© 2022 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Hidden Treasures: Hawaii Custody Battle

A museum and indigenous Hawaiians are in a custody battle over rare carved artifacts, some of which have been repatriated to sacred burial caves. Harriet Baskas' report on the controversy is the latest in NPR's Hidden Treasures series.

The Bishop Museum in Honolulu is Hawaii's oldest and largest. Its stated mission is to preserve the culture and tell the stories of Hawaii and the Pacific. Like many museums, the Bishop is trying to balance its mission with the 1990 Native American Graves Repatriation Act. Under the law, the museum is returning human remains and funerary items to community groups that claim them.

The museum and several Native Hawaiian groups are struggling to figure out what should be done with 83 objects, including bones and rare carved artifacts taken from sacred burial caves in Kawaihae, on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1905.

Four years ago four groups came to the museum to reclaim those objects. Edward Ayau represents one of the groups, Hui Malama. Ayau says Hui Malama members believed they had consensus from the other three groups when they checked all 83 objects out of the museum, reburied them in the caves, and sealed up the entrance.

Ayau says the items were desecrated by David Forbes, an amateur archeologist in Hawaii around the turn of the last century. But other groups say the items should be returned to the Bishop Museum for display.

The Hidden Treasures Radio Project series, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Cultural Development Authority of King County, Wash.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.