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After more than a century in British museum collections, 145 ku¯puna return to their one ha¯nau
Edward Halealoha Ayau, left, and Margaret Clegg of the Natural History Musuem finalize the transfer. Clegg was instrumental in the last cooperative chapter of Hui Ma¯lama and NHM negotiations.
By Ke¯haunani Abad Photos by: ‘O¯iwi TV
Home In 1999, Hui Ma¯lama members (Halealoha Ayau, second from left, Ipo¯ Nihipali, third from right, and Ku¯nani Nihipali, far right) met with highlevel leaders of the Natural History Museum to forward Hui Ma¯lama’s repatriation request. - Courtesy: Halealoha Ayau
Immediately outside the Welcome Trust, Kïhei Nahale‘a¯, right, and Ipo¯ Nihipali ma¯lama the ku¯puna just repatriated from that institution.
ong ago … cradled fondly in familiar arms, his aloha warmed her as he laid her to rest in her one hänau, her birth sands of Mo‘omomi, Molokai1. The waves embracing Mo‘omomi’s shore and her gathered ‘ohana soothed her. In this new life, her boundless ‘uhane (spirit) would reside with her ‘aumäkua (family or personal gods). Her iwi (bones), rich with mana (spiritual power), would return to Papa, imbuing the ‘äina with her life’s essence. Her ‘ohana would care for her burial sands. She would visit and mälama (care for) her mo‘opuna (descendants), and they would heed her voice – a feeling in their na‘au (core), a vivid dream, an inner voice. Something didn’t feel right. He looked at the lists again. And Repatriation of the 145 then he spotted it. “A küpuna involved Hui Mälama po‘o (cranium) from Mo‘omomi is missing. and the Office of Hawaiian Do you know what hapAffairs. Hui Mälama engaged pened?” asked Edward in the 23-year process to Halealoha Ayau of Hui release the küpuna (as Mälama i Nä Küpuna shared in this article). OHA o Hawai‘i Nei. The provided support letters and question was for a staff much of the funding for the member at the Bishop London repatriation effort, the Museum. It was 1989. video documentation and the This was a year reburial of the 145 küpuna. before Hawai‘i state burial laws and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act were enacted to protect unmarked burials and to require museums in the U.S. to repatriate human skeletal remains to descendants. But the nearly 1,100 sets of iwi küpuna (ancestral remains) disinterred from the dunes at Honokahua, Maui, had already stirred this young Hawaiian attorney from Molokai to locate stolen iwi and return them to rest. Ayau recalled, “Bishop Museum explained that they gave the Mo‘omomi küpuna to the Cranmore Ethnographic Museum in Kent, England, and that it had since closed. Its collections were split among several institutions.” That was the beginning of a 23-year quest.
A daunting problem
“When we started, the British wouldn’t respond to our letters,” said Ayau. At the time he was the Burial Sites section lead for the State Historic Preservation Division, and William Paty was the chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “I thought if the State of Hawai‘i made the inquiries, we might get some answers. So I asked Mr. Paty if he would assist. I wrote a form letter, addressed them to 200 institutions, and Mr. Paty signed each one. Then the replies started coming in, but it wasn’t good news,” said Ayau. The Keeper of Palaeontology at the British Natural History Museum (NHM, Museum) replied with a twoparagraph letter saying that they held “about 140 registered items from Hawaii … most of which are crania” and that they would release information of those items only “to bona fide scientific research workers.” 1 The spelling “Molokai” follows the pronunciation used by Ayau’s grandmother Harriet Ne.