Dispute holds up reburial of skull

The Maui News
Friday, January 27, 2006


WAILUKU – The proposed reinterment plan for the ancient Hawaiian skull put up for auction on eBay hit an unexpected snag Thursday that did not sit well with members of the Maui/Lanai Islands Burial Council.

The skull, stolen from the Kaanapali beach area more than 35 years ago when Whalers Village was being developed, was offered on eBay two years ago with a starting bid of $1,000 – or an immediate purchase price of $12,500. After Native Hawaiians protested, the auction was canceled and authorities eventually arrested the seller, Jerry David Hasson, 55, of Huntington Beach, Calif.

The skull was returned to Hawaii to be reburied in the same area from where it had been taken. A location between Hula Grill and a walkway along the beach was suggested for reinterment by representatives of the Whalers Village owner. A proposed plan by the burial council included a 4-foot-square burial site that would be marked by a platform and a bronze plaque. The grave would be surrounded by a standard 10-foot buffer.

Burial council leaders, State Historic Preservation Division administrator Melanie Chinen and representatives of Whalers Village visited the site Monday. It was hoped that the matter could be approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources early next month with reburial taking place shortly after.

But on Thursday, Chinen said that an attorney for General Growth Properties, the new owners of Whalers Village, did not favor a buffer, preferring an easement to the 4-foot-square area, instead.

That brought about nearly unanimous dissent from the council, which always has required buffers in burial treatment plans.

"This iwi po’o (skull) represents many individuals who were excavated from that shoreline area and we don’t even know where many of them went," said Vice Chairwoman Dana Naone Hall. "This project (Whalers Village) is there because the burials were removed. This is a small concession to the history of this place to correct this one small element."

Hall called the amount of space proposed for the reinterment and buffer "modest, very modest" in size.

Representatives of General Growth Properties did not attend the meeting. The Maui News was unable to reach a company spokesperson.

Chairman Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. said a proper site was needed to show respect for the ancestors and to remind those walking by that Kaanapali was not always a strip of hotels and shops.

"That whole coastline was given up by the Hawaiian people," he said.

Council members feared that without a buffer, the grave itself would be in danger of being compromised by future utilities, sewer lines, generators or air-conditioning units.

"There’s too much risk for potential damage," said council member Bill Frampton. "It’s not unreasonable for a 10-by-10 buffer."

Council members agreed to defer the matter until the landowner’s representative could meet with them next month.

It was learned that all costs associated with the reburial – expected to total more than $9,000 – will be paid by Hasson, who pleaded guilty a year ago in a Los Angeles federal court for violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

The reinterment brought about other concerns from the council when it was learned that an Oahu man had submitted a claim as a cultural descendent of the person whose skull had been stolen. William D.K. Correa said his direct lineal relationship to a family of the Lahaina district had been verified through his maternal great-great-grandfather.

SHPD recommended that Correa be recognized as a cultural descendent, but burial council members were concerned that thousands of others could have made such a claim, too. It was later learned that proper notice of the remains had not been printed in local newspapers.

Council members talked about possibly limiting the designation of cultural descendants to those who have a tie to the genealogy of the area where remains are found, not just the larger district. They deferred on Correa’s request until more information could be obtained.

Valerie Monson can be reached at vmonson @ mauinews.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Maui News.

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