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Saturday, September 7, 2013
Bones at the Convention Center: Mark Twain vs Mike McCartney
By Andrew Walden @ 3:53 PM :: 5738 Views :: First Amendment

by Andrew Walden

Professional Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation litigant Paulette Kaleikini claims that a mural, built into the walls of the Honolulu Convention Center in 1996, is “offensive” because one section of the mural depicts bones in the sand.

Seventeen years after the installation, Hawaii Tourism Authority boss Mike McCartney has suddenly discovered that he: “just can't allow that in the convention center."  He has ordered the mural covered by black cloth and has announced his intention to rip it out of the wall. 

The State Foundation on Culture and the Arts says that the artist must give permission for any covering or alteration of his work.  Kaleikini claims that the draping constitutes a kapu which only she can lift. 

Artist Hans Ladislaus tells KITV: “I am appalled by it, really. I purposely did not show any skulls or anything human, I am an abstract artist, so I work in the abstract, so it was a  very powerful way to say what I wanted to say, which is pay attention to your land and the ancestry."

The controversy is making news all around the world becoming more distorted as it spreads.  A UK Daily Mail headline tells curious readers the mural is “made of human bones.”

Does the mural depict iwi “in” the sand or “on” the sand? (Panel at right)

Is it “offensive” to depict iwi, or is Kaleikini pushing an interpretation of Hawaiian culture which is useful to advance NHLC litigation aimed at tilting the playing field against outside property developers who stupidly expect to compete with the likes of A&B and KSBE?  Some questions answer themselves.

The mural is titled: “Forgotten Inheritance.”  What inheritance is being forgotten?  Lets travel back in time 147 years and turn to reporter Samuel Clemens, as he describes his visit to the Leahi/Diamond Head area of Oahu, about two miles east of the Convention Center:


by Mark Twain Sacramento Union 24 April 1866 (excerpt)

…Gaily laughing and talking, the party galloped on, and with set teeth and bouncing body I clung to the pommel and cantered after. Presently we came to a place where no grass grew--a wide expanse of deep sand. They said it was an old battleground. All around everywhere, not three feet apart, the bleached bones of men gleamed white in the moonlight. We picked up a lot of them for mementoes. I got quite a number of arm bones and leg bones-of great chiefs, maybe, who had fought savagely in that fearful battle in the old days, when blood flowed like wine where we now stood--and wore the choicest of them out on Oahu afterward, trying to make him go. All sorts of bones could be found except skulls; but a citizen said, irreverently, that there had been an unusual number of "skull hunters" there lately--a species of sportsmen I had never heard of before. The conversation at this point took a unique and ghastly turn. A gentleman said:

"Give me some of your bones, Miss Blank; I'll carry them for you."

Another said:

"You haven't got bones enough, Mrs. Blank; here's a good shinbone, if you want it."

Such observations as these fell from the lips of ladies with reference to their queer newly-acquired property:

"Mr. Brown, will you please hold some of my bones for me a minute?" And, "Mr. Smith, you have got some of my bones; and you have got one, too, Mr. Jones; and you have got my spine, Mr. Twain. Now don't any of you gentlemen get my bones all mixed up with yours so that you can't tell them apart."

These remarks look very irreverent on paper, but they did not sound so, being used merely in a business way and with no intention of making sport of the remains. I did not think it was just right to carry off any of these bones, but we did it, anyhow. We considered that it was at least as right as it is for the Hawaiian Government and the city of Honolulu (which is the most excessively moral and religious town that can be found on the map of the world), to permit those remains to lie decade after decade, to bleach and rot in the sun and wind and suffer desecration by careless strangers and by the beasts of the field, unprotected by even a worm fence. Call us hard names if you will, you statesmen and missionaries! but I say shame upon you, that after raising a nation from idolatry to Christianity, and from barbarism to civilization, you have not taught it the comment of respect for the dead. Your work is incomplete.


Nothing whatever is known about this place - its story is a secret that will never be revealed. The oldest natives make no pretense of being possessed of its history. They say these bones were here when they were children. They were here when their grandfathers were children - but how they came here, they can only conjecture. Many people believe this spot to be an ancient battle-ground, and it is usual to call it so, and they believe that these skeletons have lain for ages just where their proprietors fell in the great fight. Other people believe that Kamehameha I fought his first battle here. On this point, I have heard a story, which may have been taken from one of the numerous books which have been written, concerning these islands - I do not know where the narrator got it. He said that when Kamehameha (who was at first merely a subordinate chief on the island of Hawaii), landed here, he brought a large army with him, and encamped at Waikiki. The Oahuans marched against him, and so confident were they of success that they readily acceded to a demand of their priests that they should draw a line where these bones now lie, and take an oath that, if forced to retreat at all, they would never retreat beyond this boundary. The priests told them that death and everlasting punishment would over take any who violated the oath, and the march was resumed. Kamehameha drove them back step by step; the priests fought in the front rank and exhorted them both by voice and inspiring example to remember their oath - to die, if need be, but never cross the fatal line. The struggle was manfully maintained, but at last the chief priest fell, pierced to the heart with a spear, and the unlucky omen fell like a blight upon the brave souls at his back; with a triumphant shout the invaders pressed forward - the line was crossed - the offended gods deserted the despairing army, and accepting the doom their perjury had brought upon them, they broke and fled over the plain where Honolulu stands now - up the beautiful Nuuanu Valley - paused a moment, hemmed in by precipitous mountains on either hand and the frightful precipice of the Pari [pronounced Pally; intelligent natives claim that there is no r in the Kanaka alphabet] in front, and then were driven over - a sheer plunge of six hundred feet!

The story is pretty enough, but Mr. Jarves' excellent history says the Oahuans were intrenched in Nuuanu Valley; that Kamehameha ousted them, routed them, pursued them up the valley and drove them over the precipice. He makes no mention of our bone-yard at all in his book.

There was a terrible pestilence here in 1804, which killed great numbers of the inhabitants, and the natives have legends of others that swept the islands long before that; and therefore many persons now believe that these bones belonged to victims of one of these epidemics who were hastily buried in a great pit. It is by far the most reasonable conjecture, because Jarves says that the weapons of the Islanders were so rude and inefficient that their battles were not often very bloody. If this was a battle it was astonishingly deadly, for in spite of the depredations of "skull hunters," we rode a considerable distance over ground so thickly strewn with human bones that the horses' feet crushed them, not occasionally, but at every step.



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