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Hawaiian Group Defies Judge Over Artifacts

December 29, 2005

HONOLULU (AP) _ Leaders of a Hawaiian group vowed not to divulge the location of a cache of native artifacts obtained from a museum and then buried, despite the jailing of their director.

``We have a greater responsibility to our beliefs than we do to the federal government,″ said William Aila, who is among four members of the group found in contempt of court Tuesday by Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra.

One of the four, executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau, was taken into custody after refusing Ezra’s order to reveal the exact location of the 83 artifacts from the Bishop Museum.

The group said the items _ including a human-hair wig, containers with human teeth and carved wooden statuettes of family gods _ were buried and sealed in the Kawaihae Cave complex on the Big Island. The museum lent them to the group in 2000, according to court documents. They were never returned.

The group argues that it has restored the items, which it considers funerary, to their rightful place. But 13 other groups also claim ownership of the objects.

Aila and Ayau, along with fellow group leaders Pualani Kanahele and Antoinette Freitas, were found in contempt but not jailed. All four belong to the group known as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei, dedicated to the proper treatment of ancestral remains.

Aila said he believes that Ezra’s ruling carries the implicit threat that all board members could be put in jail if the court does not receive the information it wants.

The judge stressed at Tuesday’s hearing that the core of the case is not a challenge of Native Hawaiian beliefs by the federal government, but rather a dispute between different Hawaiian groups over the original purpose and proper fate of the objects.

Sherry Broder, an attorney for the groups Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, which have sued Hui Malama for the objects’ return, said her clients believe the objects do not belong in the caves.


On the Net:

Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei: http://huimalama.tripod.com

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