VIEWPOINT: Evidence does not support burial 'belief'
By MICHAEL DEGA
The article "Rock mounds throw wrench into Kula plan" (The Maui News, Sept. 27) disregarded important points discussed at a meeting of the Maui/Lana'i Islands Burial Council and did not give voice to other positions.
According to the article, there is a "belief" that "hundreds" of Native Hawaiian burials exist on the 272-acre parcel in Kula. This "belief" is not yet supported by the evidence.
The parcel is pastoral landscape with many terraces, walls and mounds primarily related to large-scale historic agriculture. The sites occur in an area designated as "agricultural land" and "planted in corn, Irish potatoes, etc." on an 1885 Hawaiian government survey map. Interviews with families residing in the area for generations support the agricultural nature of the locale. Hundreds of these agricultural clearing mounds have been previously documented in Kula, which itself translates to fields, plains and pasture.
During the Mahele of 1848, the parcel was transferred to A. Keohokalole, mother of Kalakaua, Lili'uokalani and Likelike. The award document clearly states that no "burial/graveyard" is present. After Keohokalole's death in 1869, the land went to her children. They in turn sold the land to a Chinese family, who then sold the land to the Von Tempsky family. The Von Tempskys sold the land to the current owner. Louis Von Tempsky was deeply involved in corn production, and commencing in 1892-1893 corn was cultivated throughout the Kula area.
If the lands were an extensive burial ground, surely children of Keohokalole would have considered this before selling the lands or allowing cultivation of them. If "hundreds" of iwi were present, surely this significant fact would have been noted in archival records, on maps, through testimony (accompanied by evidence) or through archaeology, particularly on adjacent, already developed lands. There is no evidence to date that so many burials would occur in this location.
If "hundreds" of burials were present, would they be of antiquity? Unlikely. Marked burials were unusual in traditional times. These traditional burials would also have been known by the current population because they would not have been confined to a single, identifiable parcel. Instead, they would have been distributed across the Kula landscape. Current parcel boundaries were unknown in antiquity. It is impossible to believe that these burials were limited to a parcel defined in modern times.
Those holding a different opinion point to the name of the gulch running through the project area, "Keahuaiwi," which translates to "pile of bones." However, the gulch runs from Haleakala Crater to the ocean. It could be that the "bones" refers to the area near the ocean, where burials are most often found in sand. Only petroglyphs have been identified in the project area portion of the gulch.
Furthermore, "pile of bones" is not the only meaning ascribed to the place name. For instance, one definition of "iwi" is "bones of the dead." However, "iwi" also refers to "corncob" (with deference to the 1885 map), and "stones or earth ridge marking land boundaries." In addition, Hawaiian monarchy records state that long, low walls running perpendicular to the terrain (walls and terrace systems such as occur in the project area) are called "iwi aina." Archaeologists refer to these features as "kuaiwi." Low, linear terraces running parallel to the terrain cross between the "kuaiwi" walls (translating to "backbone" of the agricultural system) and retain soil. Consistent with these definitions, in land boundary descriptions, "Keahuaiwi" translates to "piles of rocks." Context is important.
Even though the evidence suggests this area not to be a burial ground, protection of the past continues to be important. And, as is true with any archaeological project, consultation is an essential part of understanding and protecting the past. To that end, my colleagues twice submitted a Preservation Plan for this project in 2008. The plan was sent to 10 groups and individuals for consultation, with only OHA and the late Ed Lindsey responding.
The MLIBC is itself a valuable part of this particular consultation process. But the MLIBC must also be guided by evidence. As the news article shows, hyperbole and demagoguery are not helpful. Through dialogue, and not confrontational or combative means, the goals of those on the MLIBC and those who come before it can be achieved.
* Michael Dega received his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and is a senior archaeologist for Scientific Consultant Services Inc., which surveyed the parcel in question.