Reception on sacred ground draws protest

The Maui News
May 25, 2003

Staff Writer

HAIKU — A wedding reception overlooking Maliko Bay was moved Saturday as Native Hawaiians argued that the grounds where the party was being held was sacred and could not be trampled on.

Native Hawaiians including Maui Burial Council Chairman Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. staged a protest for more than three hours at the Kalawai'a Cemetery, saying they would disrupt the reception with chants if the party wasn't moved.

"We didn't know it was going to be a problem," explained Taro Koki, the groom who married his bride, Malena Bello, Saturday.

Koki said he and Bello visited Maui prior to their wedding when they came upon Maliko Point and inquired with private property owner Sky Lewis about the possibility of marrying in his backyard.

The couple fulfilled their dream to marry in the Maliko Point setting. But their plans to have the reception just beyond the backyard on an adjacent grassy field was what caused the uproar.

Maxwell protested Saturday, calling in conservation enforcement officers from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Police said they were called in by the property owner Lewis.

Maui police Sgt. Brian De Mello said he talked to both sides Saturday with the intention of finding a peaceful resolution. "I'd rather see this be resolved than see it escalate," De Mello said.

As a member of the Burial Council, Maxwell said, there was a written agreement with Lewis a few years ago to preserve the cemetery grounds right behind his backyard and not to put up any structures within 30 feet of the graves.

The Kalawai'a Cemetery dates back to the early 1800s. There have been no recent burials in the area, but the area also is believed to contain unmarked Hawaiian burials.

Maxwell said he considered the erection of three large white tents on the grounds a violation of the agreement. "You cannot do this, this is burial grounds," Maxwell said.

Under the tents, reception workers had set up a wooden black-and-white dance floor. Tables were set out for about 50 guests, complete with white linen napkins, white roses, candles, white plates and wine and champagne glasses.

A makeshift bar was also set out with glasses ready to go, and wine and champagne bottles ready to be opened.

About a dozen protesters watched, expressing disgust. They said they wanted the tents and everything under them removed immediately.

When told that the tents could not be removed in time for the wedding itself to begin, Maxwell said he would not protest if the guest tables were moved on to Lewis' property. He said he was especially concerned about the serving of alcohol.

Patricia Maddela, 63, who said she is a direct descendant of the Kalawai'a family whose headstones were within 10 feet of the reception area, was troubled by the whole thing.

"I was shocked when I was told there was going to be a wedding here," Maddela said.

She said she visits the cemetery regularly and had plans to bring flowers this Memorial Day weekend when she heard about the reception. "It's hurtful," she said.

Headstones for Maddela's great-great-grandmother, Nakiaha Kalawai'a, and her great-great-grandfather, Kalawai'anui Kalawai'a, were within view from the area where the reception was planned.

Koki and his parents, Takamitsu and Eiko Koki, presented plumeria lei to Maddela, saying they wanted to show respect to her family. Eiko Koki, dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono, also gave Maddela a wrapped gift from Japan.

"It was nice talking to them," Maddela said. "But it was sad too, everything is sad here."

Anna Maddela, Patricia Maddela's granddaughter, said she could understand how her family's protest might be affecting the wedding party. "If it were me, I would be crying," Anna Maddela said.

Asked how the protest was affecting his wedding day, Koki shrugged and said "The groom is supposed to be nervous as it is."

Both the reception coordinator Robin Williams and property owner Sky Lewis declined to comment on the situation.

Maxwell tried to explain the protest to Koki. "Do you have weddings in cemeteries?" Maxwell asked. "To us Hawaiians, it would be disrespectful. You see, this whole area is sacred to us."

Koki's father, Takamitsu Koki, spoke to Maxwell just moments before his son's wedding ceremony, promising to move the reception to Lewis' backyard.

He asked Maxwell not to disrupt the ceremony or the reception. "I told him I won't chant as long as this is moved," Maxwell said.

Within an hour after the wedding ceremony, reception workers had moved all of the guest tables, the food and the liquor into Lewis' backyard.

The protesters then left the area.

See Photos of the situation

Ho`iho`i Mai