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Forbes Cave Controversy (12/22/05) -- A Nexus of Religion, Politics, and Law

** Note: A shorter, preliminary version of this webpage was published in Hawaii Reporter (on-line) on December 28, 2005:

Ancient Hawaiian religious and cultural artifacts originally found in caves near human bones were removed by explorers and ended up in Bishop Museum. Here are some questions at the core of the Forbes Cave controversy (and the ka'ai, Kanupa cave, and others).

Should those artifacts be returned to those caves, never to be seen again? Were burial caves also used for safe-keeping of non-funerary valuables during times of social upheaval, such as when the ancient religion was abolished and the heiau and idols were burned by order of the King? Were the Forbes artifacts actually buried with the dead ancestors, perhaps as part of their personal property or perhaps to accompany them on their journey to the next world (in the way a wedding ring, rosary, or family photo might today be placed in a casket before burial)? Does that matter? Do ancient artifacts today have a historic or cultural value so great that keeping them available for study and inspiration of future generations outweighs the decisions of the ancestors who placed them in the cave? Could it be that if the ancestors were able to see today's circumstances their wishes might be to make those artifacts available? Is it possible the spirits of the ancestors still live, have current wishes, and actually helped explorers or modern descendants to find the artifacts and make them available? Who has the right to speak on behalf of the ancestors? Who has the right to make decisions about these matters (regardless of who speaks for the ancestors, and regardless of whatever those ancestors might say)?

Note also that the same questions can be raised about bones as about artifacts. Bones are of interest primarily to anthropologists or scientists for studies conducted out of public view. Scientific results may be of great interest to the public on fundamental issues regarding ancient migrations, origins of today's people, who arrived first, etc. (remember the ongoing controversy over Kenewick Man). Artifacts are of great interest to ethnic groups regarding ancestral pride, and to the general public regarding respect and appreciation for ancient cultures that are part of the modern heritage for us all. Artifacts can be studied scientifically in laboratories, like bones. Bones themselves need not be publicly displayed in order for scientific information about them to have an effect on public opinion; but artifacts must be placed on public display to make full use of their potential for education and pride in cultural heritage.

Ethnic Hawaiians have a special kuleana (interest, right, and responsibility) for ancient Hawaiian bones and artifacts; but all of us share that kuleana to appreciate and be inspired by the heritage at the core of our shared multicultural society. If the past is buried with the intent to allow it to rot until all has disintegrated and returned to the earth, our heritage and inspiration for future generations will rot along with it.

During the period of chaos in Baghdad following the U.S. military victory it was feared that thousands of artifacts from the dawn of civilization had been looted from the national museum, thereby looting the world's cultural heritage.

We all remember the artifacts from King Tut's tomb. Suppose that tomb had never been explored because some Egyptian zealots loyal to the cult of Ahman Ra had prevented it. Or suppose that after Tut's artifacts were on display in a museum a small group of Egyptians had outright looted them, or used a legal loophole to "borrow" them and return them to the tomb, sealing them inside forever (or perhaps selling them on the black market).

Bishop Museum has been looted repeatedly by cultural/religious zealots.

(1) In the case of the ka'ai, the looting was done by outright theft in the dark of night. The ka'ai are two 400-500-year-old woven sennit baskets in the shape of a human, containing bones of major Hawai'i Island chiefs Liloa and Lonoikamakahiki. The ka'ai had been taken from a heiau on Hawai'i Island in 1820 (to save them from the destruction of the heiau) to be placed in a burial crypt at (an earlier) 'Iolani Palace. Later, when the new Royal Mausoleum was built on Nu'uanu Ave., the bones of royalty, and the ka'ai, were moved there in 1865. In 1918, before the royal bones were moved again from the first mausoleum crypt (now a chapel) to a new crypt, the ka'ai were placed in Bishop Museum by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole because of their great historical value. All these things were done by Hawaiian ali'i. Yet a few cultural/religious zealots in 1994 decided they are more knowledgeable and righteous about the ka'ai than the ali'i were during the Kingdom. Unproved rumors are that the theft was done by members or friends of Hui Malama, with help from a museum employee to circumvent museum security; and that the ka'ai were reburied in Waipi'o Valley.

(2) In the case of Kanupa Cave, artifacts from the Emerson collection of 1858 were "liberated" openly from Bishop Museum by Hui Malama using the NAGPRA law. Either the artifacts were buried in the cave as promised, and then the cave was later burglarized; or else the artifacts were never buried there. Either way, those artifacts ended up for sale in a shady, secret antiquities market, possibly for money to buy drugs, until federal authorities investigated and confiscated the objects.

(3) The Forbes Cave collection of 83 priceless artifacts was looted from Bishop Museum through a shady deal whereby some museum employees "loaned" Hui Malama the Forbes artifacts under cover of the NAGPRA law for what everyone knew was the purpose of permanently reburying them; despite the fact that other Hawaiian cultural groups were actively asserting their rights under NAGPRA to possess the artifacts to keep them available for future generations. Some observers wonder whether the Forbes artifacts have been sold already, or whether they might be hidden in someone's house to wait a few years until the controversy dies down before trying to "fence" them.

There is a federal law requiring that ancient bones, funerary objects associated with bones, and artifacts at the core of a culture's patrimony, held in museums, must be returned to individual lineal descendants or to a tribal or native cultural organization. The law is NAGPRA -- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. When more than one person or organization claims bones or artifacts, the museum is obligated to keep ownership until those claimants settle their differences.

Hui Malama claims to know what the ancestors want, and claims the right to represent all Hawaiians regarding bones and artifacts. Truly indigenous groups, and most Indian tribes, are small, cohesive, and culturally monolithic. That makes it reasonable for a chief or tribal council to speak on behalf of the entire group. But there are more than 400,000 ethnic Hawaiians, of many conflicting religious beliefs, scattered geographically, and thoroughly assimilated into a wide variety of non-native cultural practices. It is extremely maha'oi (rude; disrespectful) for any individual or group of officials to claim to speak on behalf of all 400,000.

Some say that passing the Akaka bill would solve the problem, because Hawaiians could then elect leaders authorized to speak for them. But in reality the leaders of the Akaka tribe would be the most powerful institutionally-connected people who already abuse and intimidate rank-and-file Hawaiians -- people like the OHA trustees, executives of Bishop Estate (Kamehameha Schools), DHHL officials, etc. The difference between an Akaka tribe and the current situation is that the Akaka tribe would have "sovereignty", meaning that its leaders can make whatever outrageous decisions they wish, and engage in major corruption, knowing that nothing can be challenged in state or federal courts.

There is no consensus among today's ethnic Hawaiians regarding religion; but the dominant viewpoint is Christianity coupled with respect for the ancient religion. Some occasionally participate in reconstituted approximations of ancient rituals. "Traditional practitioners" are a very small minority who choose those portions of ancient religion they like, while (hopefully) setting aside very important ancient observances such as human sacrifice and the death penalty for any woman who eats a coconut or banana. Hui Malama claims some of the Forbes artifacts (and bones) contain living spirits, or at least that the spirits enter the artifacts when summoned through secret rituals. But anyone who believes that must also believe that the spirits of the ancestors can speak to today's descendants or can influence ongoing events for the purpose of helping bones or artifacts to be discovered and used for the benefit of current and future generations.

Let's remember that the ancient Hawaiian religion was overthrown by native leadership including Liholiho Kamehameha II, Ka'ahumanu, and high priest Hewahewa. They were indeed authorized to speak on behalf of all Hawaiians in a way nobody can today. They gave the order to destroy the heiau and burn the idols in 1819, many months before the Christian missionaries arrived. Some diehard traditionalists launched a civil war in defense of the old religion, until they were wiped out in the Battle of Kuamo'o. Today we once again have a small minority of diehard traditionalists -- the leaders of Hui Malama -- who are declaring war against other Hawaiians and against the federal courts. Hui Malama has a valuable service to perform, to work with the various island burial councils to give respectful reburial to bones inadvertently discovered during storms or construction projects. But they must not be allowed to destroy the cultural patrimony.

My mother's brother Bob recently died. He and my mother always loved a candy known as Necco wafers. At the open-casket funeral, one of Bob's daughters handed my mother a roll of Neccos and suggested she put it into the casket to be buried with Bob. Mom asked "Really?" and then she placed it next to his head. Thirty years from now, if it is discovered that Necco wafers deteriorate until after 25 years their disintegrated powder cures cancer, I will have no hesitation giving permission to dig up my Uncle Bob so the Necco powder can be given to whomever needs it. Today Hawaiians, and others, are afflicted with the cancer of drug abuse and social dysfunction. Ancient artifacts can help cure that cancer by reminding us about a spirituality that lies at the core of what makes Hawai'i a special place, and by giving pride and inspiration to future generations.

All Hawai'i owes a debt of gratitude to Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, Kumu Rubellite Kawena Kinney Johnson, La'akea Suganuma (Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts), and others who have courageously resisted public and private bullying from Hui Malama (with strong ties to Senator Inouye), "Uncle" Charlie Maxwell, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, etc. They are currently using the federal courts to defend Hawai'i's cultural patrimony against the ravages of Hui Malama. They would not be able to use the federal courts if the Akaka bill passes, because a the Akaka tribe would have sovereign immunity and its leaders could give Hui Malama free rein with impunity.


** Note: Contents of some interesting and informative e-mails are copied below the references. **

The ka'ai, two woven sennit baskets more than 400 years old containing the bones of high chiefs Liloa and Lonoikamakahiki, were stolen from Bishop Museum.

Artifacts from the Emerson collection, from Kanupa cave, were "liberated" from Bishop Museum and Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. by Hui Malama through official legal processes under NAGPRA. Hui Malama claimed to have reburied the artifacts in Kanupa cave and sealed the entrance. But less than 9 months later, the artifacts were found to be for sale on the black market, and the cave entrance was found to be open and unprotected.

Large webpage about the Forbes Cave controversy, including hundreds of pages of news reports covering several years, and some documents filed with the national NAGPRA review committee

Very large webpage covering NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) as applied to Hawai'i, with many subpages covering -- Mokapu, Honokahua, Bishop Museum Ka'ai; Providence Museum Spear Rest; Forbes Cave Artifacts; the Hui Malama organization

NAGPRA-related news in Hawai'i for 2005, including over 100 pages of news reports about the Forbes Cave controversy during this year alone.

What's wrong with the Akaka bill?


** Some interesting and informative e-mails originally shared with small groups including Ken Conklin **


*** From Professor Rubellite Kawena Kinney Johnson to a small group of friends, December 14, 2005. She is a descendant of Kamehameha The Great. Anyone unfamiliar with her cultural and academic quanifications may want to review portions of her resume included with her testimony opposing the Akaka bill, at: ***

I'm forwarding this message to several I know would appreciate hearing the arguments over the dead and their bones from the Bishop Museum collections and the present case before the court.

Archaeology and the scientific study of ancient bones unearthed by stratigraphic excavation, or indvertently by accident, storm surges, floods, seismic activity, or by (as in this case) removal from storage/burial caves, since caves in Hawaii served several purposes, or the collections would not have such things as porcelain, akua ka'ai stick gods, which are taken out now and then during ritual periods (not, however, after 1819 when the ritual system was ended by the kahuna nui, Hewahewa), just as the akua ka'ai encased bones were also brought out when required and used in the hale mana during the papahana ceremonies...

There are those of us, also related to the bones in that cave and who also believe that when the dead are in nature and at peace that is a desirable situation for human bones to be at rest, but our need is also to know by examination of bones what the DNA of Hawaiians were and are, and although that can be had by taking samples from the living, it helps to know that from the dead, too, and I believe, as another descendant and relative that those of us who want to know should have the same right to know as those who would prefer not knowing.

The Hawaiians have descended from more than recent Polynesians who came in the migrations, but there was an earlier migration or several others, and they may have come from other places, which is why Kalakaua betrothed Ka'iulani to the son of the Meiji Emperor and why he contributed the story of the "Iron Knife" in the first book on Legends and Myths of Hawaii (with Daggett), because the people who come on shore and marry into the chiefly lines of Maui were brother and sister, and since they brought with them an iron knife more than likely they came from a place using iron, west of Hawaii, probably Japan.

No DNA studies have been allowed due to NAGPRA laws (1990 to the present). The reinterment of bones can also be done again, but why should artifacts, works of art, be put back in the vaults and the ground again. They will decay and be no more.



Date: Thu, 22 Dec 2005
From: "sam monet"

Subject: hui malama...judge ezra

for once, i support eddie...even thoght he likes to suck white dick....lili kala is on our side..she really is

judge ezra is the descendent of that traitor, liar and thief sanford dole..underr hawaiian law, all his lands should be confiscate.

ezra was wrong when he supported oha in the freddie rice case...if it quacks, waddles, has webbed feet and feathers, it is a fucking duck...oha is an agency of the state...dont forget that and you will live in a real world...

ruby, remember, i argued that before ezra in 1990-1995 in his court and he "referrred to" previous rulings to deny...i guess they big guys in WASH DC set him straight...

anyway...who gives a fuck if the fucking haole want to know where our stuff is, its none of their fucking business...tell ezra to suck hawaiian dick like cooke did when he told us he was going to make us pay for taking the dingy..okole maluna...:)

dont take anymore shit from these cock suckers...they will do anything to get what they want, world domination...

im going surfing tommorrow...if there is going to be hearing, let me know and ill write an amicus brief for the appeal

that is my manao

kamuela kualii kalani kapu o kamehameha lindsey
aka sam monet

i suppose ill get email from some cock suckers who love america right or wrong...ill see them on the water and we will let our surfing do our talking



Date: Thu, 22 Dec 2005
From: Kalei Johnson

Dear Mr. Monet,

My first thought was to erase your email but better to save it just in case. It may come in handy someday.

I have a great love and appreciation for the history of art and archaeology. I am sure that my Hawaiian ancestors wouldn't mind me appreciating their labor of love, whatever their discipline, even if it means they be safely housed in the Bishop museum. They would be glad that their bones and teeth have not been taken and used as "decorative" inlay in a wooden bowl with the intent to mock them by other Hawaiians as a display of victory. You know very well their reasons for hiding the remains of persons of the chiefly class was to hide them from other Hawaiians who would have raided their graves for the bones and the heck with the wood (unless it had someones mana in it). The Haole have nothing to do with it. They came hundreds of years later and their interests in the bones and artifacts were (and still are) for scholarly knowledge, and have nothing to do with ana'ana.

The dead have rites, but they have no rights and our ancestors recognized that. You and your comrades are using this as weight for gaining ground with sympathizers to support your political agenda. I see nothing spiritual in these actions. Be careful in the water. It is the force of nature that rules out there; not being Hawaiian.

I once read that Socrates said, a man swears when he has nothing intelligent to say.

Kalei Johnson

[Note from Ken Conklin: Kalei Johnson is daughter of Professor Johnson. 'ana'ana is sorcery-prayer. The second and fourth letter a's are stressed long: ah-NAH-ah-NAH, with glottal stops in front of the first and third syllables. In ancient times the bones, teeth, fingernails, hair, and other body products from a living or dead enemy could be used to cast curses or spells against the enemy or enemy's descendants, including "praying them to death." A victor might also celebrate, showing contempt for a vanquished enemy, by using his bones or teeth as decorations in a dried gourd or wooden bowl used as a spittoon or for dinner-table waste, urine or feces. One of the most important reasons why high chiefs protected their body wastes during life, and had their bones buried in a hidden place after death, was to prevent such things from falling into the hands of their enemies and thus endangering their own spirits and the lives of their family members. Today's scientists, researchers, and museum directors are not using bones or artifacts for sorcery.]


Date: Sun, 1 Jan 2006
Subject: Hui Malama

First, the main difficulty has been Hui Malama's unwillingness to even consider other views regarding the artifacts. Without question the iwi should remain in the cave. Artifacts found in burial caves are not necessarily connected to the iwi. This isn't only my view, there are many who are of the same opinion. There is documentation in the Bishop Museum that the artifacts are from Pu`ukohola Heiau.

These artifacts are not moepu and should be seen by future generations. I recall in the meeting up in Waimea, Auntie Maria Solomon speaking of the beauty of these artifacts and show she wished her parents could have seen such works. And she hoped that they could be seen by future generations.

The artifacts should come out for inventory. These have been kept away from the claimants. Their future should be a decision made by the claimants.

The process is so easy. These artifacts do not belong to Hui Malama, they belong to the people of Hawaii.

At the moment, Na Papa Kanaka o Pu`ukohola Heiau is going through a transition phase in its leadership. Their decision has been to be neutral on this subject of the artifacts. Of course, my concern is by being neutral that may mean that the artifacts will stay in the cave.

** Note from Ken Conklin: In ancient times caves were used like today's bank vaults or safe-deposit boxes. Valuable were placed there for safe-keeping. Sometimes valuables were placed in the same caves where bones were also buried, on the theory that thieves would be too frightened to go there. In 1819, when Queen Ka'ahumanu and Liholiho Kamehameha II ordered the destruction of heiau and burning of idols, some people loyal to the old religion put religious artifacts into caves (including burial caves) for safekeeping. Their wish was clearly to protect the artifacts so that they (or people in the future) would once again have access to them. Thus, artifacts in caves should often be regarded as valuables placed in a "time capsule" to be opened in the future to show the future people what the past was like. It seems likely that the ancestors' intention was for these artifacts to be found and made publicly available, not to be buried forever to rot.


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