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Edward Halealoha Ayau, 7 May 2018, Long Journey Home: Repatriation symposium

MIKE PICKERING: So, to progress it as quickly as possible, I'd liked to introduce Mr. Edward Halealoha Ayau. Is that correct?


MIKE PICKERING: Ayau, from Hawaii. Yes, I won't go through the title. I'll leave you to introduce it. So, please welcome Edward.

EDWARD HALEALOHA: [Foreign language]. Can you guys hear me, is this-


EDWARD HALEALOHA: [Foreign language]. Reynolds and [inaudible] are my parents. [Foreign language]. My grandmother is Harriet [inaudible], and because of her words I am here, doing this kind of repatriation work. I was a member of a Native Hawaiian organisation named Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai`i Nei. We were created from the grief and despair of the 1988 events at a place called Hana Kukui, on the island of Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands, when a private landowner dug up 1100 ancestral Hawaiians to put in a parking lot for his hotel.

Our [foreign language], our cultural resource teachers, are [foreign language], and we were created as a cultural response to what happened at Hana Kukui. Little did we know that the problem was much larger, far more painful, and for me it's been a 29-year journey. We were intended to be an interim response. We were not intended to be the answer, because the answer is the restoration of the awareness and responsible behaviour of Hawaiian families to care for their own [Hawaiian language]. It is not the responsibility of an organisation.

I am the product of my ancestry, through my parents, who I just named. I am also a product of my education, of Kamehameha Schools, at the University of Redlands, the University of Colorado School of Law, and my work experiences with the Native American Rights Fund, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, the Office of Senator Daniel Inouye, and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

The achievements I am about to share are the results of the application of knowledge and instincts gained from ancestry, education, and a Hawaiian cultural training in discipline, in courage, and in focus, and this was intended to help restore the ancestral Hawaiian foundation. How do I turn this on? Oh, it's on. All right.

This is a partial list of the repatriations we have done. We began working on repatriation efforts in 1990. Our work involved the identification, negotiation, and repatriation of over 6000 ancestral Hawaiian remains from museums, government agencies, and private individuals in the United States, a total of 118 cases, and abroad, including completion of 13 international repatriation cases. In some of the cases, we partnered with other Native Hawaiian organisations, including the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Over the past 29 years, we empowered ourselves by inviting and involving our ancestors to guide us. We were trained to utilise and trust our ancestor instincts. In death, our ancestors yearned to be part of the family again. We used them in this way. They want us to, because by doing so, by uttering their name, by asking for their help and guidance, by placing them in the position of supporting the family once again, they live on.

Strategically, we advocated legal principles, including free prior and informed consent. We maintained that absent consent, acquisition is de facto theft, and theft cannot form the basis for the legitimate acquisition and continued possession of ancestor human remains and funerary objects. Theft is theft.

Strategically, we also sought to create what I call ‘favourable battlefield conditions’. We must be careful in asserting legal rights, as in our experience we have seen museums respond by asserting their perceived legal rights, resulting in a drawn-out legal dispute. Instead, we have asserted that our claim is based primarily on our [Hawaiian language], or cultural duty as living descendants, and that we were the only party to this dispute that held these duties to these ancestral remains.

Whereas museums seek to take from the ancestors, we seek to give back to them their place in our family. We would assert that our approach was humane and, the museums' was not. We further asserted that there is no real room at the family table for the museums' asserted rights to continue the taking, which, at it's very best, only reifies the ill impacts of colonialism. In the expressions of humanity, the fact that we seek to restore our family says something about us. The fact that museums seek to maintain the separation says something about them.

Strategically, we learned to protect ourselves from the psychological harm inherent in the revelation that our ancestors were stolen repeatedly and shipped off to foreign places. Each time we learned of a repeated heinous act of burial site desecration, we were subjected to an incredible level of hurt. Our protection came in the form of [foreign language], traditional prayers taught to us, and knowing who we are as [foreign language]. Armed with such understanding, we were able to shield ourselves from these ill effects.

By this statement, I don't mean to mislead anyone that we were not negatively impacted, we were. What I am saying is that we learned to positively process this negativity so that it did not consume us in hatred. We were trained to understand that negativity demands a seat at the table, and that we must make room for it. By acknowledging the negative and putting it in its place, we achieve a balanced perspective and have the confidence to proceed successfully.

Strategically, our principal weapon in these repatriation disputes is our humanity, our aloha, our values of [foreign language], of family that is especially respectful of [foreign language], of elders. By respecting our ancestors by repatriation and reburial, we demonstrate profound respect for ourselves, a powerful lesson to our [foreign language], our children, to love themselves, to help them know that they are never alone, and to help protect their minds from the extremely harmful thoughts that can lead to suicide, and to understand and appreciate their place in the remarkable lineage that is our Hawaiian people.

We were trained to initiate a repatriation case by envisioning the result, which, of course, is reburial. Next, we would embrace that vision with all our heart in soul, which, in Hawaiian means we would internalise it in our [foreign language], in our guts, and prevent any doubt from entering our minds. We would then work backward with the confidence that we would prevail, because we already knew the outcome. As was said earlier with the Aboriginal speakers, this is about belief, the magic, if you will, will not happen if you don't believe in what you're doing and, more importantly, understand why you're doing it.

We would project confidence and clarity of thought through our advocacy work. In the tradition of the Royal Twins, [foreign language], I would offer the museum either peace or battle. It did not matter to us what option they chose, as the outcome would be the same.

In the international repatriation cases involving the Natural History Museum in London, which took 23 years to resolve, and the State Museum for Culture in Dresden, which took 26 years to resolve, both of which were contentious, the ancestors ultimately were repatriated. Perseverance is key, as the outcome does not come with a timeline. It is not whether they will come home. It's just a matter of when.

Our national repatriation work involved implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the National Museum of the American Indian Act. There is no equivalent legal authority in the international arena, unless a particular foreign country itself has a law that supports, or at least provides for repatriation, like the 2004 Human Tissues Act in England.

Don't get me wrong, most museums, in our experience, complied in good faith. The reason why we oftentimes have these conferences is to talk about those who don't, and to try and strategise to find a way to achieve a higher level of humanity through repatriation. There is no international jurisdictional prohibition on our ability to assert aloha. There is no limitation, no statutory limitation, on our ability to assert [foreign language], or family. These are universal values and the foundations of Hawaiian culture and what I would argue is Hawaiian law.

Since 2007, the passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, we asserted these declarations in certain international repatriation cases, principally as a matter of context. So, we're not asserting it saying, ‘You’, whatever country or institution has to comply. We assert it to provide context that indigenous peoples around the world believe that this issue is so important that we are of one mind in terms of returning ancestral remains to their countries of origin. So, that's intended to create just context. The authority that we rely on are our Hawaiian values, especially in the absence of statutory law.

So, we assert that a family's inherent ability and right to remain together, because the treatment of the dead and their possessions are principally family matters. I mean, we've been at this almost 30 years and as complex as these cases got, the answer ultimately was the most obvious, that these are family matters. There's no reason to struggle with jurisdictional issues or language barriers, or different legal frameworks. Our value of family applies wherever our ancestors' remains are.

Through my repatriation experiences, I came to coin the term, ‘intellectual savagery’. Earlier today, with the previous speakers, there were some examples of intellectual savagery. An intellectual savage is one who utilises his or her intellect to deny another their humanity. So, when a Native indigenous claimant says to a museum, ‘Please return our family,’ and the museum says, ‘No, we need them to glean information. We need them to explain to you your origins, or to explain to people of the world where your people came from.’ That is an example of intellectual savagery.

Strategically, we use this tool to overcome the museum argument for continued possession of human remains and funerary possessions for scientific purposes, while simultaneously ignoring our family values. We would say to the museum, ‘While we recognise science is an important undertaking, it is not an absolute value and one that cannot overcome our values of family’.

I share with you the [foreign language] proverb, [foreign language]. ‘Who would not be wise on the path so long walked upon by our ancestors?’ Our family principles are the ultimate form and source of our law.

In my experiences over the years, I have learned the following: One, don't fear my ancestral shadow. What I mean by that is when we started this work … You heard one of the speakers say earlier that in their culture there were no reburial ceremonies. There were none in Hawaiian either, because it was considered such an egregious act to desecrate the remains of another family that that very act could touch off a war. So, we were left to recreate, well, create reinternment ceremonies based on our traditional values, based on our understanding of who we are.

There was a lot of fear in that when we first started, amongst our own people. People felt uncomfortable about looking back into the past, especially with regard to spirituality. So, one of the important lessons in that is there is no reason to fear our ancestors' shadow. That's the shadow of our [foreign language].

Two, entitlement is a disease. Responsibility is the cure. What I mean by that is it takes responsible behaviour to make this happen, but just talking about it or feeling entitled and thinking that a museum is going to just turn them over for no better reason than we're Hawaiian doesn't work. It takes actual [foreign language], responsible behaviour.

Then, the third is another [foreign language] that says, [foreign language]. What that means is, ‘Foundation first, then the structure’. So, whenever you're looking at establishing something, you have to start with the foundation.

I want to close and then show a brief video, a five-minute video regarding a recent repatriation trip we did with the Dresden Museum, in Germany. Let me close with the words of Papa [foreign language] Mau Piailug, who is a master navigator from Satawal, Micronesia, who is fondly loved in Hawaii for helping restore the practice of celestial navigation. He said this. He said, ‘If I have courage, it is because I believe in the knowledge of my ancestors’.

I believe, myself, in the knowledge of our ancestors. Therefore, I have courage, and I believe we all do. So, [foreign language]. It's a Hawaiian saying that means, ‘The bones live’. Our ancestors live through us. That concludes my remarks, and I was hoping, given the make-up of the group, that we would have some time for questions.

MIKE PICKERING: Do we have any questions or comments?

QUESTION: Hi, [foreign language].


QUESTION: It's good to see you here. I did have a question. Can you talk a little bit about one of the better experiences in repatriation and some of the worst?

EDWARD HALEALOHA: I think one of the best repatriation experiences we had was with the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. [Inaudible] worked with us on that case in terms of doing the research necessary to establish where these ancestral Hawaiian remains were taken from. In comparison to the two cases that I mentioned, that case took about a year to resolve. Dresden took 26. I was half my age when we started that case.

It wasn't just the expedience that was important. It was just the level of respect that was conveyed on us by the staff and the administration at the University of Edinburgh, which has a very significant indigenous collection of human remains. They even held a ceremony. We didn't prompt them. They did this on their own, to formally apologise for the taking that occurred over a century before. And, interestingly enough, the key, I think, to that whole experience was I had shared with them that I was in the middle of this huge battle with the Natural History Museum in London, which I guess gave them a lot of incentive to repatriate to us.

So, Edinburgh was one of the best experiences. Up until this repatriation, I would say Dresden was the worst. Worst, in the sense that there was this common theme at the administrative level, and not just at the museum, within the German government as well, and that was that these remains were their property, and that they had no desire whatsoever to return them, and that it was irrelevant whether or not the remains were collected with the consent of Hawaiian families, or the approval of the Hawaiian government. That was absolutely irrelevant. All that mattered was that they were in possession.

The German museum was in possession of these remains, end of story. So, for me, when dealing with a case like that, the approach is just to be relentless, relentlessly communicating to them the importance of family. The reason why this case ultimately got resolved, actually, was because of an article that Honor and I co-authored when asked to respond to the German museum's recommendations on the treatment of remains that were going to be repatriated.

When Honor first asked me, I had no desire to write about anything involving Germany, because this thing was going on for so long, and she convinced me this would be the opportunity to do that, and we wrote the piece. In that article, I described this as an example of intellectual savagery. That article was brought to the attention of the current leadership of the museum and they started direct communication with us.

In those discussions, I offered them the acknowledgement of their humanity for returning our ancestors and they accepted. That's why I wanted you to hear what they had to say, because it was very powerful, especially amongst … We have other claims at other German museums who don't feel this way, who probably aren't happy that the Dresden Museum did this, but it's the path forward. It's a recognition that … I mean, there's only one earth. There's one planet, we're not that different.

Like the previous speaker said, as human beings, we have certain foundational values and our family is one of them. So, when our family gets taken, it is an instinctual responsibility to want to bring them back and that's all we're trying to do. I don't take pleasure in having to battle these museums, but I will do it, if that's what it takes. But, in the end, when the ancestors are repatriated, we release that. There's no ongoing animosity. Our ceremonies are designed to bring those kinds of energies to an end, so that when the ancestors get buried, so does all the negativity, so we can move forward.

Why this is so important to us is, it's a great tool to demonstrate to our children the importance of family and the importance of responsibility, so that they know that if, for whatever reason, we didn't finish the repatriation of all ancestral remains, they would understand why it would be their duty to continue. Mahalo. Yes? Oh, [inaudible].

QUESTION: Thank you, Margaret Jolly, from DNU. Very moving to see you and Noelle at that ceremony in Dresden, and I suppose this is really just a comment, I think, about this important claim about authority that comes from the morality of family, and how that, together with this universal claim to humanity, is what can move.

I just think it's really important, as you've pointed out, to avoid all of these kind of legal obstacles that come from … Even the most well-intentioned jurisdictional stuff can embed ideas of property, so that where human beings become objects and property that are being laid claim to by various institutions around the world. I just couldn't help but, having been in Hawaii during some of the major Mononoke debates, and hearing Noelle and others talk about how this wasn't science versus culture, it was all about the moral authority of, ‘That mountain is also our ancestor’.

So, I just think that it's a very interesting way in which we can connect how you're finding the strength and the confidence in comparison to what we've heard from Indigenous Australians this morning. So, thank you very much.

EDWARD HALEALOHA:   Mahalo, [foreign language].

QUESTION: Yeah, [foreign language]. I don't know how I must have missed the beginning of your talk, so I'm not sure if you'll cover it at the end, but I was just wondering how has repatriation been for you, from within Hawaii itself, with the museums?

EDWARD HALEALOHA: With the museums, or with our people?

QUESTION: With the museums, I guess, as well as the U.S. So, how's more domestic repatriations from within Hawaii itself? How's that been?

EDWARD HALEALOHA:   It was challenging, but, for the most part, we rescued all of our [foreign language] from the Bishop Museum. It was difficult at the early stages of it, but, as some of the speakers said, as time went on people got used to the idea that just because it happened in the past doesn't mean we don't have the courage to address it in the present. So, we know of no ancestral Hawaiian remains in Bishop Museum, except those that were incorporated into objects.

Within our Hawaiian people though, that was a whole different story. Like I was talking about earlier, there was fear with we first started. I mean, I don't think any museum has ever hurt us worse than our own people did. That's the truth, because, looking back at something this heavy scared people, and their reaction was to attack, to attack us. We were attacked for not incorporating Christianity into our ceremonies, but just the whole idea of dealing with the dead.

Then, once we were able to deal with that shock, I think our family instincts kicked in and everyone realised, ‘No, this is the right thing to do’. So, now the attitude is much more supportive, which just speaks to the ill effects of colonisation on our minds. I mean, it took this issue to make us realise how far off the path we were, and how much we needed to get back. But, as far as we know, all of the museums in Hawaii have repatriated back to us, and museums in the U.S., for that matter. Art?

SPEAKER: Just on the fear about the ancestors' spirits, the fear of having the remains in a community centre that was close to people, that happened down in our area, on the Couranga, in our keeping place. The fear to come there … Because they'd been over there that long, people said, ‘Well, we don't know what negative energy, what bad energy has been put on them’, and so our people stopped coming to the place. Certain families wouldn't come there.

They talked about the bad spirits that old people's remains brought with them when they were brought home, and that spread right through the community, and for a while there, a lot of people wouldn't come. They wouldn't come near the place, until we started talking about the spirits of our ancestors, about what we need to, what people need to do.

We spoke to them and said, ‘They're your ancestors too, wherever you come from in [inaudible] Country’. So, it's getting a little bit better, but there's still that fear there, of going next to or being involved, because the sickness might spread onto their families, might spread onto them, the sickness that is from the country, or from the other negative energy from other countries they come from. They were left in boxes in museums for a long time. They were just kept there, and we don't know where or what was around them when they were kept in these museums, and, yeah, we've got the same problem at home in our community.

With the reburials and all that, we have the same as you just said, and I said earlier we have to design a ceremony for that. So, yeah, just on the fear of what will happen to people if they go near it, that kept a lot of our people away from the community centre.

EDWARD HALEALOHA: The way we were trained and the way it was taught to us is part of the reason why we are not as strong as we were, why we were subject to sickness and all these ill impacts was because the ancestors were taken, because the family is not strong enough to take on these challenges and that a critical step towards healing was bringing them back. That's the lesson my grandmother taught me.

I was trained in Feather Indian law to deal with sovereignty issues, not repatriation, but she told me if that was the goal, then restore the ancestor foundation first. [foreign language], ‘Foundation first, then the country’, and so here we are. [foreign language]. Aloha.

MIKE PICKERING: Thank you, Edward, very much.

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Date published: 14 November 2019

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