Skulls of Native Hawaiians returned after 50 years

The remains of a Native Hawaiian man and woman will be returned to their home state after spending more than 50 years in Texas, officials said.

The skulls were taken by a U.S. Air Force airman after being found at an undetermined Oahu hotel site near or on a beach between 1940 and 1960, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

The skulls are now in the possession of the University of Texas at San Antonio and expected to be sent to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for reburial on Oahu.

The airman apparently took the skulls to his home in San Antonio, according to university archaeologist Cynthia Munoz.

After the man died, the remains were found by his son in a box in the garage and donated last year to the university's Center for Archaeological Research.

Munoz said no information or other objects were found to help with identification.

She said the teeth were worn, a typical condition of Native remains that suggests an abrasive diet.

Traditionally, Native Hawaiians believe the spiritual essence and power -- or mana -- of an individual resides in their bones, or iwi. It is important for Native Hawaiians that bones be returned to the ground to impart mana.

The National Park Service oversees the return of Native remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which aims to protect unmarked graves and requires the repatriation of human skeletal remains.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs' Kia'I Kanawai Compliance Enforcement Office handles similar kinds of repatriation efforts once or twice a year, according to Kai Markell, an archaeologist with the agency.

Last August, the office helped in the repatriation of 145 ancestral remains from a London Museum after a 23-year effort.