Hanging out with Papa and Halealoha tonight made me think of this piece I wrote...
E Honokahua, ‘Āina Nani Maoli
Tell the refrain, give praise to
The Beautiful land of Honokahua
With its famous bays of Pi‘ilani
It shall not be disturbed, this place where our ancestors sleep…
- Honokahua Nani E, Na Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, Sr.
Honokahua is the resting place of more than 2,000 kupuna dating from A.D. 850 to the early 1800’s. Now protected by the state as a State Historic Place, Honokahua is also recognized as a wahi kapu, and is reserved exclusively for Native Hawaiian ceremonial and religious practices.
The burial site was unearthed in 1987 when digging first began for the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Reports of the find were constantly denied by the developer of the hotel and the Maui Planning Commission, who gave the developers permission to remove the iwi, with every assurance that the sacred iwi would not be disturbed, that they would be treated with respect. However, this was not the case. Imbedded in the exposed earth were human remains, iwi, with little colored flags marking each one’s final resting place, and people were digging through them putting these iwi in boxes, shooting them down with water hoses, and worse. It was later revealed that over 1,200 iwi were disturbed, unearthed, and vandalized.
As this issue became more volatile and widely publicized there were several protests at Honokahua and the State Capitol. I remember the immense anger and the kaumaha—but above all, there were the voices of warriors, Dana Naone Hall, Uncle Les Kuloloio, Uncle Lopaka, the Nihipali ‘ohana, Aunty Pua Kanahele and her ‘ohana, my Papa, Charles Maxwell and our ‘ohana among many more ‘ohana. These people sacrificed family time to ensure that our iwi kūpuna and their earthly possessions were at peace – something that, as a basic human right, we all expect as we take our last breath.
After several days of negotiating, John Waihee, who was the governor of Hawai`i at the time, finally commanded that the digging and the development of the hotel be stopped. A ceremony was then held to re-wrap the remains of more than 1,200 iwi and to kanu or re-inter them back into the ‘äina, my papa being one of the 12 entrusted to return the iwi to their rightful place. There are over a thousand still in the ‘äina, untouched. My Papa was so moved by the happenings of Honokahua that he wrote two songs, Honokahua Nani E and Ka Hō‘ailona both recorded and released by The Pandanus Club. As I got older, my cousin and I were taken to kanu the iwi found in other developments throughout Maui. I am always humbled when I think of those moments and the protocols that ensued.
It was because of Honokahua that laws were enacted and methods of development changed. It uncomfortably forced the government, developers and officials to recognize that a burial without an approved plot or without a headstone does not mean that person was loved any less, or that those individuals were not important as humans. Honokahua made clear that we as Hawaiians are born of these lands and that we are buried in them. It forced us as Hawaiians, as the progeny of these iwi, to take a stand, to take action; it required our vigilance. Born of this incident were the Island Burial Councils, of which my grandfather is the chair of the Maui and Lanai council as well as Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna o Hawai‘i Nei, which my Papa helped found and continues to be a member. These individuals are nobly committed to their kuleana to protect the remains of our late kūpuna, demanding equal respect and care for iwi and their earthly possessions as we would grant to those iwi are in graveyards.
My Tūtū and Mom have since passed and I have come to internalize the true connection of iwi as one of continuity. The 1,200 remains at Honokahua belonged to someone; they were children of families, husbands, wives, they were kālai ‘āina, kahu lā‘au lapa‘au, they had roles, kuleana – they were people of a not too distant past. These kūpuna were real and tangible, we play in the same sands they have, we drink the same water and breathe the same air, and we are here because of them. They are not science projects, they are not displays to be gawked at; they are my kuleana.
Na wai e ho‘ōla i nā iwi? Na mākou ke kuleana!
Na Adrian Kamalaniikekai Kamali‘i i haku i ka makahiki 2007 - Manoa Journal Entry