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Burials on Mauna Kea

The whole mountain throughout history was used as a burial ground of the highest born and most sacred ancestors. And like the kupuna say, so many generations that they have turned to dust. But their spirit remains.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou
excerpt from
Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege

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I am Hawaiian. Our people are up there.

Manu Aluli Meyer
Philosopher of Education
interview

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There’s many of our kupuna’s and ali’i’s buried on top that mountain, many more burial sites that have never been found.

Lloyd Case
Public meetings on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May, 1999

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Our ancestors was buried there for generations. They don’t bury only on the surface. They buried layers and layers and layers and layers, generations through generations, all the way to the top. You cannot cut, you cannot cut the mountain. You must preserve and protect.

Hannah Reeves
Public meetings on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May, 1999

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Concerning dead bodies
1. A corpse was a very tabu thing in Hawaii nei.
2. The tabu that applied to the dead body of an alii continued in force longer than that which concerned the dead bodies of others....When the corpse was buried out of sight then the period of tabu came to an end.
10. Sepulture was done at night, so that by morning the burial was accomplished.
14. After this [the ceremony of huikala, performed at the residence of the deceased], each one departed and returned to his own house. When a corpse was buried in such a secret place that it could not be discovered it was said to be huna-kele.

Hawaiian Antiquities
David Malo

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In the September 20, 1892 issue of the Hawaiian Gazette, Alexander penned an article titled "The Ascent of Mauna Kea, Hawaii."

In the olden time, it was a common practice of the natives in the surrounding region to carry up the bones of their deceased relatives to the summit plateau for burial.
W. D. Alexander: Surveys of 1892

excerpt from
Mauna Kea – Kuahiwi Ku Ha’o i ka Malie
A Report on Archival and Historical Documentary Research
Ahupua’a of Humu’ula, Ka’ohe, districts of Hilo and Hamakua, Island of Hawai’i
by Kepa Maly
©1997 Kepa Maly, Kumu Pono Associates and Native Lands Institute

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This high altitude area was also used as burial grounds. In particular, the cinder cones at and below the summit region (some as low as 7,500 fee) have been identified as burial areas.

Boundary Commission testimonies for ahupua’a in Hamakua district include references to burials on cinder cones.

Bird Catchers And Bullock Hunters In The Upland Mauna Kea Forest;
A cultural Resource Overview of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Island of Hawai’i
by M. J. Tomonari-Tuggle
International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc.
August 1996

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The accounts of late 19th and early 20th century visitors to the mountain in conjunction with native boundary testimony, establish the use of both the mountain's upper slopes and the summit plateau as burial grounds.

Other observations of "graves" or "uncovered graves, eroded by high winds"…specifically locate burials within the summit plateau and suggest that interments in loose cinders were not necessarily marked by surface features or structures.

Cultural Resources Reconnaissance of the Mauna Kea Summit Region
REPORT 1. Ethnographic Background of the Mauna Kea summit Region
by Holly McEldowney
REPORT 2. Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey
by Patrick C. McCoy
Prepared for Group 70, November 1982
Dept. of Anthropology, Bishop Museum

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All of the known and suspected burials in the Science Reserve are located in cairns situated on the tops of cinder cones.

There are numerous references to human burials on the northern and eastern slopes of Mauna Kea, some at elevations that would fall within the boundaries of the Science Reserve. The practice of burying the dead in remote, high elevation areas may have been a common practice, based on the information collected by Thomas Thrum:

The use of the craters within Haleakala as burial places, far removed from places of habitation, is quite in keeping with ancient Hawaiian practice. Distances and difficulties were no bar to faithful execution in carrying out the instruction of a dying relative or friend. (Thrum 1921)

There are four other sites in the surveyed areas of the Science Reserve that have been identified as possible burials.

There is good reason to expect that more burials are to be found in the Science Reserve on the tops of cinder cones, either in cairns or in a small rockshelter or overhang. The basis for this prediction is that all of the known and suspected burial sites on the summit plateau are located on the tops of cinder cones and, more particularly, on the southern and eastern sides. No burials have been found on the sides or at the base of a cone, or on a ridgetop amongst any of the shrines. There in fact appears to be a clear separation between burial locations and shrine locations.

Mauna Kea Science Reserve Archaeological Site Inventory:
Formal, Functional, and Spatial Attributes

Patrick McCoy
Draft EIS
Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
Appendix E
1999

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Eben Low's obituary:
Ebenezer P.K. Low, 89, a man who loved the Big Island ranch country died Sunday. He has asked that his body be cremated and the ashes strewn across the top of Mauna Kea. His daughter Clorinda Lucas, said that his request will be taken care of. Mrs. Annabelle Ruddle of Hilo, his eldest living daughter, flew to Honolulu for the private services. His full name was Ebenezer Parker Kahekawaioumaokauaamaluihi Low.

Mauna Kea Science Reserve and Hale Pohaku Complex
Development Plan Update:
Oral History and Consultation Study and Archival Literature Research

Kepa Maly
Kumu Pono Associates

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And in the olden days, when our grandparents, they die…then that’s when we take the people where they want to go. Like my grandparents, they came from Kalapana side so they like to be up Mauna Kea mountain facing towards Kalapana. In 1944, we took them up there.

And not only us. There’s lot of kupuna been buried up there on the mountain besides my kupuna. Lot of people take the bone up there.

But people come over here that don’t have aloha for our kupuna, they don’t care. Now the mountain get lot of building. We don’t know if the bones have been dug out or the bulldozer push them over the side.

And they’re still finding bones, people’s bones that coming out from Mauna Kea. And that’s what I don’t like. I like them leave alone.

Arthur “Aka” Mike’ele Mahi
interview
May 2005

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Hawaiians and observatory staff have mentioned over the years the rumors of burials being disturbed and destroyed. Has there been any attempt by UH/IFA to investigate persistent rumors that Hawaiian burials have been dug up during construction activities?

Sierra Club comments on Draft EIS
Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan

Archaeological surveys promised by IfA [Institute for Astronomy] in 1985 remain unfinished despite concerns from Native Hawaiians, archeologists and others that burials may be disturbed during continued telescope construction. These concerns arise from long-standing oral histories which say that the summit of Mauna Kea is the burial ground of the highest born and most sacred ancestors. Nineteenth Century archaeological surveys also confirm that Native Hawaiian burials were "commonplace" on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea.

Astronomy director's response disappointing
by Nelson Ho
Viewpoint
Hawai’i Tribune Herald 7/11/96

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All of the current observatories and/or telescopes were built without the completion of archaeological surveys. So how can they know if they disturbed any sites or not?

Some of the pu’u’s, the cinder cones, in order to accommodate the telescope foundations, were just leveled. They were leveled in some cases as much as 40 feet. It’s also important to us because the pu’u’s are the burial places. And we don’t have any way of knowing if our burials were disturbed or not.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou
interview
Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege

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Would bulldozing cemeteries be allowed anywhere else in the world?

Carol Nervig
testimony before University of Hawai’i Board of Regents
June 2000

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The bones, the ‘ohana up on the mountain. Walking on our ancestors, stepping on our ancestors.

Richard Kupihea Romero
Public meetings on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May, 1999

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And how dare you put an observatory on top there, on our graves, on the grave site of my ancestors. How dare you do that?

Reynolds Kamakawiwo’ole
Public meetings on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May, 1999

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We cannot turn our back on our ancestors and say, “You know what, ancestors, can you just move your bones now?” No. We won’t do it. We will fight in every way possible we can.

If it was your church, I would expect you to do the same. If it was your graveyard or the graveyard of your mother or your father or your grandfather, I would expect you to do the same.

Ali’i ‘Aimoku Ali’i Sir Paul K. Neves
Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Moku o Mamalahoa, Heiau Helu Elua
testimony, NASA town meeting on Keck Outrigger Telescopes Project
October 2001

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The practice of removing burials for development has a long history in Hawai’i. In the late 1980's, when over one thousand bodies were removed for the construction of a beach resort on Maui, public opposition and outrage came to a head and forced the developers to move their site. Legislation was passed to establish burial councils on all islands to protect ancestral remains.

Today, laws call for Hawaiian families to be notified when potential development may impact the burial sites of their kupuna, or ancestors. But in the very act of protecting family burial sites, the burial councils are forced to reveal their locations.

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And sorry, but I feel it personally. It hits me when somebody tell me my kupuna is buried there and I gotta prove 'em. Our belief is that the secret places, where they stay and how they kept it, is supposed to remain secret.

member of Hawai’i Island Burial Council
council meeting 3/30/2000

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Under burial law, where known or possible burials exist, a burial treatment plan must be created. We know that the pu’u’s are the burial sites. We don’t know all the burials that are here. And, that’s why we need to resolve the burial issues on Mauna Kea.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou
interview

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In the past, there may have been some misunderstanding or cases where people might have found bones and those bones were probably misplaced or whatever. And so, in order to avoid that kind of misunderstanding, what we’re attempting to do is hire a cultural monitor and an archeologist who will be there at the time of the construction so that there would not be any misunderstanding and any mistrust, so that the Hawaiian community would feel that there is someone who is actually watching what the construction crew is doing.

So this is the one step that NASA’s taking to try to get someone like that on board. So we will not only have a cultural monitor who’ll be there during construction, but we’ll also have an archeologist who will also be available, who are trained to know what to look for.

John Lee, NASA
town meeting on Keck Outrigger Telescopes Project
October 2001


 


 

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