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Burial laws should be grounded in history and present-day reality

By Roy L. Benham


Hawaii would be well served if a review of laws governing burial discoveries were undertaken, as the Star-Advertiser has suggested ("Laws protecting iwi need review," Star-Advertiser, Our View, Oct. 5). The review should be mindful of the impact of burial laws on the improvements necessary for a growing community, while being mindful of history and tradition.

In pre-contact Hawaii, the iwi (bones) of family members were not as important as the individual's spirit (uhane). Upon death, the family gathered around the body of the departed to chant and to ensure the uhane would go to the gathering place on an island where the spirit would meet with the Akua who would escort him or her to po — the Hawaiian heaven.

After the family mourning period was complete, one family member was assigned the task of burying what was left of the body, primarily the iwi.

Because the ancient Hawaiians believed that if someone living wished to cause something bad to happen to the family of the deceased that individual could find the bones and use them to cause bad events to befall the family. Therefore, one member of the family was chosen to dispose of the bones, and no one else would know where the bones were buried.

Obviously, the easiest place to bury bones was in the sand. Sandy areas were, and are, found on all the habitable islands and this is where most of the bones were buried.

For the high chiefs, the process was slightly different. To ensure no one would know where a high chief's bones were buried, the chief designated someone to hide his bones. Most were hidden in unknown caves. That person was then obligated to kill himself to assure no one would find the bones of the chief. It was an honor to be chosen to hide the chief's bones and that person was assured a journey to po.

To this day, no one knows where the bones of Kamehameha I were hidden. However, the important thing was that his spirit went to po. The belief that bones needed to be hidden is the reason there were no pre-contact native Hawaiian cemeteries. If by chance bones were discovered, they were carefully reburied near where they were found.

The idea among some Hawaiians today, that we should not disturb any bones discovered in the course of approved construction activities, is unrealistic. Considering the amount of construction necessary on these islands in the 21st century, we will revisit the burial laws. Already, there are many bones that rest under our buildings and highways. But the spirit uhane is free and can never be bothered.

To delay progress for fear of disturbing ancestral bones (iwi kupuna) is not the consensus of all Hawaiians. We should follow the example of our ancestors when burials are discovered. It should be permissible to remove bones encountered during construction activities, as long as the discovered bones are carefully reburied as near to the original location as possible.

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Mythman wrote:
Refer to Title 25 USC for standard procedure concerning Native American burials disturbed by modern life.
on October 29,2012 | 04:25AM
Bdpapa wrote:
This was very informative and well written. Thank You for this well thought out column.
on October 29,2012 | 06:04AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
It's wonderful to see these facts and values being written by a respected ethnic Hawaiian kupuna. Several years ago I wrote a major webpage on this topic, and had a lengthy summary of it published in West Hawaii Today newspaper. My essay got a lot of flack from the crazies who (ab)use the bones as pawns in their political game seeking money and political power. But since Roy Benham is a respected ethnic Hawaiian kupuna, nobody can attack him in the racist way they attacked me for saying the same things. Many thanks to Mr. Benham for finally setting the record straight. See "Hawaiian Bones -- The 3 Rs -- Rites For the Dead, Rights Of the Living, and Respect for All" at http://tinyurl.com/253nj6
on October 29,2012 | 06:32AM
allie wrote:
well put. His article is the best I have seen about this. Frankly, many of the sovereignty shibai artists know little about Hawaiian History. Most of what they "know" is wishful thinking and creative construction of the past
on October 31,2012 | 10:09AM
Anonymous wrote:
Or maybe your just a little jealous Hawaiians have fought harder and gain more then your people. and still fighting for what there's. they have every right to honour there dead more so if they pre contact. just the way your tribe has there own way. and while native Hawaiians numbers are growing your tribe is on a decline
on October 31,2012 | 11:50AM
allie wrote:
Hawaiians are a tribe? Most seem Asian or white to me and recently arrived here.
on October 31,2012 | 02:58PM
Anonymous wrote:
take of the blinders there here
on October 31,2012 | 03:14PM
Anonymous wrote:
just about 500,000 and growing. quite a huge tribe id say
on October 31,2012 | 03:48PM
Leinanij wrote:
Developers should feel free to build in Punchbowl because 'uhane is free and can never be bothered. Right 'Anakala? Thank goodness you are not a burial sites specialist, nor a member of the O'ahu Burial Council!
on October 29,2012 | 08:08AM
Ewaduffer wrote:
Punchbowl is a designated cemetery!
on October 29,2012 | 08:52AM
8082062424 wrote:
any (iwi kupuna) buried pre contact choose there designated cemetery. same rules as punchbowl
on October 29,2012 | 09:59AM
Makua wrote:
Terrific article that tells us why the Hawaiians did not have cemeteries. My only objection is the last sentence in the article. I, as a Hawaiian, wonder how my ancestor, looking down from po, would feel about having his iwi first buried in an open field near a tree, later under a sidewalk or new street and than to have his iwi discovered during construction and moved adjacent to a concrete footing. Personally I would rather the discovered iwi be respectfully gathered and placed at a new Hawaiian Memorial Site, where the ancient iwi of yesterday can be honored at a permanent resting place, never to be bothered again.
on October 29,2012 | 10:57AM
false wrote:
That idea requires way too much common sense. While Benham is widely respected, bones carried spirits and you can bet kupuna had a great respect for the spirits who traveled in them. Callous regard for the spirits of our ancestors will bring devastation to this project and those who travel on it. You have no knowledge of the wrath that awaits.
on October 29,2012 | 07:19PM
from_da_cheapseats wrote:
And you do? Please, before making such a blanket statement that traps all of us, Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart, into this madness of burial councils, rife with self-appointed experts, kapuna, etc., establish for us your credentials.
on October 30,2012 | 09:38AM
jomama wrote:
I saw that episode of Brady Bunch too.
on October 30,2012 | 09:14PM
allie wrote:
Rail is a bad project but let us skip the worship of stone gods bit hon.
on October 31,2012 | 10:14AM
Anonymous wrote:
This is not about stone gods. this is about our love ones who were laid to rest. we have federal and state laws to protect Hawaiian burial and iwi for this reason. Any thing pre contact is where there family choose to lay them to rest same as a cemetery
on October 31,2012 | 11:58AM
allie wrote:
One can see why Hawaiians were so eager to accept Christianity. Mnay of their pre-contact religious ideas were similar regarding the sp[iritual soul, the relative unimportance of the temporary body, etc. Today, most Hawaiians are Christians whether Protestant or Catholic. Many in Waianae are evangelicals. I attended Church last month at a huge Hawaiian evangelical Church in Waianae. It was overflowing with song and joyous spirit. Naturally the media does not cover any aspect of these people's lives and wastes time of the tiny number of angry Sovs.. who speak only for themselves and spin shibai for the government and media to grab off more money. I hope more Hawaiians-true Hawaiians-stand up and tell the true story as this wonderful man in the editoriaL DID.
on October 31,2012 | 10:14AM
Anonymous wrote:
wrong again allie. i have family and friends up and down the west side. was it not a few weeks ago you were bad mouthing these same folks and saying how bad this part of the island was? i know the church your talking about. and this may be hard for your racist mind to grasp but those folk and most Hawaiians believe in god but still are fighting for Hawaiian rights. there a lot of homestead land out there. and these folks want the country left country. Lot of kids on the west side attend Kamehameha schools out there. not to mention Hawaiian charter school. I am native Hawaiian and i believe in god. I also want the wrong done to Hawaiians addressed. You have every right to honor the dead in your own way. You do not have the right to judge or tell others how they should do it /
on October 31,2012 | 11:45AM
allie wrote:
I am not opposing anyone honoring their dead in the way they want. You misread my points. The Evangelical Church I attended with my Hawaiian roommate is far more typical of Hawaiians than the angry atheist Sovs., many of whom, like Ritte, look white or Asian or both. My point is that hawaiians have many points of view about religion, the past and the future. Too often the media pays all of their attention on the self-interested 2% who do not speak for hawaiians at all.
on October 31,2012 | 03:03PM
Anonymous wrote:
far from it many Hawaiians are Christians and are still fighting for Hawaiian rights. we can believe in god and still fight for our rights. the west side folks are one of the biggest area of Hawaiians fighting to right the wrong.. it one of the area that has the most native Hawaiians. Since you brought god into this how do you think he looked on the US and the other who took part in the over throw. Open your bible and see what he say about folks like them. I know God has no problem with Hawaiian fighting for there rights. Open the good book Im Hawaiian Irish and i have the 50 percent blood to get homestead land. it dose not matter if some one Hawaiian Chinese or Hawaiian white or Hawaiian it dose make them less Hawaiian
on October 31,2012 | 03:34PM
allie wrote:
Asking that all people be treated the same under USA law is in no way racist. I am anything but that. The race-preferences out heer are holding Hawaiians back. As well as the state. As for KS, that is a pro-American, pro-Western school. Always has been.
on October 31,2012 | 03:06PM
Anonymous wrote:
you really should look into things before you speak. they are pro Hawaiian. i may be wrong but ive never seen a american flag up there. they teach the kid how Hawaii was stolen. i attended the exploration program when i was in the fifth grade.. and as i stated we have federal and state laws that protect our Hawaiian iwi. Holding them back i do not think so every year more are entering college . you go to uh you should no about the programs they have for native Hawaiians and it making a huge difference
on October 31,2012 | 03:23PM
allie wrote:
You are more white than me. I am indigenous Mandan.
on October 31,2012 | 04:58PM
Anonymous wrote:
you should remember what you post as you have stated your half white your self. and as i stated i can get homestead land i am half Hawaiian. I am the first generation to be born american. my parents and grandparents etc were not born us citizens .
on October 31,2012 | 05:21PM
allie wrote:
You are a nice man much of the time. But sometimes mean. Is the Irish part the mean part? The Hawaiians at church were very nice and very pro-Christian and pro-American. My point is that there are many differing positions among Hawaiians!
on October 31,2012 | 05:54PM
Anonymous wrote:
in not a man. try not to stretch the truth so much. as i said ive got friends and family up and down the west side. i have friends and family who attend the church. and they are pro Hawaiian rights.
on October 31,2012 | 06:00PM
allie wrote:
You have your full rights under USA law. You are very fortunate. But don't exaggerate your history or your grievances. That leads nowhere. Hawaiians invaded these islands hundreds of years ago and stole land from the Marquesans who got here first, Maybe apologize to them and restore their lands first.
on October 31,2012 | 06:33PM
Anonymous wrote:
upon contact there was a thriving nation in Hawaii. as much as you hate it Hawaiians are native to these islands. we have made huge gains in the last ten years. as more Hawaiians are educated we will make more. look around you Hawaiians are here to stay and will win there fight
on October 31,2012 | 07:53PM
Venus1 wrote:
Am I correct to assume that rail is being vaulted because there would never be a way ( due to the Burial Laws to get permits to put it on the ground!! I want to be creamated so my bones will not be a problem for my children or my culture! With SEVEN BILLiON of us on the planet, with more expected, I think we need to find new ways to honor the dead!! In many places in the world graves are only given to be occupied for a dead body for a short time! Then someone is buried on top!! It appears to me that in Hawaii we are held hostage by the Burial Laws. Am I wrong??
on October 29,2012 | 01:40PM
8082062424 wrote:
Every one has the right to honor the dead in there own way.no one gets to make a rule we all have to do it one way.We also have federal and state laws that protect native Hawaiian burial ground or iwi more so if there pre contact this is where they were laid to rest
on October 29,2012 | 03:40PM
allie wrote:
exactly my point
on October 31,2012 | 05:54PM
Anonymous wrote:
Couldn't find fault with your comments and hope the "native" Hawaiians would consider its merits. Was born on Kauai, but not a "native" and thus have refrained from posting any comments on this issue. However, there must be a sane way in resolving this issue, without impinging on modern day development of the Aina.
on October 29,2012 | 02:02PM
Bdpapa wrote:
Yup, I feel the same way.
on October 29,2012 | 02:10PM
Lanikaula wrote:
The laws ARE "grounded in history and present-day reality"...THAT'S the reality! Because Roy's a 'kupuna" doesn't make him right. As any who's followed this dialogue, there is a DISTINCT mentality with converted Christian Hawaiians who have been CONFUSED & COERCED into ASSUMING INDISTINGUISHIABLE philosophies PURPOSEFULLY mudding their own native & cultural beliefs. Roy's entitled to his own, but DON'T ASSUME it's for ALL HAWAIIANS!
on October 31,2012 | 08:23AM
allie wrote:
Roy is da man hon. Your false creation of Hawaiian history has been exposed for what it is..and always was. I hope we can hear more from Roy and the thousands of Hawaiian Christians in our state!
on October 31,2012 | 10:16AM
Leinanij wrote:
'A'ole all lies. 'Anakala Roy is not a cultural expert nor a burial specialist. His opinion has as much weight as yours. And you've noticed that no one agrees with you, right?
on November 1,2012 | 12:28PM
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