top of page

If the deceased lived near the ocean, a burial practice called i‘aloa, which means long fish or embalm, would be performed. This method was derived from the way Hawaiians cleaned and preserved their fish for food.


When i‘aloa was practiced on a person who died, an incision was made across the upper abdomen, below the ribs, and the organs were removed. The body cavity was then filled with pa‘akai (salt) for preservation. This burial method was used to mummify the body for an extended period of time to be viewed by their loved one, family, or friends.

Hawaiians also buried bodies in sand dunes near the ocean. The sand burials were also easily hidden and more secretive, often leaving no evidence of the burial site. As the ocean tides would rise, it would gradually break the body down, which resulted in the bones and sand becoming one. It was also a belief that the deceased spirit would return to the ocean and join the ocean God Kanaloa. Sometimes, bones were carried out to sea and sunk in deep waters where friends or families felt it was best hidden, so that no desecration could occur. 

Bodies were placed whole into the sand or sand dunes during times of warfare. In the 1800's this practice was implemented when the spread of foreign disease infected and killed thousands of native Hawaiians.

Once the body was prepared at dawn, those involved in the burial would bathe in the ocean. Participants would sit in a row in front of the house where the corpse was prepared, and a kahuna would cleanse everyone with a hi‘uwai (purification ceremony). The kahuna would prepare a bowl filled with seawater and limu kala, or red seaweed and ōlena (turmeric).


He then would sprinkle the water mixture on the people involved in the preparation and burial. The paʻakai or salt water was a symbol to remove the Kapu (taboo) and harmful influence. In the purification ceremony, everything that a person touched during the burial preparation of the deceased was destroyed. All clothing, lauhala mats, water gourds and calabash food bowls and anything connected with the death was burned in a fire.


Soon after, Hawaiians would bathe in the ocean, and a kahuna would prepare pieces of ‘ōlena (turmeric) in a bowl of salt water and sprinkle it on the participants. Sometimes Hawaiians would drink the remedy, because turmeric was believed to have the ability to ward off evil.


The kahuna pule would also use limu kala (red seaweed) that grows along the reef. The seaweed was made to create a lei to be placed over the defiled helpers. Traditionally the limu kala was worn into the ocean, where it was naturally released by the ocean to serve as an offering. Afterwards the relatives were allowed to return to their homes and families.

The kahuna purification prayer:

Hawaiian Translation

Lele Uli e! Lele wai e!
He Uli, he Uli he wai, he wai!
Lele au i ke ahua e Kane mehani.
O Nehelani, nehe ia pikana ka lani.
A lama. He mu oia.
The people responded: He mu.
The Kahuna resumed:
Hu-mu ka aiku,
He-mu ka aia,
He-mu ka ahula,
He-mu ka paani,
He mu koko lana,
I koko puaa!
I koko ilio!
I koko kanaka make!
He mu oia!
The people responded: He mu.
The Kahuna said: Elieli.
The people responded: Kapu.
The kahuna said: Elieli.
The people. Noa.
The kahuna: Ia e!
The people: Noa Honua.

English Translation

Hasten, O Uli; hasten, O water!
Here is Uli, Uli; here is water, water!
I fly to thy shrine, O Kane, the approachable one.
A rustling in heaven- it rustles with the sprinkling.
Light appears. The deity is silent.
The people responded: The deity is silent.
The Kahuna resumed:
Silent and attentive are the rude and unceremonious,
Silent are the wicked and unbelievers,
Silent are the hula dancers,
Silent are those given to sports and games,
Silent are the hot blooded ones.
Give us now the blood of the swine!
Give us now the blood of the dogs!
The blood of the human sacrifice!
The deity is silent!
The people responded: The deity is silent.
The kahuna said: Profoundly.
The people responded: Kapu.
The kahuna said: Entirely, profoundly.
The people responded: Free.
The kahuna said: O Ia!
The people responded: Freedom instant and complete.

bottom of page