HONOLULU (AP) — Leaders of a Hawaiian group have 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 last week by Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra.
One of the four, executive director Edward Halealoha Ayau, was taken into custody after refusing Judge 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, court documents show. They never were returned.
The group is known as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei and is dedicated to the proper treatment of ancestral remains. 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.