Island media should be sensitive to Hawaiian reverence for ancestral bones

The Maui News
Sunday, April 18, 2004


It is most shocking and demeaning to open The Maui News (April 13, Page A4) and see human remains of what is believed to be that of a "Hawaiian cowboy, known as paniolo" who were interred in the cave about a century ago.

With all the publicity about the reverence kanaka haoli have toward iwi (human bones), one

would think that the media in general would show some compassion and sensitivity in respect to the Hawaiian cultural beliefs about degrading the spirits of the dead.

Living in Hawaii has certain responsibilities and one of them is to at least know the most basic cultural beliefs and respect that Hawaiians have for the dead. Unlike the western society, kanaka maoli believe that part of one's essence remains with the bones of the dead and the place of kanu (burial) and its surroundings is sacred grounds to the Hawaiian people.

So many times over the past 20-plus years, myself and others have tried to explain the sacredness of iwi, moepu (funerary objects), burial caves and burial sand dunes. As a kanaka maoli it is very frustrating to see pictures of iwi kupuna (ancestral bones) continuously shown in publications without any regard to the cultural respect that should be afforded.

Reed Flickinger, editor of "West Hawaii Today," which first published the picture, stated that the reason his paper ran the picture, which was picked up and distributed to other newspapers by The Associated Press, was as way of pressuring the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to close the "Cowboy Cave." He was informed that Historic Preservation law 13-300-1 states that "Photographing human skeletal remains reasonably believed to be Native Hawaiians may take place only after consultation with known lineal descendants and the appropriate burial council."

Mr. Flickinger stated that he does not know if those requirements were met before the picture was taken. Gerry Bell of the Hawaii Burial Council said this did not happen. Holly McEldowney, director of the DLNR's Historic Preservation Division, said the "Cowboy Cave" had been known since 1991, that every now and then it would come up, but nothing has been done to close the cave. She said she would be writing the news media to discourage showing pictures of the iwi.

Credit must be given to Lawrence Braley, the guide who wants this often-violated cave closed, and it's too bad that DLNR is so slow to move. The losers in all of this are the iwi i na kupuna (the bones of our ancestors).

It is happening here on Maui on the lava fields of Keoneoio and other places where tourists are poking into the nooks and crannies of cultural sites and burial caves. Several years ago, a burial cave in Makena was broken into even after it was sealed, and bones were taken. The rest of the burials had to be reburied in another cave so the tourists and cave hunters would not disturb them. I hope that the warnings of our kupuna hold true that if you fool around with things that are dead and you are not doing it for good reasons, bad luck will follow you.

Everyone that comes to these shores must remember that even though we are the 50th State, the Hawaiian culture is thousands of years old and many of us follow the teachings of our kupuna and still adhere to cultural beliefs of the past: To gain respect, one must respect the land and its people and adhere to our lifestyle, don't change it to represent the place that you came from. Keep Hawaii Hawaiian.

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. is chairman of the Maui/Lana'i Islands Burial Council, a senior member of Hui Malama Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, a cultural consultant and Hawaiian practitioner. He lives in Pukalani.

Copyright © 2003 — The Maui News

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