PROTECTION OF THE IWI NA KUPUNA (Bones of our ancestors)

"Uncle Charlie's mana'o (thoughts) on ancient Hawaiian Burials"

I write to share my mana'o with respect to the debate regarding the iwi kupuna and moepu. All our thoughts words and deeds should be focused on a spiritual level and by doing this; we can better understand the true meaning of our actions, inactions and hesitation to do the right thing.

Everything else we do, from the perspective of the law, common sense, past practices, what we have read in books, documents, and learned from other kupuna (who do not possess the knowledge of the iwi) are secondary. Determination regarding disposition must be based on the spirituality of the people whose iwi we now handle today. We must think of the moepu in the same way. What I am saying here is that we must go back in time and try to imagine how it was when our kupuna were kanu and what beliefs they had at that time. According to Papa Ka'alakea, when the kupuna was ready to ua hala, they would make a motion with their hands with all their fingers pointed to the spot they wanted to be buried. It was there you would bury them, nowhere else.

When I was seventeen years old, Wailuku Sugar Plantation contacted my father and asked if they could relocate eleven burials from two grave plots in the cane fields of Waikapu. My father asked me to witness the removal of the coffins and contents to the Memorial Park. My father told me that whatever was found in the grave, it was moepu and had to accompany the iwi because it was personal property of the family that died. Most of them had died in the 1800's and some at the turn of the century. It was amazing that most of the graves were L-shaped with the coffin lying on the bottom. The place where the ground had sunken in contained their personal belongings, including objects such as, old chairs and bowls; and in two babies graves, there were baby carriages. That was their "moepu" and had the same meaning as the ancient ki'i and other items that were found. There were twenty dollar gold coins all fused together, watches and jewelry; and I personally saw that these items went with my kupuna.

Our ancient kupuna have touched me on many occasions in the past. My parents had taught me from the time I was young that the iwi is the most spiritually important essence of our being as kanaka. These lessons have proven true on several occasions.

Sometime in the early seventies my mother-in-law was living in lower Waiehu. One evening she called me and said that in looking up at the sand hills, she saw spirits "floating with no legs." I knew that she was a very superstitious woman so I went to investigate. In checking with her neighbors, I found that they too had seen "strange images" on the sand dunes. In talking with a kupuna who was born and raised in the area, he stated that it is an ancient Hawaiian burial ground. He told us that when he was a little child, he used to go into a cave in the sand dune and his "tutuman" was like the caretaker. In checking the area, they found that an entire sand dune was cleared for what is now the "Leisure Estates." I could not find any indication of burials. A couple of days had gone by and I got a phone call from a Hawaiian tractor operator, who wanted to remain anonymous, informing me that they had found four coffin burials in a small cave on the top of the sand dune. All work had stopped and the decision was to remove the burials to the graveyard for safekeeping. Because it was obvious that this was a massive burial ground, I attempted to persuade them to put a lot aside for burials of the iwi and moepu that were found on the sand dune. They refused.

At that time, it was only me against Dr. Sinoto, Dr. Emory, Charlie Keau, developers and the County who insisted that there were no more burials. They brought in a so-called "Kahuna Pule" from O'ahu by the name of Morna Simeona who told them after she"blessed" the sand dunes, she talked to the "spirits" and released them "into the heavens." She then told the developers that it was all right to take down the sand dune. About eight months had passed when I received a phone call from Norman Garcia, the owner of Norman's Mortuary. He said, "Eh Charlie, I have these bones in boxes from Waiehu and when it rains, the bones all going down the drain." In checking with him, I found that for the last eight months, Kay Abdul Development had been storing beer boxes full of iwi from their development.

When I checked on the iwi, I broke down and cried because the iwi were being kept in a shed outside in regular beer boxes, stacked on each other, eight high with some boxes broken from the weather. The bones were pulverized and were falling out of the boxes. I called a press conference right on the spot, called a lawyer to document what had happened, made police complaints and basically went pupule over what they did. I called Morna Simeona and told her that the spirits she released from Waiehu came to my house and told me what she did. This woman passed away several months after this incident. There was a big lawsuit. Bernice Hokoana whose great-grandmother and great-grandfather were buried there claimed all the remains and reburied the iwi in Kuau, settling with the developer for $50,000. I was not happy because the iwi was removed from the place that they had meant to be.

Honokahua - sign at the entrance to the burial site
There have been many other incidents that have occurred and our actions were based on our spiritual beliefs and practices. For example, I was contacted by Hannibal Tavares and Colin Cameron of Kapalua, asking if I could meet them at Honokahua because they had found some burials. When they showed the large sand dune where our kupuna are presently at rest, I was amazed at how large the area was. According to Cameron, they were going to build the Ritz Carlton Hotel on the top of the hill and in their testing; they found about thirty ancient remains. I told them that my feeling that there were much more iwi kupuna and it required further investigation. They did not want to involve Isaac or Dana Hall because they were "radical." I remember going out to Honokahua with Dana, Leslie, Lopaka, Kahu David Ka'alakea and myself. We drove to the bottom of the sand dune and the sun was setting. We were praying and when it was time to leave a ho'okupu, I had an orchid lei and attempted to place it at the base of the hill. A strong gust of wind came at the same moment I placed the lei on the hill, blew it high over the dunes, shattered the flower petals and tiny pieces were scattered over the dune. I told everybody, "Ah that's how our kupuna iwi is, scattered all over this mountain." So much happened spiritually to us that proved our kupuna were in contact with us. We could not prove they were there because there were no records with the exception of the old-timers who lived in the area and stated that their kupuna always told them that this place was an "ancient burial grounds." There were many other things that happened spiritually among us as the original people that were involved with Honokahua, but this is not the place to speak about it.


The question is what are the proper values to be applied? The values of the kupuna who originally placed this moepu with the iwi? Or the values of our generation, which has no connection except in a modern (monetary, artistic, etc.) way. Considering that these items were sacred objects to the people who created them and imparted special powers to protect the iwi and spirits of the individuals that they were meant for, the moepu had no value to anyone else. For some of us who have been touched spiritually by the moepu, it has an everlasting value because of the fact that by replacing the moepu with the iwi, we are insured that their moepu is protecting the eternal journeys of the souls of Na kupuna.

Honokahua, from the burial mound looking towards Moloka'i with part of the "Ancient Piilani Alanui that runs on the side of the burials that we preserved in the agreement. The Piilani Alanui use to run all round Maui in Ancient times.
This feeling touched me when we buried the last remains of Honokahua. Kala mai for referring back to Honokahua but we had many "experiences" there. Again Papa Ka'alakea and I were on the top of the pu'u, looking down into the pit where the last 400 iwi puolu were placed ready for kanu. All of us were in kihei and malo, standing on the top of the hill. All of a sudden we heard a slapping in the ocean, coming from Honokahua Bay. Papa said, "ah, ho'ailona" and when we checked the bay there was a hugh kohola, turned over on its side, slowly slapping the waters of the bay with its petrel fin. We were mesmerized at what this whale was doing and after it stopped, we returned to the pit.

Everyone else but Papa Ka'alakea and I went down in the pit and all of a sudden three pueo flew overhead and went towards the direction of the mountains. We started to chant and do our pule and from the top of the hill, it appeared as though I was looking back a thousand years when all of these people had died and I could hear them thanking us for uniting their 'uhane with their iwi. This is when I wrote the song "Ka Ho'ailona" recorded by the Pandanus Club and Auntie Malia Craver who did the "Olelo No'eau." Aunty Malia said that the song would have to be five-verses because it was the closing of Honokahua. The words in English came to me that night during the last burials and it went like this:

At midnight the torches were lit, showing the spirits the way back to their bones at Honokahua. They came from the Universe, from Aoetearoa from Tahiti to reunite with their iwi. They did not know how to thank these men who laid their bones to rest, so they called upon the kohola who signaled their return. The pueo also made their appearance known that the 'uhane was back with their bones at this place that is called Honokahua, the adornment of Maui. Always protect the place of my birth (my ku'u one hanau at Napili (one mile from Honokahua), where the sign was shown that our kupuna nui has returned.

I wrote "Honokahua Nani E" in 1989 when the diggings of the burials began.

Some argue that the moepu should not be buried because it has educational value to present day Kanaka Maoli and the rest of the world. This argument is not valid. The moepu and iwi is not for our present generation to study, learn from or gather information. The value of these items to us is purely spiritual and cultural in the sense that the replacement of the items where they were meant to be is assurance that our spiritual and cultural values are intact and protected. That was the original intent of the items by the people that put them there in the first place. For us now to remove these items (like Forbes did) and "sell" them to museums and "knowingly" let them remain in a place where they are not meant to be is a spiritual and cultural slap in our faces and a denigration of what we believe our culture to be.

The question still remains, how much more lands will be developed that have known ancient Hawaiian burials, and when do our values as Kanaka Maoli prevail? The answer is in the future Hawaiian generation and their commitment in preserving our past for everyone that calls Hawai'i their home.


Ho`iho`i Mai