The Controversy over Ancestral Hawaiian Burial Grounds.

Mar 30, 2019 | General Information

Hawaiians believe that a person’s spiritual essence (mana) resides within their bones (iwi). Following death, a persons’s bones or iwi were considered sacred because within the bones resided a person’s mana. When planted in Mother Earth, the bones would impart the mana of the deceased intoto the land Thus supreme care was accorded to iwi following death. Ancestral remains or (iwi kupuna) were guarded, venerated and even deified. It was believed that the spirit of a buried person continued to hover near their bones. Desecration of iwi was not only an insult to an ancestor’s spirit but also would do harm to living descendants.

Over a great many generations these beliefs led Hawaiians to carefully bury loved ones upon their passing. They would strive to keep them safe in sand dunes, burial caves and wherever the ancestral remains of loved ones could be safely buried. But there was little safety for iwi kupana. Looting, archaeological collection, erosion and construction resulted in desecration and removal of the ancestral remains of countless thousands of deceased Hawaiians. Many of these ancestral remains were shipped to institutions throughout the US and Europe to be studied or housed in museums.

The desecration and disturbance of ancestral Hawaiian remains in the 20th century has been well documented. In 1976, ten years after the United States Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature adopted Chapter 6E, the Historic Preservation Program. 30 years later Hawaii issued a comprehensive 5-year state historic preservation plan. Representatives of the native Hawaiian community were members on the planning advisory committee. Responsibility for protecting and preserving historic properties in Hawaii was vested in the State Historic Preservation Division under the Department of Land and Natural Resources

The state’s Historic Preservation Program was belatedly created in response to demands by Hawaiians for legal protection of their ancestral burial places and the bones of their ancestors. In 1988, for example, the remains of approximately 1,100 ancestral Native Hawaiians were archaeologically removed to make way for construction of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the island of Maui. This burial site disturbance became a focus of protests by Native Hawaiians. At the time, however, Native Hawaiians lacked legal protection to prevent such desecration.

Following Native Hawaiian protests, such excavations were halted. A settlement was reached wherein the hotel was relocated. Hawaiian ancestral remains were ceremonially reburied. The state of Hawaii received an important message about protection of Native Hawaiian burial sites. But conflict over burial sites between Native Hawaiians and owners of the Grand Wailea on Maui continued. Built in 1991, 10 years later The Grand Wailea wanted to add about 300 rooms. Expansion was approved by the Maui Planning Commission but construction never began. Afterwards the resort changed hands several time. Plans for additional rooms and parking were reduced. Water and energy conservation measures were initiated.

If expansion plans proposed by the Grand Wailea were approved, it would have made it the second largest resort on Maui, only behind the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas. But the Grand Wailea had to be sensitive about issues of “responsible tourism” spreading all around Hawaii. Consequently the Grand Wailea recently launched an “Aloha Pledge” to promote responsible tourism, educate visitors on key issues impacting the Islands, and raise awareness among visitors about cultural, safety, natural resources and environmental issues. The Pledge is distributed to all guests upon arrival.

J.P. Oliver, Grand Wailea Maui’s managing director, said that “The Aloha Pledge is a result of our commitment to being thoughtful stewards of the land and being respectful neighbors. As hosts, we wanted to bring attention to important issues faced by local residents and reinforce with guests what it means to be pono and live with aloha as guests of this island.”

Even with scaled back expansion plans, the Grand Wailea Maui has to deal with objections by Native Hawaiian advocacy groups.. These groups are still asking for information on hundreds of ancestral burials disturbed over preceding decades and potential harm to burials from future construction. The hotel is committed to minimizing ground disturbance and maximizing responsible stewardship. Hopefully, with the help of archeologists and geotechnical experts, the Grand Wailea and Native Hawaiians will be able to find ways to do the best for Hawaiian ancestral remains.