updated 12/27/2005 8:50:40 PM ET 2005-12-28T01:50:40

A federal judge on Tuesday found four leaders of a Hawaiian group in contempt of court for refusing to disclose where they buried native Hawaiian artifacts borrowed from a museum.

Edward Halealoha Ayau, executive director of a group dedicated to the proper treatment of ancestral remains, was taken into federal custody after refusing the judge’s order to reveal the exact location of the 83 artifacts borrowed from the Bishop Museum.

“We did the honorable thing,” Ayau told Chief U.S. District Judge David Ezra.

The judge ordered Ayau to be held until he or others return the ancient objects or come forward with their location. Board members William Aila, Pualani Kanahele and Antoinette Freitas also were found in contempt but not jailed. All four belong to the group known as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawaii Nei.

The group has told the court that the items — including a human-hair wig, containers with human teeth and carved wooden statuettes of family gods — have been buried and sealed. But Ezra said Tuesday the court needs a more precise location to better preserve and protect the artifacts.

Group members allege the artifacts were looted from a cave by an archaeologist in 1905 and illegally sold to the museum. The group argued that it has simply put the items back where they belong, but 13 other groups also claim ownership of the objects.

Sherry Broder, an attorney for the groups Na Lei Alii Kawananakoa and the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, which sued for the objects’ return, said Ezra already had bent over backward to accommodate members of Hui Malama.

Emotions high at hearing
Hui Malama’s supporters shouted and wept as the hearing closed, and Ezra ordered everyone but reporters to leave.

The judge ordered a man named Kihei Nahalea to spend five days in jail for contempt of court for shouting out as he left the courtroom. A crowd then gathered just outside the courtroom and began wailing plaintive Hawaiian chants.

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