KUMU IWI KUPUNA
Kapu means something is sacred, holy, forbidden or not to be touched or made public. If something was kapu, it is not to be known or used in an average day to day way. It is reserved for future generations to take care of the burial, and it is special to the families.
Listed below are a few Kumu Iwi Kupuna or teachers of ancestors burials. They have shared with Keoni Kealoha Alvarez the traditional teachings of iwi Kupuna. The kumu are knowledgeable in the ancient Hawaiian burial methods, beliefs and have been protectors of ancestors of Hawai'i nei.
Keoni Kealoha Alvarez
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner/Film Director/Author
Hawaiian burials are Kapu (sacred), as they are believed to be the root of the Hawaiian existence. The proper protection of Hawaiian burials upholds the respect and sovereignty of Hawai‘i’s ancestors. Traditional Hawaiians have always been taught that having ‘ike (knowledge) or hō‘ihi (respect) is greater than having any of the deceased iwi or possessions. This small cave that my family found in the forest has taught me a lot about my heritage and myself. I have committed my life, like our people have done for over two thousand years, to protecting our Hawaiian burials, ensuring that our ancestors will remain hidden… sacred… and KAPU, in Hawai’i nei.
Aileen Nani Alvarez
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner/Photographer
No one has the right to move anybody, because it wasn't there right then… and it's not there right now, just because people want to put a building up. The Hawaiians were here way before the buildings ever came.
This project is grossly negligent. This letter says our records indicate that no archeological inventory survey has been conducted. And that note archeological historic properties have been identified within the subject parcel or nearby. Okay, so then we did a little more digging. It turns out there aren't only three iwi of which are located on the subject property; my report says this site is an historic cemetery and adjacent to it a subsurface cultural deposit. This is more evidence of either the gross corruption or the gross negligence of the government. This is unacceptable. These burials did not have to be disturbed.
This is a place that has always been dear to my heart because I was born here in the sand dunes of Wailuku Waikapū. The sand dunes, as other sand dunes all throughout the islands of Hawai‘i, are traditional places to bury our people. This is a place that they came to lay to rest.
This particular puʻu [mound] is my ʻohana. I've been through acres and acres of sand dunes and this is where my ohana is. You may not go through this gate, which is probably a good idea because I believe our ancestors are all over this entire area, not just inside this fence.
Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei
You know, you have to always look at burial desecration and ask yourself, What is the lesson that the kūpuna or ancestors want us to have to learn from? And that lesson is that we may look in the mirror and see you in Hawaiian, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's how we feel, because we have gotten so damn far off the trail.
It's not funny, to the point where we actually engage in a public discussion on whether the family of this chief buried in this case had the right to bury him with these people, and that we today have the right to second-guess them and take them away, put them in the museum to educate ourselves. The irony of educating ourselves about hewa (wrong). And to me, that was the lesson in Kawaihae.
Kini Kaleilani Burke
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
Looking into burial cave was also considered a crime, with the punishment of having the individual’s eyes gouged out and removed. We have ancestral burials all over the islands. I don’t like any of the things I see that is happening right now to our Hawaiian burials. We need to change the Federal and State laws and make it stronger.
Anyone who comes to Hawaii and desecrate our burials should be charged with a crime and put away. So the people know they cannot come to our islands and desecrate burials sites. That’s the way I feel.
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
We have to do something to save our grave sites... we cannot just let it go and watch it disappear. Naue is one of the last Hawaiian burial sites to remain in this area. The landowner already built on other burials around here. I don't understand why would someone build on our burials? It is beyond me... enough already. These places are too ancient to let it go. This is sacred for all of our people. To me our burial sites is more than just cultural site it's a spiritual place.
Healani M. Cahill
Papa Aina Papa Ku
For many of us, it's a destruction of our own culture, of the things that we believe in and slowly those things are starting to fall away because people are not aware that these things are happening.
You can't listen to somebody who's just, like, listening to the archeologists who are not from here talking to us about the burials that we have here. They want to tell us that there's only a handful of burials below here, when we know there are many hundreds of 1000’s of burials here. We know this place was a very occupied area at one time. But look at this place now all destroyed because the developers or State of Hawaiʻi didn’t take the time to complete their research in this area. And this is really indicative of a lot of development here. It's the research and the important things that should be done before bulldozing is done, but this is not the case they've already gone in and destroyed the entire area. And then later they will try to come back and want to research and run studies on what was here.
Lynette Hi‘ilani Cruz
I am at a sacred place called Pohukaina now known today as the burial mound at Iolani Palace. At this burial mound rest 33 of our ali'i men and women. The idea of honoring of the iwi kupuna or ancestors is strong in the Hawaiian culture. If wedon't know who we are and where we come from it would be very difficult to do any kind of planning for the future because you always starting at zero. Fortunately we don't have to start at zero. We know what our ancestors intentions for us to be pono. We are here today to will remember, safe guard and provide service in taking care of their burial.
This is a throne room, and it was used as an informal reception room, audience room, it was used for balls. It was also used as a place for our Aliʻi to lie in state, prior to their funerals, whereas, for most of that time, it was just family and close friends attending his coffin. The community only had two hours to come in and pay our respects one afternoon to King Kalakaua.
Maunala is the Royal Mausoleum which is located on Nu'uanu Avenue. Maunala is a Mausoleum at replaced a Mausoleum on the property of Iolani Palace ground built in n 1865 because it was getting too full. Kamehameha the IV decided to build another Mausoleum at Nu'uanu to house the remains of the Ali'i. That chapel was completed after his death in 1865 .It was a traditional cultural practice that Hawaiians held the funeral processions to Mauna Ala for the ali'i at 12:00 am night.
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner/Pele Defense Fund
You know how fast you can turn a light on or off-- turn your switch on. That is how fast it is to set your mind. The next generation of Hawaiians need to be reminded they are in their own house with these burial issues; but most of them donʻt know how to act. And they are letting other people run our house, especially the iwi (ancestors bones). This issue is serious. I am not talking about stereo, or my car. I'm talking about this moral thing that every race respects the most, is their ancestors.
Adatchie Kalehua Makanoenoe Eaton
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
We should have no issues to protect our burials. We as Hawaiians try to work with the US government system but there is always a trick under the government sleeve. They just keep us jumping through the hoops. And all we doing is trying to make wrong... right.
We just trying to protect the kupuna (ancestors) of our past. It’s a natural protection what we are doing. The spirit of our ancestors are talking through us because in they were strong like us and very vocal like us. I am totally against development near or around our sacred places and burials.
Hawaiian Legal Corporation
This is a direct act of desecration at its worst to Indigenous people. Heavy machinery and power driving equipment used has gone straight through Hawaiian remains and obliterated the iwi of our ancestors. The archeologist studies say there could be hundreds of remains at the construction site. It's mind-boggling to see this happening in our day. Just because these remains are not identified with a headstone doesn't mean that they're not important to Native Hawaiians.
Hank Hanalei Fergerstrom
Temple of Lono
Hawaiian law was so clear and so easy to understand. You knew if you were or were not a Kapu breaker. And you also know, the penalty for Kapu-breaking was death.
If you look at the tree of life, we find the trunk, you find all these branches, and all these other branches that came and all the little leaves; and these are all our family members. What's important here is the iwi kupuna-- that is the root of that tree. So to allow desecration, as it's being done rapidly to burials, are those bones is literally an attack on the very foundation of your tree of life.
Hawai'i island Burial Council District Ka'u
The Hawaii state and the country allowed this to happen. I don't know what's wrong with our government. They are destroying our land and our burials to put that house on. Why is it that they are allowed to be built on the cemetery of our iwi kupuna, our ancestors' bones? The government needs to dismantle this house, buy the land, and dismantle this house. What is happening today is so uluhua, or disgusting.
Norman Kaleiolatakea Gonsalves
Kahu o Kahiko
Looking at this Hawaiian grave site, however, the iwi or bones is gone. It wasn't like this last year. This is criminal! But greed, of course. Developers can bend the laws with greed.
That is why we are in the field today to document all the destruction to lands that the Untied states have no authority to be there. One day there will be a point in our history we will have some recourse and that goes for the federal, state , county or any other agency that pretends to be in control of our Hawaiian Kingdom.
Everything that we have is a living museum, including the artifacts and the burial caves. And sort of people that are putting it, you know, trying to buy these things up and preserve it for a collection and so forth..what are these institutions doing? As soon as they buy the items, it's stored in-- in some closet, they can quote ‘protect it from the elements,’ quote, ‘protect from somebody who might come in and steal these items,’ when they, in fact, are the thieves themselves. It's like the thief stealing from the thief.
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner/Kumu Hula
Outsiders don't realize what they're doing to our families; and if that's something you want to change, then they should go back to where they came from.
If Hawai’i is not suitable for them, then by all means: find someplace else that is suitable for them. Our life was beautiful; but because of all this change, our life now is difficult. I cannot be a Hawaiian in another country. I cannot be a Hawaiian in another state. I am Hawaiian, because I am from Hawaiʻi.
Kuhikuhipu'uone (Heiau architect)/Co-director of Maluaka archaeological field school
We as Hawaiians have our own traditional beliefs and burial practices. Our tradition has been passed on for many generations by our ancestors. But at the same time in passing on our tradiation we are being challenged by foreigners and sometimes by our own people.
The government and private landownership have sold properties which contains Hawaiian burials. This is happening in our islands and to me it is wrong...its like selling people. Iwi or the bones are very important it is where our mana or power is within the iwi and it contains our genealogy. We must continue our traditions and malama the iwi (bones) because that is our foundation.
The Reinstated Lawful Hawaiian Government
What other people think of our iwi kupuna is very irrelevant. As long as we know what our iwi means to us-- that they are our Kupuna-- that's our loved one, and we respect them. We continue to respect burials because of what we have been taught.
Paulette Ka'anohiokalani Kaleikini
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
These graves Kawaiahao Church cemetery graves are Native Hawaiians that had turned to be Christians and learned of their Christian God, forsaking their own ancient gods. Today this is how they are repaid for their dedication-- being dug up and removed from the church cemetery. The church fails to remember these people are families of the people who built that church right on the other side of the footprint on the new building. The missionaries are well-kept and protected with a gate, under the trees, with their huge tombstones, and at peace. While our Hawaiian graves are in turmoil.
This is the site of where they dug up over 600 iwi kupuna. And they actually went all the way down to the coral bedrock. So from what I understand, some of the graves were stacked six high. So you know, it's a multi-burial because no more room; so the families stack them, six high. That's pretty deep. So the Kawaiahaʻo took them all out, and they are in the basement of the church. But to think that this could ever happen here... In the shadow of the church. This is like a nightmare. It's like a living nightmare to me. And I don't come over here very often because it’s so hard to look at and to feel. These kūpuna belong to somebody, these kūpuna are somebody’s children, somebody's sister, brother, mother, their father and grandparent. What happened over here is so wrong! It is beyond words! So my goal is, until they are put back to their resting place-- meaning the place that the church took them out of-- I'm not going to rest.
Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele
Ph.D Philosophy/Hui Malama i na Kupuna O Hawai'i nei/Kumu Hula
We should be talking about what kūpuna left us, and looking back, they have given us many things: our language, we have many chants, hula, and survival skills to live on the ocean and land. These are things we can be proud of. But hunting down their graves is not a way of finding out what they left us. Let the dead rest. What is buried is make [dead]. Leave them alone.
Aikane o Maui
During the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's burial desecration was happening by developers. When development of Black Rock Sheraton Pu'u Keka'a they were pulling burials up out there which went on till 1990's. Pioneer Mill owned the property and loaded up a truck of iwi (bones) and sent if off to the mill yard in boxes. Later we find out from families that worked for the mill company that they threw all our burial or our iwi kupuna in the fire furnace.
The Reinstated Lawful Hawaiian Government
Our people were simple people but they had alot of knowledge. They reserved it so we need to let our burials be and let it be to rest. Have respect for the ancestors. There should be no question how they buried or the place they were buried. It is KAPU… its forbidden.
Mary M. "Aunty Rachel" Kalili (Kelekoho)
The important part of the body we wrapped it up, and they bandaged it up and they put salt in the mouth and they closed the mouth. Everything is prepared. I had to help my aunts in the preparation of my grandpa. I was a little girl, so I was able to help retrieve items in small areas of the room. I told my aunty, ‘This is lots of work.’ She looked at me with disappointment. I apologized. I understood that this is what it took to care for our family. I realized as I got older in life that when people today discover Hawaiian bodies, their bodies don't decay fast. It takes time because the salt is what preserves the body, so preparing my grandfather was my lesson. To me, it was a lesson.
That is what I learned and is what I know. It is important to preserve the burial and the location. Lot of people may not care for these things...but we as Hawaiians do.
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
All these descendants came today to this meeting to testify because they care for our ancestors. They are not the type of people just sitting behind their computers at home to communicate about this issue. They are presenting their people and standing in front of the people who donʻt like to see them stand for themselves. But this is good for our people to wake them up about the issues before them. This is our ancestors. And to sit and listen to descendants give testimony of their burials being destroyed like it’s normal is… crazy. Also, some members on the council think this is everyday business so they can get paid and cash in their checks! To me this is hewa (wrong)
Abel Simeona Lui
Things that are buried should be left alone already it's KAPU! Who will carry the hewa (wrong)? Who will pray for the burials to make it right? Nobody can.
We as Hawaiians have to rescuer our assesets as soon as possible .On the burial property, archeologists identified thirty Hawaiian burials, each burial location marked with orange flags, or wooden pegs. There are forty-eight burials here, and they're all numbered along with the depth of the burial. The archeologists have said between the 10th and 13th century, making this cemetery at least seven-hundred years old. Each of the stakes that you see has a number on them, and then they also have a body identification tag, which lists the body number and the depth that is set.
The archeologists who dug our ohana up here have destroyed 8 skeletal remains. This is ancient Hawaiian cemetery and for some reason it is being put up for sale.
This is what happened to me, knowing it already was a calling when I started to help these things because they're getting impacted bones are being crushed and dug up all the time. Not enough sensitivity to how our iwi or bones are treated by the state of Hawaiʻi and those representatives. Even though there are burial laws, they are not being enforced. Many things caused our culture to be impacted and we as Hawaiians need to step forward now. We all need to step forward and use the state system and fix it to help take care of our issues that are hurting our culture.
The owners of that area already knew that the sand dunes and Honokahua contained skeletal remains of our people. Unfortunately, in those times, while it was huna (hidden), everybody kept quiet about it. It was not passed on to the contemporary generation. So when, of course, the so-called “progress” and development comes to be, there's a conflict. When the hotel was to be built here, and the original excavation started taking place, our iwi came up from the ground.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
The mission of Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) is for the betterment of the Hawaiian people. OHA gets involved in a multitude of different issues Native rights, ceded land, cultural preservation and burial issues. Anything that effects the Hawaiians is something OHA will get involved in. Greater education of our burials is key a lot of the developers could avoid some of the problems that they encounter if they simply consulted with cultural experts before planning or while planning a project to seek out cultural experts that could give them some guidance. That way we are not in a situation that all of a sudden in the midst of construction people are told stop because the burials have been uncovered. A lot of the Hawaiian historians know generally where burials are located through oral and written history of Hawaiian burial grounds.It makes good economic sense to pay attention to this important issue. It is the federal and state law to be in compliance and obviously developers don't want to delay their projects but it's going to be delayed if these burials are uncovered and they are not handled properly.
Why do we have cemeteries? Why do we have markers as human beings, no matter where you are in the world? What function does it serve us to have in these places and from country to country, cultural difference, but many commonalities is that we need, at the core of who we are as human beings, we need to memorialize our ancestors.
The Royal Order of Kamehameha
We must talk about what has happened to our Hawaiian Kingdom. Because a lot of people keep telling us that we are something else and we're not. We're living people. We are not museum pieces and our iwi (bones) should never be a museum piece ever.
Every person, whether you were a great on the aliʻi (chief), a servant, a slave, you had sacred or rituals in which your bones or your body was prepared. As Hawaiians, we believe that our mana, our spiritual power that each and every one of us is housed or contained within the bones. And so, iwi is very sacred.
A'o and Po'okela
We as Hawaiians have rights... we are the first people on these islands we have the koko (blood) and of this moku of Hawai'i nei. The Hawaiian god Ku created us from these lands. Our Hawaiian laws was already in place before the American government came. We must remember we are Hawaiians and the nation still exist "Hawaii does not reside in America it's America resides in our Hawai'i nei". We will continue to live free and die in our country because we are the original people of this land.
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
How do I feel about Hawaiian burials being desecrated? I feel upset and outrage of people and sometimes even our own Hawaiian people would compromised. Usually motivated by self interest.
Desecration is disturbance. I have been trained in various traditional Hawaiian ceremonies. I been taught by elders that we must malama our iwi… we must not mahaoe the iwi, we must not take anything, pillage or rob from burials. We as Hawaiians have a kuleana or responsibility to make sure that no one else do those bad things. Examples: digging up burials for development or collectors of artifacts. We have an important kuleana to malama our kupuna iwi.
Kimo Keli'i Ka'aha'aina Pihana
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner/Author
My children and my family understand the Hawaiian belief of passing. I have taught them how to prepare the body for its burial and the area of its final resting place.
Kahuna were central to Hawaiian life and without them, nothing moved forward. They advised the chiefs and the people, and kept the culture intact. Kahuna were masters of many trades, but most commonly known for healing and foretelling the future.
When a person died, the Hawaiian mourning practices were sometimes extreme based on the status of the deceased. The higher the rank, the more intense the mānewanewa (self-inflict physical mutilation) and uwē (wailing). For commoners, death wailing could go for several days or weeks. Some high ruling chiefs were more intense, and wailing and chanting went on for several years. This expression of sadness could make a mourner pupule (crazy) due to the outbursts and extreme behaviors that were displayed during the grieving process.
Women would beat their chests and scratch their faces, and men would gouge their eyes, take out their teeth, and mutilate their bodies. This level of extremity was taken because the mourners did not want to look the same due to the loss of their loved one.
Terri Keko'olani Raymond
I use to work at Bishop Museum. During one of my work I took down a box off a shelf. When I opened it there was human remains in it what was sad about it also was it was five baby skulls in it. Five baby skulls all in a line. I was in shock and angry. I went to the administrators of the museum and said why do you have human remains on a shelf? I said when you take them out did you have a ceremony? They said when they take them out it's for teacher studies. To me it was like the museum was keeping them as a trophy for the future dissertation or something. I had the courage to confront the head of Bishop Museum and the archeologist to put them back where they got them.
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner
A'ole wala au which means "the talking is over"....listen to the silence. I did an aloha chant when I entered the burial area... it is hard to talk about our iwi kupuna (ancestor burials) of women and children in the graves. I believe they're were Kane in that cemetery as well. It's just that they could not easy identify the male bones as easily as they could identify the women and children. They desecrated the graves already at Naue you know. it's so sad...we were just stopping them from any further desecration...but they did already... they broke up the bones.
Ahu'ena Heiau is huge importance to the Hawaiian people and Kamehameha the great. Ahu'ena is a temple was the place they prepared Kamehameha's bones for burial. It was the capitol of Hawai'i at that time. There are Hawaiian burials at Kamakahonu during high surf it is not unusual that our iwi or bones to show up on the shores.
Ph.D Political Science
There was a statute called the Protection of Places of Sepulture, which was passed in 1860 in the Hawaiian Kingdom by the legislature, protecting burial sites, whether in caves or in the ground. It is a violation and a crime to dig up a grave and remove the body's. The Hawaiian Kingdom made the statue in their constitution to protect Hawaiian burials from desecration. It shows you how progressive Hawai’i government was at that time.
The current understanding of English common law and American common law says that the iwi or the human body is not considered property because it’s buried. So, if the body is not considered property, you can’t steal it; therefore it cannot be a crime to dig up human graves. Example: in England, there were body snatchers who would dig up bodies and take them to medical schools to do autopsies of the human anatomy. The government could not charge the snatchers with a crime because it was not a crime to steal the bodies. Later, the English and Americans found a way to charge the body snatchers for a crime. The crime was not stealing the bodies from the graves, but stealing the clothing the bodies were dressed in which was considered ‘property,’ that was the theft at that time. That is how they dealt with that problem in England and in the United States. Here in Hawai’i, in 1860, as a country, they didn't follow that logic. They say, No, iwi or human bones are property and it demands protection. And that was the basis of the Sepulture law.
And I'm going to tell you, every time the landowner named Joe Brescia comes into this neighborhood, he brings security guards. Nobody else brought security guards over here. Why did he make us feel like this? This is not the first time I've been up against this man. He moved my kūpuna! He's trying to control our culture, and in the way of controlling our culture, he is ruining our graveyards-- cemetery-- just like in your culture. Burial sites are the same thing!
Thomas Shrai Jr.
Foreigners don't understand that our burial is very important. I was fortunate that the legislature introduced legislation about cemetery vandalism. Today I lobbied for burial bills to be passed or updated where now regardless of state or federal laws and penalty remained on the same level. The fines of burial desecration in the past was $5000.00 per violation. I help change the law to increase the fine to $10,000 per violation by criminals. In some cases burial desecration could be a crime that is classified as a C felony.
We have one of the most difficult problems and it’s been an ongoing problem for many years in Hawaii. Burial sites are waipana they are sacred places. This is not only the case for Hawaiian peoples. Whether they are traditional or not understand that death..burial and the caring for those who crossed over is a sacred obligation. All cultures all civilizations respect and honor those who crossed over. Because we are indigenous peoples and because of the colonization and the theft of our lands. The ability and power to have oversight have been removed from us and this is why we have now a significant problem but an expanding problem in regards to the negative impacts and desecration of our waipana sacred places and burial sites by developers. This is a problem on every island which has gone on for many years until this very day.
Kapu means that is something sacred. It’s not to be touch, not to be made public not to be known or used in day to day way. It is reserved and it is special.