The Bishop Museum in Hawaii is a respected museum run by non-natives (haoles) with collections of native Hawaiian artifacts. They often lend them out to native Hawaiian groups for use in ceremonies. Five years ago they lent 82 ‘priceless’ items to a native group, Hui Malama, who then claimed the artifacts were stolen by the museum, buried them in a cave, and refused to tell a judge where they were. The leader of the group, Edward Halealoha Ayau, has just been jailed for contempt.
Forbes Cave controversy – A nexus of religion, politics, and law.
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. (Read on, this is an excellent explanation.)
Hui Malama leader in jail for ‘indeterminate amount of time’
Other native groups may or may not agree with Hui Malama, and may also claim ownership of the artifacts. However, the artifacts no doubt were stolen from the native culture, Hui Malama does have a valid point there. This court battle demonstrates in a microcosm the ongoing clashes and interplay between native Hawaiians, the current legal system, religion, and the Anglo culture at large.
Ayau has taken a strong, principled stand, and has shown he’s willing to go to jail for his beliefs. Out of such struggle, movements grow and are strengthened.