Ayau Leads Paris Auction Protest
Earlier this month, Molokai’s Halealoha Ayau and his family put their vacation in Paris, France on hold to take a stand against an auction of Hawaiian artifacts in the city. The day before their planned trip, the French Aguttes Auction House in Paris had announced the sale of more than 1,100 Hawaiian objects, part of a collection owned by Rainer Werner Bock of Maui. Aguttes called it the largest private collection of Hawaiian art in the world.
Ayau and 18 other family members and friends, including his two young daughters, held signs in front of the auction house that read, “Don’t sell my kupuna,” “#Hewa” and “Aguttes sells human remains.”
“All we asked… was to see documentation for items which have a high possibility of being native human remains,” said Ayau. “They wouldn’t show it. They sold them without documentation. That’s the classic way trafficking happens. They don’t care if it was unlawfully acquired.”
One item Ayau particularly questioned was a fish hook described by Aguttes as being made from “bone (pig or Homo sapiens).”
“Even with distinct possibility that this bone was human, they sold it anyway,” said Ayau. “It can have a negative impact of making a person feel less than human… they didn’t give a s–t that this item that could be part of someone’s ancestor was sold as a commodity.”
Ayau said Agutte claimed several items for sale were from Molokai, but he said the descriptions sounded fraudulent, adding some other items advertised also looked to be inauthentic.
Ayau said he had emailed Aguttes before the sign holding, requesting to see documentation on the items for sale. When they wouldn’t show it, Ayau and his group made signs and stood in front of the auction house. A spokesperson came out and after repeating his request, and Ayau said she “got very upset.” He requested to see the auction house owner and a meeting was agreed upon but later cancelled by the company.
Despite the lack of success in obtaining a copy of the items’ documentation, Ayau said he believes the protest raised a lot of awareness and had an impact on the auction’s sale.
During the auction, held April 5-7, less than 15 percent of the objects sold.
“I think some good already did come of [the protest] because the sale went horribly,” said Ayau. “We need to put a better process in place so there’s integrity to these transactions so we’re not standing idly by they sell our heritage.”
Ayau said the Office of Hawaiian Affairs may consider creating a process of authentication and legal verification for anyone trying to sell family heirlooms. Though that protocol would not have jurisdiction over international sales like Aguttes, Ayau hopes it will be another step in raising awareness of fraudulent or illegal sales of Hawaiian items.