins of the past. Today’s repatriation signifies a new beginning for us all. Let today’s repatriation serve as yet another example that when we, as human beings, recognize and acknowledge the humanity of one another, we recognize and acknowledge our very own humanity.

“The burden that we inherited when our grandparents were stolen is different from the burden you inherited when you became responsible for their remains at these institutions, but it is a burden, nonetheless. I pray that today’s repatriation ceremony will lighten that burden for us all.”

Mahalo to those who assisted with this repatriation to afford our ancestors respect, dignity and aloha: U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Eric Werwa, Office of Native Hawaiian Relations; Ashley Fry, U.S. State Department; Erin Robertson, U.S. Embassy Vienna; Nephi D. Camacho, Homeland Security, U.S. Embassy Vienna, Austria; Marie Trottier, TSA Tribal Affairs Liaison; Douglas Novak, Customs Border Patrol Department of Homeland Security; Tony Kalahui (Kamehameha Schools ‘96), Seattle Police Department; the Honor Guards from Homeland Security and U.S. Customs; and Kumu Kamaile Hamada and his hula hālau (Kamehameha Schools ‘82).