Repatriation efforts underway for Guam artifacts in Hawaii
Over 10,000 artifacts taken from Guam and the Mariana Islands about a hundred years ago are stored at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii.
Now efforts are underway to bring them home.
Department of CHamoru Affairs President Melvin Won Pat-Borja among other cultural agency leaders listened to a presentation by Bishop Museum experts at the Guam Museum in Hagatna Tuesday.
"It’s a collection that, for the sake of the conversation, was inappropriately acquired," he said. "So it’s fantastic that there’s a commitment from the Bishop Museum to repatriate the items."
Hawaii and Pacific Cultural Resources Curator Sarah Kuaiwa is leading the provenance research to eventually repatriate Guam artifacts collected by Hans Hornbostel in the 1920s.
"Our institutional record is limited," she said. "We really want to prioritize CHamoru voice in our process, to understand place names, to understand the stories surrounding these pieces, and how Hans Hornbostel’s collecting practices affected this area during this time period."
Kuaiwa says the museum hired Hornbostel who was a serviceman on Guam at the time.
He was also an amateur collector.
From 1922 to 1927, about 10,500 artifacts from Guam and the Marianas were moved to Hawaii on military ships.
State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick Lujan says it’s time to bring them home to be viewed by the community.
"This is at a different level. Like they said, 10,000 pieces," he said. "From slingstones, to pottery to pictographs, to latte stones. I mean who would have thought to pull a latte set out from Guam and bring it to Hawaii back in 1920-something?"
But there are gaps that must be cleared up first, like misspelled place names that have an impact on understanding the origin of the artifacts.
But there’s a process that we have to finish that Hornbostel didn't and that’s the finalizing an entire report," Lujan said. "There were a lot of field reports that were conducted over the years in the 1920s. So we’re working on them. They’re on island now trying to get that feel where Hans Hornbostel walked on island."
While there’s no set timeline yet of when exactly these cultural treasures will be returned, officials are looking forward to preserving them at the cultural repository in Mangilao and eventually in exhibits at the Guam Museum.
"The reclaiming of indigenous artifacts is very synonymous with reclaiming our indigenous identity," Won Pat-Borja said. "Our connection to these items is more than just pieces of history that are relics of our past. They’re symbols of our survival. They’re symbols of our ability to persevere in times of struggle."