Hawaiian Bones -- The 3 Rs -- Rites For the Dead, Rights Of the Living, and Respect for All (Detailed Version)*

** NOTE: A compressed summary of this webpage was published as a 1300-word commentary in the Kona newspaper "West Hawaii Today" in August 2007. Readers who lack time or patience for the detailed analysis, and do not need reference citations, might prefer to read that newspaper article, saved at:


(c) July 20, 2007 by Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights are reserved (but rites are not yet appropriate).


Burial remains are sometimes found when new roads or buildings are under construction in Hawaii. If bones are found which appear more than a century old or seem to be native Hawaiian, a lengthy decision-making process begins. Must the bones be left in place? If so, then multimillion dollar redesign might be necessary to avoid disturbing the bones, or the project might get cancelled because there would be no way to avoid disturbing them. Can the bones be moved out of the way to let the project go forward? Who decides, and on what criteria?

This essay does not seek to describe current decision-making standards and procedures. This essay is a philosophical inquiry into some of the historical, legal, and moral issues involved in deciding what to do when respect for ancient burials clashes with current economic desires and social needs.

Here are some conclusions.

Living people have rights, but dead people have only whatever rites are voluntarily given to them by the living. Burials of individuals whose names are remembered and whose accomplishments are known by living people through personal acquaintance or stories handed down, are entitled to far greater deference than unknown burials of people whose names and lives have long been forgotten.

People should respect each others' wishes, needs, and cultural perspectives; including the wish to leave burials in place and the wish to develop land for commercial or public use. Both kinds of wishes are worthy of a level of respect measured by the intimacy of connection between the wisher and the deceased or the construction project. Disputes over bones should be settled in the same way as any other moral, political, or economic conflict, respecting the equal status of races and cultures.

In both ancient and modern Hawaii different social classes had very different burial customs -- there is simply no way to say that any particular procedure was or is standard or universal for any particular racial or cultural group at any particular point in history.

The old Hawaiian religion was abolished by order of the political leadership during the year (1819) before American missionaries arrived (1820), so it seems improper and disrespectful to the ancestors for today's maka'ainana [commoners] to try to reinstate what their ancestral ali'i [chiefs] voluntarily abolished in pursuance of self-determination. Furthermore, the bones of two extremely high-ranking ancient chiefs were moved repeatedly by various ali'i between 1820 and 1918 whenever it seemed prudent to do so, thereby establishing the precedent that it is not disrespectful to disinter and move ancient Hawaiian bones.

Government's right of eminent domain to seize private property for public use should apply to ancient Hawaiian bones in the same way as it applies to ancient Roman or modern Euro-American and Asian cemeteries, which have sometimes been moved or paved over to build highways or government offices, or for economic redevelopment.

Lineal descendants of remembered bones clearly have rights to demand respectful treatment and to participate in decision-making. But so-called "cultural descendants" should have no special rights, and often are merely using burial disputes as ploys to assert political power for a racial group.

Respect for the dead without greater respect for the living is actually disrespectful to both. The mere fact that someone died does not make his bones more filled with spiritual power or more deserving of respect than the person himself was at the time he was living. The present and future must not be held hostage by the past. A dead hand must not be allowed to reach out to strangle living people and their community. Living people have the right to decide what to do with ancient burials and artifacts. The entire population has the right to participate in decision-making, with levels of respect and deference accorded to individual participants based on their degree of closeness to specific bones, artifacts, and development projects.

The several island burial councils have an important role as protectors of ancient bones and artifacts, on behalf of all Hawaii's people. The burial councils should not be racially exclusionary, because they speak for living people of all races regarding our wishes for cultural preservation and respect for the dead. It is expected that the burial councils will be zealous in urging that ancient burials remain undisturbed. That's why the burial councils do not have the final decision-making power over whether to leave burials in place or move them. It is also expected that the burial councils should be equally zealous in compiling lists of known and suspected burials, which developers should be required to consult. Depending on whether a developer has performed due diligence with a burial council, the burial council must understand that if it chooses to leave a burial in place, then the burial could be paved over or mangled. On the other hand, developers who fail to perform due diligence before a project is designed or excavated might be forced to do expensive redesign or even to cancel the project. Some specific proposals are offered in the conclusion at the end of this essay regarding how burial councils and developers should interact in ways that are both respectful and efficient, and who should have the final authority to make decisions in disputed cases.



What's the problem? Brief descriptions of two ongoing controversies, and several other recent ones.

Judging how much deference to give to someone claiming the right to decide what should be done with burial remains

Hawaiian burial practices were different for different social classes and in different periods of history. There is simply no way to say that any particular customs were standard or universal for native Hawaiians, either in ancient times or in modern times.

Treatment of Hawaiian bones (and artifacts) compared with treatment of Caucasian bones (and artifacts) -- exhumation; handling; public display; moving the place of interment

Moving or paving over entire cemeteries (ancient and modern); eminent domain; British commission proposes regulations for stacking and packing old coffins to make room for new ones


Personal note by Ken Conklin thanking the Johnson family for inspiration, especially Rockne Johnson for his clever use of language: rites vs. rights

Some published news reports and commentaries
(1) Commentary by Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna in the edition of December 10, 2000: "Those who claim Hawaiian artifacts should consider ancestors' intent"
(2) Commentary by La'akea Suganuma, president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, who is also the grandson of Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Püku‘i. "Return of objects would reflect ancestors’ wishes" Published in Ka Wai Ola O OHA [Office of Hawaiian Affairs monthly newspaper], September 2005, page 7.
(3) Book review of "Deaths and Funerals of Major Hawaiian Ali'i"
(4) News report in July 1, 2007 edition of newspaper "West Hawaii Today": "County: No alternate plan for Alii Parkway" Additional information from articles on September 20 and 21.
(5) Letter to editor in June 29, 2007 edition of newspaper "West Hawaii Today": "Burial Council: Move the Bones"
(6) News report in Honolulu Star-Bulletin of July 7, 2007 says 53 sets of remains have been found in the $100 Million redevelopment project at Ward Village (Kaka'ako, O'ahu near Waikiki) and the state Historic Preservation Division, which has final say about disposition of ancient native remains, is suggesting the project be redesigned because an archeologist says there could be hundreds more sets of remains in the way of construction.
(7) News report in July 27, 2007 edition of newspaper "West Hawaii Today" says "To date, $6.3 million has been spent on Kona's Alii Parkway project, yet the road is no more than an idea on paper" and describes the history and near future of this project.
(8) News report in The New York Times of September 21, 2009 says an old forgotten Catholic cemetery in Iowa was previously excavated and the bones were moved; but more bones have been discovered during a construction project. The project has been suspended temporarily until the extent of the problem is known, and then the newly discovered bones will be moved and the project will be completed.
(9) News report in Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2010, says a 160-year-old cemetery has been condemned to build a runway improvement at O'Hare Airport, and 1200 burials will be moved.
(10) New York Times, February 26, 2010 "During construction of a General Services Administration office building in Lower Manhattan, graves were discovered 24 feet below ground ... those remains led to the discovery of hundreds of other bodies in the same area ... these were black New Yorkers interred in what a 1755 map calls the "Negros Burial Ground ... In all 419 bodies were discovered — giving a clue to how many others still lie under the foundations of Lower Manhattan. (Estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 20,000.)"



In the area of Kona on Hawaii Island (The "Big Island") population growth and economic expansion have resulted in huge traffic problems. Roads built long ago are no longer wide enough or well-enough designed to permit a smooth and safe flow of traffic, especially during morning and evening rush hours. Since the 1960s planners have been designing road construction projects to solve the problem, with greater urgency in recent years. However, after investing lots of time and money for engineering designs, it was discovered that there is an ancient burial in the way. The island burial council is dominated by politically active ethnic Hawaiians who want to preserve Hawaiian culture and to slow or prevent development that threatens traditional lifestyle (even though very few individuals actually practice traditional lifestyle). The burial council is empowered by law to hold hearings, gather evidence, and make recommendations whenever an ancient burial is threatened by modern development. It held a series of meetings over a lengthy period, and reached the conclusion that the burial must remain in place and must not be disturbed. A proposal was recently made to build a bridge above the remains, leaving the burial in place, at a cost of $20 Million. That proposal is under serious consideration. Once the burial council makes its recommendation, the administrator of the state Historic Preservation Division will have the "final" decision. However, it can be expected that if the decision is contrary to the wishes of ethnic Hawaiian activists, the decision will likely be appealed to the Governor and/or the Legislature; and if those venues prove unsatisfactory then there will probably be a lawsuit. An article in the "West Hawaii Today" newspaper on July 1, 2007 summarizes where things stand. "County: No alternate plan for Alii Parkway"; the article is copied near the bottom of this webpage.

In Kaka'ako, very near Waikiki on the island of O'ahu, a large area of land owned by a private corporation is being redeveloped with approval from a government agency that oversees long-range planning for that area. Large sums of money have already been spent on project design, demolition, and construction. The $100 million-plus expansion plan for the Ward Village Shops includes a Whole Foods Market, an upscale supermarket, a 17-story rental apartment building, assorted retail shops and a seven-story parking complex. During construction 11 sets of ancient Hawaiian burial remains were found in March 2006. The O'ahu Island Burial Council heard from two families claiming to be "cultural descendants" of Hawaiians who formerly lived in that area, and who want the bones to stay exactly where they were found on the construction site. But landowner/developer General Growth Properties Inc. submitted a detailed burial plan to relocate the remains to a different part of the project site. On September 14, 2006 it was reported that the O'ahu Island Burial Council voted 6-4 that the bones can be moved. On March 29 2007 it was reported that the State of Hawaii approved the burial council proposal to rebury the bones a short distance from where they were found but away from current construction and future pedestrian traffic -- a decision for moving the bones that was opposed by most alleged descendants but endorsed by some. Bones will be stored in an air conditioned trailer for one or two years until reburial after construction is finished. A May 2 news report says 36 more sets of bones have been recently discovered in addition to the original 11. June 28 report says State Historic Preservation Division is asking the developer to redesign the project to allow remains to be preserved in place. A July 7, 2007 report (copied near the bottom of this webpage) says a total of 53 sets of bones have now been found, and there appears to be a large burial pit under the proposed condo tower's foundation which could contain hundreds more. The controversy will continue far into the future, undoubtedly causing long delays, huge expenditures for project redesign, and lawsuits. Meanwhile the bones uncovered thus far are held in storage until a final decision can be made -- the storage is, of course, a desecration in itself from the viewpoint of Hawaiian activists. A full collection of news reports and commentaries on this project for 2006 is in item #5 of the following webpage:
and the compilation for 2007 is in item #5 of the following webpage:

Note that in both the Kona and the Kaka'ako situations the bones were clearly not remembered. Nobody knows the name(s) or life stories of the people whose bones were discovered. Nobody can be found who can verify that the bones are those of a lineal ancestor, although a few individuals have asserted such a claim in the Kaka'ako case because of the fact that their families lived in that general area long ago. The fact that the bones were there was not known until they were stumbled over. There had been no religious or cultural ceremonies connected with those bones done by anyone now living.

There have been numerous controversies over the years regarding what to do with Hawaiian bones and also artifacts that might have been buried with the bones. Compilations of news reports and commentaries regarding the Kona and Kaka'ako controversies, and several other current ones in 2006 and 2007 can be found on the two webpages linked above.

In 1986 plans were made to do excavations of a large shoreline sand dune for construction of a Ritz-Carleton hotel at Honokahua Bay, Maui. The Maui Planning Commission approved a construction permit in late 1986, by agreement with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, knowing that there were ancient burials but providing a process for their respectful removal. During the first year of excavation of the sand dune, by November 1988 more than 800 sets of bones had been uncovered. An agreement was reached to set the hotel further back from the shoreline and to provide a permanent burial ground in the sand dune. Meanwhile the huge outcry from politically connected Hawaiian activists caused Congress to pass the NAGPRA law in 1990 -- "Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act." Chief sponsor of the legislation was Hawaii Senator Dan Inouye, Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. Key members of the Hawaiian reburial group Hui Malama were staff members in Senator Inouye's office. NAGPRA was written very broadly, to apply throughout the United States, to require respect for ancient native burials and to require museums to give back to Indian tribes the bones and artifacts that had been acquired during many decades of grave robbery or archeological work done without permission by the tribes. The NAGPRA law specifically includes "Native Hawaiians" in addition to federally recognized tribes. That law specifically names OHA and Hui Malama as two groups that are recognized Native Hawaiian institutions, but does not foreclose other groups from being recognized.

The NAGPRA law in general is described, together with several important Hawaiian controversies that occurred both before and after NAGPRA was passed. See a very large webpage with several large sub-pages: "NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) as applied to Hawai'i -- Mokapu, Honokahua, Bishop Museum Ka'ai; Providence Museum Spear Rest; Forbes Cave Artifacts; the Hui Malama organization" at

As discussed above, there have been many high-value projects in recent years which have been delayed, re-designed at great expense, or cancelled due to the presence of unmarked and unremembered ancient burials. It is astonishing that serious consideration is given to spending $20 Million to build a bridge for the sole purpose of avoiding disturbance to a single ancient burial.

There can be no doubt that the larger community gives great respect and deference to a few activists who give the impression of speaking on behalf of a 20% minority of the population. Partly that's because Hawaii's people are extremely generous and tolerant, in keeping with the Aloha Spirit. Hawaii people take seriously the concept that the virtue of a society is measured by the way it treats its weakest, most downtrodden members. And ethnic Hawaiian activists (including very wealthy ones) have done a masterful job of portraying their race as both the neediest and also the most deserving of help due to their beautiful culture. Ethnic Hawaiians have acquired a public-relations status similar to that of the endangered state bird (the nene), and endangered "Native Hawaiian" plants. An entire highly-favored racial group has been happily adopted as the state pet, to be fed and protected at all costs. See "NATIVE HAWAIIANS AS THE STATE PET OR MASCOT: A Psychological Analysis of Why the People of Hawaii Tolerate and Irrationally Support Racial Separatism and Ethnic Nationalism" at
However, this pet squawks when it doesn't get enough treats, and chases down its benefactors to demand more.



It's interesting to note that American law does not require that an individual's wishes for disposal of his own body must be respected. The next of kin has the right to decide how to dispose of the body, regardless of the wishes of the dead person. Wishes expressed in one's own Last Will and Testament are construed as merely recommendations which the next of kin need not follow; and in any case bodies are often buried or cremated before the dead person's will can be located, or pried loose from a sealed bank safe-deposit box. The same applies to organ donor cards or designations on drivers licenses. Thus the living have rights to decide what rites should be accorded to the dead.

Different levels of credibility and respect should be given to someone's wishes for dealing with burial remains, depending on what sort of relationship there is between the wisher and the dead person. Here are some general commonsense principles.

The highest degree of respect goes to wishes concerning the remains of a member of the immediate family with whom there was frequent contact; i.e., spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings, children. Wishes concerning remains of estranged or distant family members get lower priority. Wishes concerning a parent's grave that is rarely visited or whose location is forgotten get lower priority than wishes concerning a parent's grave that is remembered, visited, and occasionally honored with prayers or ceremonies. Wishes for the burial remains of specific known ancestors from three or four generations ago get higher priority than wishes for the remains of specific known ancestors from five or six generations ago -- our emotional connection with people we knew personally, or whom our parents knew, is stronger than our connection (if any) with the grandfather of our grandfather. Stories passed down about personality and accomplishments become less trustworthy and less emotionally pungent as more generations pass by. "He's my (biological) brother" or "He's my close friend" or "He and I fought side by side in a foxhole" entitles the speaker to a higher degree of respect for the speaker's wishes concerning burial remains than "He was a friend of my grandfather" or "He's not a family member or friend but he fought for our country in the War of 1812." On the continuum of giving credibility and respect to wishes for dealing with burial remains, extremely low priority goes to someone who says "I don't know who he was, except that because of how old the burial is I do know that his racial group is one of the racial groups in my own DNA, so there is a possibility that he could be a distant ancestor of mine." Virtually zero credibility and respect go to wishes of someone who says "I am a practitioner of some elements of the culture which anthropologists and historians believe people practiced in his long-ago place and time."

Issues regarding ancient artifacts are similar to issues regarding ancient bones, especially when the artifacts are found next to or near the bones. On Sunday, December 10, 2000 Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna wrote about rare cultural artifacts that had been removed a century ago from a burial cave where the artifacts were apparently stored two or more centuries ago -- artifacts which might have been funerary possessions of the deceased or which might have had no connection at all to the skeletons (unrelated artifacts could have been placed in that cave two centuries ago for safekeeping during a time of social upheaval, and placed next to bones that had been there for several centuries before that). She was writing about the Kawaihae Cave (Forbes Cave) controversy, for which there is a very large webpage compilation of news reports, hearing transcripts, and commentaries at

Cataluna claimed she had standing to express her wishes about the artifacts because a portion of her ancestry might (perhaps) share some DNA with the bones in the cave, and because some distant cousins of hers whom she does not know might (perhaps) have been involved in protecting the cave and/or performing ceremonies there. She said removing those artifacts from that cave was a desecration of the ancestors. She said "This is like the rosary you put in your grandmother’s hands before you closed her coffin. It’s the wartime medal your grandfather was buried with at Punchbowl. It’s the ring you left on your mother’s hand when you said your last goodbye." That's great tear-jerking language, but it's nonsense. Cataluna has no idea whose bones are in that cave. She does not know whether the artifacts that were removed had actually belonged to the people whose bones are there, or were placed there as part of a burial ritual; or whether the artifacts were placed there by unrelated local residents centuries later using a taboo burial cave as a sort of bank vault which nobody would dare to rob (see below for explanation). Cataluna has no credible relationship to those bones or artifacts, nor to anyone who might (or might not) have protected the cave or performed religious rituals there in ancient or modern times.

Cataluna's entire article is copied near the bottom of this webpage so readers can see that these quotes were not taken out of context. I wrote a private reply to her (to which she never responded), that included the following comments among others.

"If it could be established that the artifacts were actually buried with the bones as moepu, then your case for returning them to the cave would be much stronger. But still not conclusive, for the following reason. If I had placed my grandmother's exceedingly rare and valuable rosary in her hands 50 years ago before closing the coffin; and then this year someone discovers a cure for cancer which requires the same material her rosary was made from, I would reluctantly but decisively order the digging up of her coffin and the removal of the rosary from the bones of her hands. And I believe her spirit would approve what I had done. Far-fetched? Maybe. But modern-day Hawaiians are rediscovering their culture and spirituality, in large measure because of books written 100-200 years ago, and artifacts from that period and before. It would seem quite reasonable to suggest that the modern-day cancer of spiritual and cultural corruption and loss can be cured only by finding, preserving, and studying such artifacts. You say, " Those who claim Hawaiian artifacts should consider ancestors' intent." I say, maybe they are doing exactly that. Just as my grandmother would approve the exhumation of her body in order to retrieve her rosary to help living people today, perhaps those of your ancestors who are Hawaiian would approve the retrieval of artifacts, including even moepu, that will help living Hawaiians today and for generations to come to appreciate their cultural and spiritual heritage."

Should those artifacts be returned to those caves, never to be seen again? Were burial caves also used for safe-keeping of non-funerary valuables during times of social upheaval, such as when the ancient religion was abolished and the heiau and idols were burned by order of the King? Were the Forbes artifacts actually buried with the dead ancestors, perhaps as part of their personal property or perhaps to accompany them on their journey to the next world (in the way a wedding ring, rosary, or family photo might today be placed in a casket before burial)? Does that matter? Do ancient artifacts today have a historic or cultural value so great that keeping them available for study and inspiration of future generations outweighs the decisions of the ancestors who placed them in the cave? Could it be that if the ancestors were able to see today's circumstances their wishes might be to make those artifacts available? Is it possible the spirits of the ancestors still live, have current wishes, and actually helped explorers or modern descendants to find the artifacts and make them available? (La'akea Suganuma stated exactly that belief in a point-counterpoint written debate against Eddie Ayau of Hui Malama regarding the Forbes Cave artifacts. See his essay near the bottom of this webpage.) Who has the right to speak on behalf of the ancestors? Who has the right to make decisions about these matters (regardless of who speaks for the ancestors, and regardless if a decision is contrary to what those ancestors might say)?

Hui Malama claims to know what the ancestors want, and claims the right to represent all Hawaiians regarding bones and artifacts. Truly indigenous groups, and most Indian tribes, are small, cohesive, and culturally monolithic. That makes it reasonable for a chief or tribal council to speak on behalf of the entire group. But there are more than 400,000 ethnic Hawaiians, of many conflicting religious beliefs, scattered geographically, and thoroughly assimilated into a wide variety of non-native cultural and religious practices. It is extremely maha'oi (rude; disrespectful) for any individual or group of officials to claim to speak on behalf of all 400,000.

My mother's brother Bob died a few years ago. He and my mother always loved a candy known as Necco wafers. At the open-casket funeral, one of Bob's daughters handed my mother a roll of Neccos and suggested she put it into the casket to be buried with Bob. Mom asked "Really?" and then, seeing the daughter's nod of affirmation, she placed it next to his head. Thirty years from now, if it is discovered that Necco wafers deteriorate until after 25 years their disintegrated powder cures cancer, I will have no hesitation giving permission to dig up my Uncle Bob so the Necco powder can be given to whomever needs it. Today Hawaiians, and others, are afflicted with the cancer of drug abuse and social dysfunction. Ancient artifacts can help cure that cancer by reminding us about a spirituality that lies at the core of what makes Hawai'i a special place, and by giving pride and inspiration to future generations.

We have seen that the amount of deference to be given to someone's wishes concerning disposal of burial remains should be measured by the closeness of personal relationship between the wisher and the deceased. A corresponding analysis can be made for the level of deference to be given to someone's wishes for government or private construction. An elected official's wishes regarding construction of a road are entitled to greater deference than the wishes of individual residents. The wishes of individuals living near the projected construction project are entitled to greater deference than the wishes of people living far away. The wishes of commuters facing terrible traffic conditions are more significant than the wishes of people who do not live in or pass through the affected area and who have only a generalized opposition to modern development. The owner of a parcel of land or of a corporation intending to construct a building there should have greater rights to choose how to develop the land than individuals who have no ownership in that parcel or project and live far from it. Conflicts between people who favor development and people who favor preserving pristine conditions should be decided through the democratic political process, so that development cannot be rammed through against the consensus of community sentiment but development desired by the community cannot be prevented by the zealotry of anti-development activists.



An extremely valuable essay on sacred burial practices in ancient Hawaii was written by Betty Fullard-Leo in 1998, and is available on a large website operated by a Kona coffee company that has other valuable essays about Hawaiian history and culture. Fullard-Leo describes not only how ka'ai were created and hidden in secret burial caves, but also how sometimes bones were were thrown to Madam Pele at her fiery volcano pit, or bodies were wrapped and thrown to sharks (who were regarded as ancestral aumakua). See

Bones of high-ranking chiefs carried spiritual power which necessitated elaborate burial procedures. Such bones needed to be hidden to prevent enemies from using them to cast spells against living descendants or entire geographic regions. By contrast, dead commoners might be buried with little ceremony under the family house or in the backyard, or in a sand dune near the beach. Sometimes the bones of a fisherman were carved into fishhooks by his sons, ensuring good luck and helping feed his family; or a warrior's bones might be carved into spearpoints or other weapons so his warrior spirit could continue winning battles for his community. On the other hand, an enemy's bones might be carved into fishhooks (or used for decoration in a food bowl or spittoon) as a way of desecrating those bones or gloating over the killing of the enemy. An enemy warrior's bones might even be carved into spearpoints so that the dead warrior's spirit would suffer the pain of seeing his own bones used to kill his own friends and family in future battles.

Author Mark Twain in 1866 observed an enormous number of human bones lying exposed to the sun in Diamond Head crater where they had lain in the open for so many years nobody knew what had happened -- clearly the monarchy and the ordinary people knew about the bones but never felt a need to bury them. Twenty-five essays by Mark Twain from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), published in the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866, are available at
Twain's essay describing his horse ride through Diamond Head crater on April 24, 1866 is at

Some excerpts:

"Presently we came to a place where no grass grew - a wide expanse of deep sand. They said it was an old battle-ground. All around everywhere, not three feet apart, the bleached bones of men gleamed white in the moonlight. We picked up a lot of them for mementoes. I got quite a number of arm bones and leg bones - of great chiefs, maybe, who had fought savagely in that fearful battle in the old days, when blood flowed like wine where we now stood - and wore the choicest of them out on [my horse] afterward, trying to make him go. All sorts of bones could be found except skulls; but a citizen said, irreverently, that there had been an unusual number of "skull hunters" there lately - a species of sportsmen I had never heard of before. ... I did not think it was just right to carry off any of these bones, but we did it, anyhow. We considered that it was at least as right as it is for the Hawaiian Government and the city of Honolulu (which is the most excessively moral and religious town that can be found on the map of the world), to permit those remains to lie decade after decade, to bleach and rot in sun and wind and suffer desecration by careless strangers and by the beasts of the field, unprotected by even a worm-fence. Call us hard names if you will, you statesmen and missionaries! but I say shame upon you, that after raising a nation from idolatry to Christianity, and from barbarism to civilization, you have not taught it the comment [sic] of respect for the dead. ... Many people believe this spot to be an ancient battle-ground, and it is usual to call it so, and they believe that these skeletons have lain for ages just where their proprietors fell in the great fight. ... There was a terrible pestilence here in 1804, which killed great numbers of the inhabitants, and the natives have legends of others that swept the islands long before that; and therefore many persons now believe that these bones belonged to victims of one of these epidemics who were hastily buried in a great pit. ... If this was a battle it was astonishingly deadly, for in spite of the depredations of "skull hunters," we rode a considerable distance over ground so thickly strewn with human bones that the horses' feet crushed them, not occasionally, but at every step."

It seems likely that Diamond Head crater in 1866 was not the first occasion when Hawaiian native bones were lying about in the open. Hawaii has always been subject to severe storms, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, etc. Surely it happened numerous times that bones buried in shallow graves in the backyard, or in sand dunes near the shore, came to the surface and were exposed to the elements and to humans. The natives who buried bones in such places, having seen other bones exposed by storms, must have known the bones they were burying would not survive forever undisturbed. It is unreasonable for today's activists to say bones must remain undisturbed and be left in place, when natives in ancient times had no such expectation.

Two famous ka'ai that were stored in Bishop museum are 400-500-year-old woven sennit (coconut husk fiber) baskets in the shape of miniature humans, containing bones of major Hawai'i Island chiefs Liloa and Lonoikamakahiki. To read more about the process used for cleaning bones, wrapping them in a ka'ai, and hiding the ka'ai in a cave, see an excellent essay by Bettey Fullard-Leo regarding ancient Hawaiian sacred burial practices, at

These two famous ka'ai had been taken from a heiau in Waipi'o Valley on Hawai'i Island in 1820 to be placed in a burial crypt at 'Iolani Palace (an earlier house on the same site as the present Palace). The ka'ai had been moved to save them from the destruction of all the heiau, and burning of idols, ordered by the King in 1819. Later, when the new Royal Mausoleum was built on Nu'uanu Ave., the bones of royalty, and the ka'ai, were moved there in 1865. In 1918, before the royal bones from the Kingdom period were moved again from the first mausoleum (now a chapel) to a new crypt nearby, the two ka'ai (3 centuries older than the Kingdom) were placed in Bishop Museum, because of their great historical value. Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, heir to the throne if the monarchy had continued, personally delivered the ka'ai to the museum for safekeeping. All these things were done by Hawaiian ali'i. Yet a few cultural/religious zealots in 1994, possessing neither political authority nor distinguished genealogy, decided they are more knowledgeable and righteous about the ka'ai than the ali'i were during the Kingdom. Unproved rumors are that the theft was done by members or friends of Hui Malama, with help from a museum employee to circumvent museum security; and that the ka'ai were reburied in Waipi'o Valley.

Hui Malama is very clear on its website that a major purpose for reburying ancient bones and artifacts is to allow them to rot, turn to dust, and recycle their mana [spiritual power] into mother earth, from which will spring future generations of Hawaiians empowered by the mana of their ancestors. Put a different way, Hui Malama is saying that all tangible mementos of ancient culture should be allowed to disintegrate. See

Hui Malama also insists that bones must not be exposed to the sun, and that bones inadvertently uncovered must be promptly reburied in the same place. But those are taboos which clearly did not exist in 1866 and 1820 under the sovereign Hawaiian monarchy, as shown by Mark Twain's story about exposed bones and by the story of the sacred and historically priceless ka'ai being moved.

Let's remember that the ancient Hawaiian religion was overthrown by native leadership including King Liholiho Kamehameha II, his regent stepmother Ka'ahumanu (favorite wife of Kamehameha The Great), and high priest Hewahewa. They were indeed authorized to speak on behalf of all Hawaiians in a way nobody can today. They gave the order to destroy the heiau and burn the idols in 1819, many months before the Christian missionaries arrived. Some diehard traditionalists launched a civil war in defense of the old religion in 1819, until they were wiped out in the Battle of Kuamo'o. Today we once again have a small minority of diehard traditionalists -- the leaders of Hui Malama -- who are declaring war against other Hawaiians and against the federal courts. Hui Malama has a valuable service to perform, to work with the various island burial councils to give respectful reburial to bones inadvertently discovered during storms or construction projects, or to known bones which need to be moved. But Hui Malama must not be allowed to destroy the cultural patrimony. They should respect the decisions of their ancestral chiefs who abolished the old religion and who also did not hesitate to move the bones of extremely high-ranking ancient chiefs on numerous occasions when circumstances made it prudent to move them.

Today many ethnic Hawaiians use cremation to burn the bodies and bones of their dear-departed and then scatter the ashes on land or sea. Recent high-profile celebrity cremations and scatterings from canoes were done for Israel Kamakawiwo'ole on July 12, 1997, Rell Sunn on January 17, 1998, and Don Ho on May 5, 2007. Thus, instead of burying the bones secretly in a cave as would have been done for celebrities in ancient times; and instead of burying the bones in the ground or in a sand dune as would have been done for commoners in ancient times; today's ethnic Hawaiian celebrities are having their bones cremated and scattered at sea in high-profile public ceremonies. The case of Don Ho is especially interesting, because it was reported during live coverage of the ceremony on TV that Don Ho's ashes had been divided into 8 (or perhaps it was 10) separate containers, each dispatched by different relatives or friends from different canoes.

Thus it is clear that most of today's ethnic Hawaiians do not believe that the spirits of dead people live in the bones or might come back to dwell in the bones on special occasions; nor that the bones must be kept intact; nor that handling or exposure of the bones is a desecration. It doesn't make sense to say that spirits in ancient times actually had a different relationship with bones than spirits have today -- the nature of such a relationship (if any) is metaphysically true for all times and places. It is not the actual nature of the relationship between spirits and bones which has changed, it is instead the understanding of that relationship which has changed in the minds of living people. Thus most of today's ethnic Hawaiians have abandoned the religious views of their ancestors regarding the relationship between spirits and bones. There is clearly no sentiment today that bones must be protected because they contain mana that would be harmed if the bones are exposed, disturbed, or moved; and no sentiment that bones must be protected because they could be used to cast spells.

The only reasonable basis for treating ancient bones differently from the way newly dead bones are treated, is respect for choices made by people who died long ago. Today's Hawaiians believe that ancient Hawaiians had incorrect understanding of religion in general, and of how bones must be treated in particular. But today's Hawaiians might feel that regardless of the incorrect views of ancient Hawaiians, the choices they made should be respected and are binding for all time. And yet, today's ethnic Hawaiian activists, who are so zealous about not disturbing ancient bones, seem quite willing to violate ancient religion and the decisions made by ancestors whenever it suits the political or economic convenience of today's activists. Have there been any human sacrifices lately? Do men now eat together with women? Has any woman been put to death recently for eating bananas or coconuts? Are women today actually allowed to set foot on luakini heiau which were built by men who would have killed any woman who did that in ancient times? So it seems that the mere fact that the ancients made a choice -- or even sacrificed lives to enforce that choice -- is not binding on today's Hawaiians to perpetuate that choice. Certainly it would seem odd to imagine that the bones of dead people have greater spiritual power and deserve greater respect than the same bones of those same people when they were alive. It would seem not only odd, but also grossly inappropriate, to take the bones of an ancient farmer or fisherman dug up inadvertently from where they were buried haphazardly in a backyard or sand dune, and give those bones the "royal treatment" with kapa cloth, woven sennit ka'ai, or construction of a $20 Million bridge to avoid disturbing them.

St. Francis Hospice, in cooperation with the Hawaii Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, has sponsored a series of 6 workshops since 2002 to familiarize hospice workers, ministers, social workers, grievance counselors, etc. with the special customs surrounding dying, burial, and grieving in each of the major cultures in Hawaii. The first such seminar was focused on Hawaiian cultural practices, and was held in the large meeting hall at Borthwick mortuary (Honolulu) on June 7, 2002. A large crowd attended, with some people having to stand in the corridor near the entrance. Other seminars since then have focused on the Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Samoan, and Korean cultures, in that order.

The 2002 seminar on Hawaiian cultural practices included on the panel the highly respected and dearly beloved cultural expert Aunty Malia Craver, along with others from Queen Lili'uokalani Childrens Centers which works with families in distress. Panelists spent considerable time describing ancient burial and mourning customs, including the ali'i treatment of using an imu (underground oven) to bake the flesh off the bones, dispose of the flesh at sea, wrap the bones in kapa and/or ka'ai, and hide them in a remote burial cave. During the Q&A period I asked two questions. "Does anyone today follow those practices?" The answer was not to the knowledge of anyone present, although one zealous young man said he intended to find a way to ensure his own body would be treated that way, because it's important to preserve the culture.

I also asked this (paraphrased and expanded): "Are there any death, burial, or grieving customs followed by most Hawaiians today, which are different from the customs followed by others; so that a social worker or grievance counselor should be educated to expect those concerns to be an issue whenever he is informed that the dying or dead person is a Hawaiian?" That question caused considerable discussion, but in the end the consensus was "No, different Hawaiians have different needs and expectations; which are more or less the same as everyone else." Upon further reflection it seems that answer should be obvious. A first generation immigrant from a nation like Japan or Korea where the culture is fairly uniform could be expected to follow the customs unique to his country of origin; and perhaps his locally-born children might still speak the parent's language and follow some of the same customs. But ethnic Hawaiians gradually became widely scattered, significantly intermarried, and thoroughly assimilated to American lifestyle beginning perhaps 150 years ago; until today virtually all ethnic Hawaiians have a lifestyle and values greatly overlapping and mostly indistinguishable from other ethnicities.

A self-published book sheds light on the changes taking place in upper class Hawaiian burial customs during the century from the death of Kamehameha The Great through the death of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanaiana'ole. See Rianna Williams, "Deaths and Funerals of Major Hawaiian Ali'i." Numerous copies of the book are available in the Hawaii Public Library system. The book was reviewed in a Honolulu Advertiser article by Bob Krauss on July 22, 2000 in the "Island Life" section, at which time the book was also available for sale at the 'Iolani Palace bookstore. The review article contains a considerable amount of substantive information about burial practices, and is copied near the bottom of this webpage.

Ethnic Hawaiians are nothing like the truly indigenous Amazon Indian tribes, maintaining a subsistence lifestyle separate and apart from modern society; being so close-knit and homogeneous that any individual can speak for the entire group and all individuals can be presumed to hold the same beliefs and follow the same customs. The fact that someone has some percentage of Hawaiian blood tells us nothing about his lifestyle or values, and certainly nothing about his religious beliefs concerning bones and artifacts of dead people.

NAGPRA requires that all ancient Hawaiian bones previously stored in museums or newly dug up on public or private property must be "repatriated" to Hui Malama or OHA or some other recognized Native Hawaiian group. There are some ethnic Hawaiians who want to do DNA analysis of ancient bones but are prevented by NAGPRA from digging them up or from using bones still stored in museums. Bones that had been dug up from sand dunes on the Mokapu peninsula of O'ahu, during construction on the Marine Corps base there, were reburied in the sand dunes or stored elsewhere temporarily until conflicts could be sorted out between ethnic Hawaiian claimants who wanted to do DNA analysis vs. ethnic Hawaiian claimants who wanted to rebury them immediately. In the end the claimants who wanted DNA analysis gave up because their opponents (Hui Malama) were too "politically connected." See
The Hui Malama webpage on the history and jurisdiction of the Mokapu bones can be found at:

This dispute among claimants for the Mokapu bones mirrors the dispute in the Kennewick Man case. Local Indian tribes in Washington state claimed ownership of 9000-year-old bones on the general grounds that the bones must clearly be racially Indian (merely because they are so old) and should be given to the tribes with long histories in that area. Scientists demanded DNA analysis which they were confident would show that the bones were of European origin (based on facial structure etc.). In the Kennewick case, a federal court ruled that the public interest requires that DNA analysis must be performed to determine how NAGPRA should be applied and who is the rightful claimant, even though cracking the bones open might be seen by the Indian groups as a desecration. Might the Mokapu bones be European? The Indian tribes did not want DNA testing of the Kennewick bones for fear it might be proved that Europeans were the first people of America (thereby undermining Indian claims to be "indigenous.") The same issue arises with the Mokapu bones, and all other ancient burials in Hawaii. Should DNA testing be done to prove lineal descent and thereby establish who is the rightful claimant, or should DNA testing be prohibited because (some of the claimants say) it would be a desecration of the bones? Hawaiian sovereignty activists, including supporters of the Akaka bill, have a very strong economic and political interest in maintaining their claim that ethnic Hawaiians are "indigenous." Part of that claim is the assertion that ethnic Hawaiians were the "first people" of Hawaii. Thus, ethnic Hawaiian activists oppose testing of ancient bones for fear that some of them might be of European or Asian origin. Whether the court's decision in Kennewick would apply to Mokapu is unclear.

NAGPRA seems primarily focused on "liberating" native bones from museums, prohibiting new disturbances of ancient burials, and resolving conflicts among competing claimants for bones and artifacts. Once a particular claimant has won the struggle against other claimants for control over a set of bones or burial artifacts previously exhumed, it would seem logical that the newly certified owner could do what he wishes including destructive testing, public display, or reburial. But it's unclear whether NAGPRA prohibits individual ethnic Hawaiians or Indians from digging up the bones of their own lineal ancestors for whatever private reason they might have, including DNA testing. Partly that's because the more ancient the bones are, the larger the number of lineal descendants who might compete as claimants. On top of that, NAGPRA awards rights to "cultural descendants" who may or may not be related by blood to the dead person (other than having generalized "native blood") but who claim to be current practitioners of some elements of culture which they imagine the dead person also practiced.

Some descendants of Kamehameha the Great are adamant that they want to know all about their family tree. They are very frustrated by what they see as a coverup carried out by Hui Malama under the shield of NAGPRA. They are working cooperatively to pay for submitting their own individual blood to be tested in an effort to pool the results to discover the genealogy of Kamehameha descendants and the biological facts about Kamehameha himself (the exact location of his secret burial remains a mystery and may have been forgotten after so many generations).



Part of the argument in favor of Hawaiian sovereignty is the claim that the rest of the world in general, and haoles (Caucasians) in particular, discriminate against, abuse, and disrespect ethnic Hawaiians. Therefore Hawaiians need self-determination and legal sovereignty in order to protect their rights.

Hawaiian activists like to claim that they are subjected to a double standard. They say that one way haoles (Caucasians) discriminate against Hawaiians is by treating Hawaiian bones (and burial artifacts) with less respect than haole bones (and burial artifacts). An example of such a claim was the shrill commentary by Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna, cited above, comparing preserving the Forbes Cave artifacts at Bishop Museum to having a stranger exhume your grandmother's body to steal her wedding ring. Accordingly, it is necessary to examine how Caucasians in Hawaii and around the world actually treat their own burials and bones; and whether that is more careful or respectful than the way Hawaiian bones are treated.

Throughout Europe and America, exhumations of burials are allowed at the request of families, or by court order when families refuse permission. Families might request exhumation to recover burial artifacts such as wedding rings, or to use newly invented tests to find out what really happened to the dear departed. Murder investigations in "cold cases" sometimes lead to the need to perform DNA testing on corpses or bones that were buried decades ago, before modern DNA testing was invented. The suspect might actually be next-of-kin, who would therefore refuse a request for exhumation. Exhumation is then performed under court order.

It might be interesting to find out whether ethnic Hawaiian families voluntarily request exhumation for recovery of burial artifacts or to put their minds to rest by discovering more information about cause of death; and whether the frequency of such requests among ethnic Hawaiians is comparable to the frequency for other ethnic groups. But certainly it is clear that in the case of court-ordered exhumation there is no cultural or religious exemption for any racial or ethnic group, including Hawaiians.

The question then arises whether ancient bones and burial artifacts should be treated differently from more recent ones. The bodies of some historically important Caucasians have been exhumed to satisfy modern curiosity, sometimes with permission from descendants and sometimes without permission. See "List of genetic results derived from historical figures" at

Of particular interest for this webpage is the DNA analysis done on the exhumed body purported to be Luke the Evangelist. This is Luke, author of the third Book in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, who walked side by side with the Apostle Paul during the Second Century. This is interesting regardless whether the body actually was of Luke. People accepted that it was the body of a deeply revered (presumably Caucasian) saint; yet despite their reverence they exhumed the body and did destructive testing of the bones merely to satisfy curiosity. Note that Luke died before there were any ethnic Hawaiians, since it is generally accepted that no humans came to Hawaii until after Luke lived and died. Thus Luke has greater seniority and higher status among Caucasians than any native Hawaiian can possibly have among Hawaiians; and Caucasians were perfectly willing to exhume his body and do destructive DNA testing of his bones. This is clear evidence that Caucasians do not treat the bones of Hawaiians with less respect than they treat the bones of Caucasians. Egyptian mummies considerably older than Luke have also been exhumed and tested, including mummies of unknown names and mummies of famous pharaohs.

Many saints of the Roman Catholic Church from throughout its 2,000 year history have had their heads, hands, and bones separated from the rest of their remains and placed in reliquaries for public display. It is believed that touching such reliquaries, or praying in their presence, can confer forgiveness of sins or can reduce the amount of time someone will have to spend in purgatory. The head of St. Catherine of Siena can be seen by worshippers and tourists in the glass intersection between the vertical and horizontal pieces of the large cross that is the centerpiece on the altar of the Cathedral of St. Catherine in her hometown of Siena Italy (I personally saw it there sometime in the mid 1970s).

In Hawaii and Belgium the body of Blessed Father Damien deVeuster (candidate for sainthood) has been exhumed on more than one occasion. His right hand was severed and sent thousands of miles away for purposes of religious veneration and inspiration. These things were done by the choice of living Hawaiians, Caucasians, Asians, and others; exercising their rights to decide what rites should be given to a dead Caucasian.

Damien was born in Belgium in 1840, died of leprosy serving the leprosy exiles in Kalaupapa, Moloka'i in 1889, and was buried there. His body was exhumed by request of the government of Belgium and returned for burial in Louvain Belgium in 1936. In 1995 he was again exhumed, this time at the request of Hawaiians, so that his right hand could be severed for return to Hawaii. The hand was presented to a Hawaiian delegation at the beatification ceremonies at the Vatican. The hand was then brought back to Hawaii, placed in a Koa box, and made a tour around the islands for veneration, including a ceremony on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace where people could go up to touch the koa box (I personally attended the ceremony and touched the box). The hand in its box was then reburied in Father Damien's original grave at the Leprosy colony in Kalaupapa. Clearly ethnic Hawaiians believe it's OK to exhume the body of a Caucasian revered as a saint, and to cut off his hand to suit their own wish to have a relic to venerate. Why then should it be considered disrespectful or morally wrong for Hawaiians or Caucasians (or anyone else) to want access to Hawaiian bones for DNA testing, and to want artifacts (including those buried alongside bones) to be preserved in museums for public display and spiritual inspiration?

Two 500-year-old Ka'ai formerly stored in Bishop Museum, containing the bones of high chiefs Liloa and Lonoikamakahiki, were stolen and presumably returned to Waipi'o Valley to be buried and to rot. The Kawaihae Cave (Forbes Cave) artifacts formerly stored in Bishop Museum were also stolen, returned to their cave, and then returned to Bishop Museum under court order. The Hawaiians and Caucasians who want those bones and artifacts to be available for research and display are certainly not guilty of treating them any differently or less respectfully than they treat the bones of Luke, Damien, and other Caucasian saints.



Apparently the usual ownership structure is that a cemetery as a whole, and all the burial plots inside it, are owned by a government, church, or corporation. Individual burial plots for coffins, or niches for urns containing cremated remains, are owned by the owner of the cemetery, but are leased to a living person who then dies, or to the next of kin seeking a burial place. The situation is similar to a cooperative or leasehold condominium apartment building, except that the occupant of each unit is expected to remain there forever even when the owner of the land and building changes, even when the leaseholder of the individual unit changes, and even if there's a disaster. The lease consists of a right to use that space, and is presumed to pass down through the generations of next-of-kin. However, as the generations go by, people forget about or lose interest in their ancestors; and it becomes increasingly difficult to track down exactly who should be contacted for permission or notification in case a burial needs to be exhumed or relocated. At the beginning a leaseholder might pay a fee to the cemetery owner to be placed in a trust fund to ensure general maintenance of the cemetery or "perpetual care" of a particular grave. But nothing lasts forever, especially in the financial or managerial spheres. Perhaps there is war or revolution. Perhaps there is hyperinflation wiping out the purchasing power of the maintenance trust fund. Perhaps there's an earthquake or flood; or a managing agent embezzles all the money and runs to places unknown. Sooner or later (perhaps centuries later) every cemetery will fall into disrepair or disaster and be forgotten. Then what happens?

In places like Rome and Athens, thousands of years of civilization accumulate layer upon layer. Old cities fall apart or are destroyed in war or abandoned, the civilizations that spawned them decline and fall; and then new cities are built on top of the ruins of the old ones. Today when a new subway is to be built in places like Rome or Athens, or piles must be driven for a skyscraper, there's a procedure established by law that requires the developer to hire historians and archeologists to excavate the site looking for ancient burials, artifacts, etc. There's a reasonable time limit, after which construction goes forward regardless of what may or may not be discovered. The living are not held hostage by the dead. In Egypt many years ago a decision was made to build a dam across the Nile River at Aswan for flood control, water reservoir and hydroelectric power. Engineers were able to predict that because of the dam some important ancient temples, and probably many unknown burials, would be covered forever by rising water. Some of the most important temples were taken apart, moved, and reconstructed on higher ground; others were abandoned.

Ancient cemeteries which might be known to exist, but containing burials which are not individually remembered, are treated very differently from cemeteries which are merely old but where at least some of the individual burials are remembered. Ancient cemeteries not identified as important places in world or national heritage are excavated by scientists and then paved over. Old burials might acquire increasing respect -- even veneration -- as time goes by. In a few cases, such as the tombs of English medieval kings or Roman Catholic Popes, veneration might increase and survive down through the centuries. But in most cases veneration declines for all but the most famous celebrities, and sooner or later everyone forgets who is buried there. By contrast, nobody wants to disturb recent burials except in dire emergency, because living people remember and care for them.

Governments throughout the world have the right of eminent domain, to seize private property for public purposes, with fair compensation to the owners of the property. That right applies even to cemeteries. Governments are very reluctant to pave over cemeteries, or force them to move location, because of religious concerns and the difficulty of locating and contacting all the thousands of descendants of people who were buried one or two or three centuries ago. It's not always clear who owns the cemetery as a whole, or the individual burial plots, or the bodies buried in those plots; and whether the ownership is leasehold or fee-simple. Newer cemeteries might have an annual fee for maintenance and ignore graves for which the fee is not paid; very old cemeteries might have a trust fund which still contains money or perhaps has been dissipated.

When government does decide to exercise eminent domain to redevelop, pave over, or move a cemetery, its powers are great. In the U.S., cemeteries are generally regulated by the 50 states rather than by the local governments, partly due to public health concerns. But perhaps surprisingly, the federal government has priority over the state governments in exercising eminent domain over cemeteries. For example, a case from 1940 shows the federal government has the right to exercise eminent domain to condemn a cemetery to use the land for a federal government purpose, even though the cemetery had already been previously condemned by the state government. Neither the landowner nor the next of kin of the buried corpses were able to prevent the federal condemnation. See Robert P. Kneeland, "Eminent Domain: Power of the Federal Government to Condemn Land in Public Use for an Inconsistent Federal Use" (Michigan Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 1, November 1940, pp. 163-165; doi:10.2307/1282930).

In the U.S. a typical modern burial involves placing a casket into a hole six feet deep. However, some leases allow for two caskets to be stacked. The first (oldest) casket is placed nine feet deep and covered with dirt; and then the second casket is placed above it at the six-foot depth. Sometimes a spouse who dies first is buried at six feet; and then when the second spouse dies the first burial is disinterred, the hole is dug deeper to the nine foot level, and both caskets are then stacked into the same hole at nine and six feet. Who's on top is up to the second-to-die or his/her next-of-kin because the living have rights to decide what rites the dead shall be accorded. Burial plots intended to be used for urns containing cremation remains are leased with a contract specifying the maximum number of urns.

Cemetery managers report that many people visiting cemeteries walk in a very careful, gingerly way to avoid stepping on ground that is above a burial. They apparently feel it would be disrespectful or even sacrilegious to walk on top of a dead person. However, it should be noted that some of those same people are perfectly willing to dig up a burial of a spouse or family member in order to save money by re-using the same hole to stack two coffins. And perhaps some of those same people have participated in decisions or ceremonies where a dead person is cremated and the ashes are scattered. So much for treading gingerly! Logically there can be only one correct view regarding the metaphysical relationship (if any) between spirits and bones; so some people clearly have not spent the time to think carefully about that or else they find it impossible to reach a conclusion which they can follow consistently and which gives them comfort.

In some nations or political jurisdictions where land is very scarce, there is great economic and social pressure on individuals to use cremation, preferably with scattering of ashes rather than burial of an urn. The economic pressure comes from the high price of land; and the social pressure comes from the same sort of attitude that ostracizes people who flaunt their wealth in an impoverished community or who water their lawns during a drought. A government might impose restrictions on burials just as it imposes restrictions on water usage or trash disposal. But of course any particular human person is not a renewable resource like water, nor is he worthless like trash.

Following are several references and excerpts pertaining to Britain, which is selected because the language is English, the culture and burial customs are similar to the United States, and Britain is beginning to face a shortage of burial space prompting the government to look ahead and produce a report. This report recommends increasing the utilization of already-existing cemetery land by exhuming already-buried coffins, digging the hole deeper, and stacking coffins up to seven high in the hole even if the dead people sharing this condominium on top of each other have no relation to each other. Such a solution might seem bizarre and perhaps disrespectful to the dead; but it represents the product of careful thought by Caucasians willing to apply those recommendations to themselves, thus showing again that Caucasians are not proposing to treat native bones in ways they are unwilling to treat their own bones. Eventually a similar solution might be needed in Hawaii; and if so, native burials should be subjected to the same stacking and packing as non-native burials; if that's what the democratic political process chooses to do.



Michael Levy - June 10th, 2007

If you were going to bunk with someone for eternity, who would it be? Ever pass by a cemetery and wonder what they’re going to do once all the plots are claimed?

Is stack ‘em and pack ‘em the answer? Well, yes, of course!!!

Many countries, including England and Wales, are running out of cemetery space. Indeed, it was predicted that all burial plots in England and Wales would be full in about three decades (and, in London they might be exhausted by about 2020). So, in 2001 the British government began to review the burial law and in 2004 began a public consultation.

Labour Deputy leadership hopeful Harriet Harman unveiled the government solution last week. According to the BBC: “In a technique called ‘lift and deepen’ old graves will be deepened with room for up to six new coffins to be placed on top of the older remains.” The mandate, which through the consultations had general support from the public (it is already being practiced in part of England), would call for no plot being reused until at least a century had passed.

Now, one more thing for us to think about for after we die: who would you want on top of you for eternity?

For more context, you may want to consult:

An excellent report by the Council for British Archaeology entitled Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century

FAQs on burials and cemeteries by the Cemetery Research Group at the University of York




** Excerpt from the University of York FAQs mentioned above in the BBC blog

Isn’t it illegal to disturb human remains?

Once interred, human remains cannot be disturbed without a special licence. For well over a century, application had to be made to the Home Office. In 2006, responsibility was transferred – along with other burial legislative matters – to the Department for Constitutional Affairs. There has, however, been no change to the requirement to apply for a licence in cases where remains are disturbed, even if that disturbance is accidental.

Licenses have never been made available for the purpose of reusing a site for burial, although there are many instances of licenses being issued for the removal of bodies from churchyards to facilitate building, road-widening and other developments.



Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century

Comments by the Council for British Archaeology

** Excerpts from the report mentioned above in the BBC blog entry

Question 21: Mass Clearance of burial grounds

The consultation paper (footnote 24 and elsewhere) displays some lack of realism in relation to how the law currently applies to ‘recognised’ burial grounds. This is a useful concept but hides a much more complex situation in terms of what records exist of extant and disused burial grounds.

There is a further supposition implicit in this section and Question 21 that all mass clearances of disused burial grounds are subject to the 1981 Act and equivalent measures. This is not the case. In practice the Disused Burial Grounds Act is seldom applied to ancient burial grounds because its purpose is widely perceived as being to give close living descendents the opportunity to object to clearance, and prevent disturbance of burials less than 50 years old. For more ancient burial grounds (typically having ceased to be used more than about 150-200 years ago) it appears that it is the provisions of the 1857 Act and the requirement to report unexpected discoveries to a coroner that generally apply. This covers the majority of archaeological investigations of burial grounds of prehistoric to early modern date.

In a sense therefore, an informal rationalisation of existing legislation is already being implemented in practice. However it is in many respects only partial and could usefully be formalized. Problems most commonly arise where developers have not properly planned for the need to exhume burials from a disused burial ground – especially where the number and complexity of burials is very substantial.

To make the regime more effective we would suggest the following elements:

Rationalisation of legislation to cover all exhumations and reburial under one licensing system (potentially making specific allowance for ecclesiastical law with provision to delegate to church authorities)

A requirement on local authorities to maintain (as part of their planning and environmental records) map-based records of all known burials and burial grounds (both functioning and disused), indicating where ecclesiastical law (or administration) will prevail

For development, reopening or other clearance of burials from older burial grounds – or other sites where there is sufficient reason to expect human remains to obtain a burial licence in advance – the advertisement of burial licence applications could be part of planning application advertisements (in a similar manner to advertisement of listed building or conservation are applications)

For clearance or reopening of burial grounds closed within (say) the past 200 years more stringent requirements for stand-alone advertising for descendants’ objections might be made, together with continued provision for exhumations not to proceed with burials less than (say) 75 years old attracting objections from relatives

Full costs of exhumation and reburial, including an appropriate level of archaeological investigation, recording analysis and reporting to continue to be met by developers, in line with current archaeological practice under PPG16

Provision for coroners to issue burial exhumation licences in the case of unexpected archaeological discoveries – ie human remains not warranting police investigation.

Questions 22 : Reuse of Graves – issues of principle

The issue of reuse of graves is complex because it involves many different values (including both theological and secular ones about the ethics of disturbing burials), and also raises a wide range of purely practical issues of implementation.

In commenting on this, we make some observations about public attitudes to maintaining the integrity of burials and burial grounds (so far as that may be noted from how the public react to archaeological investigations of burials); we draw attention to some archaeological issues in terms of general principles; and we note some practical issues of implementation.

Public attitudes

Archaeologists have considerable experience of public attitudes to the exposure, exhumation and reburial of human remains. It is very evident that the public take great interest in human remains and the evidence that they shed on the past. This is self-evident from TV programmes and the fact that one of the most successful of recent years, Meet the Ancestors specialized in this area (and achieved viewing figures of several million). This reflects the interest that archaeologists regularly encounter when cemetery excavations (or any dig with a burial) are open to the public. There is thus much public interest in and support for the proper scientific excavation of human remains.

In the recent case of the clearance in construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link of an extension to St Pancras graveyard that was closed in the 1850’s, there was much concern when it became clear from the authorities monitoring the work that the contractors (facing time and cost constraints) started to bulldoze burials instead of adhering to pre-arranged procedure for exhuming them. The fact that the public could not see what was being done did not help.

On the whole archaeologists very seldom face public hostility to their work. It appears that the basic principles of adopting an archaeological approach to maintaining the integrity and identity of individuals (coupled with respect for religious sensitivities) seem broadly to satisfy the public’s concerns. Conversely, it is likely that the public would consider the mass clearance of human burials without respecting the integrity of individuals as being generally unacceptable – regardless of period, whether individuals are identifiable or religious affinity.

However, these considerations (which suggest that the public might not be especially concerned about disturbance and reburial as long as human remains are treated with respect) apply to graveyards that on the whole are relatively ancient and are being redeveloped for purposes other than reuse for more burials. Different attitudes may prevail when it comes to reuse of graves in major extant cemeteries, and we believe this needs proper research before proposals are taken further.

Question 26: Whether the Lift, Deepen Rebury method of reuse is most appropriate

The proposed Lift, Deepen, Rebury method of reusing graves has the advantages of making it possible to retain the original location of the grave and the association of the individual with the cemetery, together with the associated memorial. It comes closest to retaining the basic archaeological and historical integrity of the cemetery and the people buried in it – provided that technical requirements of recovery and reburial of remains are met.

Very major disadvantages arise with this method as soon as memorials are disassociated from burials, graveyard layouts are changed, or burials are disturbed and reburied with little regard for maintaining their integrity. All of these are likely to be significantly more problematic for multiple reuse of graves than a single reuse. Further major disadvantages arise where a cemetery is located on a site of archaeological interest, and in this case the method should not be used. (The cost of properly mitigating the effects of such reuse is likely both to be very considerable and archaeologically unsatisfactory if, for example it was done simply by trying to investigate and record underlying archaeology on a grave-by-grave basis).

The suggested alternative, of reburial elsewhere (either in the ground or some form of ossuary) is already common practice for disused burial grounds that are cleared archaeologically. A number of methods are used. Where the remains are – or are likely to become – of interest for scientific research storage in an accessible form is an acceptable practice given proper respect for relevant religious and cultural sensitivities of directly related descendants and directly associated faith communities (this is in itself an area of some controversy arising from a DCMS review of issues surrounding repatriation of human remains from museums). Reburial (or other storage) elsewhere may seem to be a suitable means of mitigating the danger of disturbing underlying archaeological remains, but for well-preserved cemeteries it does not overcome the disadvantage of dissociating burials from their memorials.

We believe that as far as possible the historical, cultural and archaeological integrity of cemeteries should be retained, and this should be a prime objective. If reuse occurs, then in most cases it would probably be much better to add additional memorials than remove and replace original ones. It is not at all clear that adding names to existing memorials would be either aesthetically or socially acceptable – even if the grave is only reused once.

The consultation paper raises the idea of multiple reuse of graves for several burials – presumably over many decades. This has entirely different implications from a single reuse, and in particular raises the issue of whether re-openable vaults would need to be constructed. This in turn has very significant implications for costs as well as for ancestral relationships and what is or is not practicable in relation to original memorials. In our view this needs considerably more detailed consideration than is possible through this consultation.



Dead people have rites, but only living people have rights. It is for the living to make decisions about the dead, including what to do about ancient burials and artifacts. Today's living people of Hawaiian ancestry share the same range of religious beliefs and cultural practices as everyone else in our thoroughly integrated, intermarried, multicultural society. The bones of dead Hawaiians deserve the same respect as the bones of everyone else -- no more and no less. The present and future must not be held hostage by the past. A dead hand must not be allowed to reach out from its grave to strangle living people and their community.

Two common bits of folk wisdom provide guidance here. Carpenters are told: measure twice, then cut once. When two children are going to share a piece of cake, Mom tells one of them to cut the cake while giving the other child the right to choose which piece to take.

The greatest controversies regarding burials in Hawaii arise from the fact that ancient burials are unmarked, often unknown and deliberately hidden, sometimes found in unexpected places, usually unremembered, and kept out of public knowledge when they are remembered.

"Ancient" burials in Hawaii can be surprisingly recent. Certainly anything before Captain Cook arrived in 1778 is ancient. Nearly all burials before the Christian missionaries arrived in 1820 can be presumed ancient. Thereafter burials gradually switched to Christian modalities; sooner for high-ranking ali'i [chiefs], later for maka'ainana [commoners] in urban areas, and much later for maka'ainana in remote areas.

Society has political and legal procedures for resolving conflicts among individuals, corporations, and governments regarding land use, eminent domain, and burials. There should be no racial discrimination in the way those procedures are applied -- native people should not have their burials robbed or desecrated as though the natives are somehow subhuman; but non-natives should not have their uses of the land restricted disproportionately merely because the burials there are native rather than non-native.

So how can governments and private developers be respectful but also efficient in bringing projects to successful conclusions?

The several island burial councils have an important role as protectors of ancient bones and artifacts, on behalf of all Hawaii's people. The burial councils should not require any particular racial heritage as a condition for membership, because they speak for living people of all races regarding our wishes for cultural preservation and respect for the dead, and because interracial decision-making is a prerequisite for interracial trust and comity.

A burial council should diligently compile lists of the locations of all known burials, and of areas which culturally knowledgeable experts consider likely to contain burials. By compiling such lists and sharing them during due diligence consultations with developers, a burial council will minimize the number of times it might need to choose between the unpleasant alternatives of leaving a burial in place to be paved over, or moving a burial perhaps quite far away.

The burial councils must be made to understand that their role is to work with governments and developers to help design projects during the planning stages to avoid disturbing burials; and to minimize and mitigate disturbance during and after construction. A burial council should not expect that its decision to leave a burial in place will result in cancellation of a planned project; nor expect that it will force a multimillion dollar redesign of a project previously granted a permit after due diligence.

It is expected that the burial councils will be zealous in urging that ancient burials remain undisturbed. That's why the burial councils do not have the final decision-making power over whether to leave burials in place or move them. Perhaps they should be given that authority on those occasions when a developer has failed to exercise due diligence.

When a developer has exercised due diligence by checking burial lists compiled by an island burial council beforehand, and there are no known or likely burials, then the developer should have an absolute right to go forward with the project. The role of the burial council should, under those circumstances, be limited to making recommendations on minimizing or mitigating any unexpected, inadvertent disturbance, knowing that a decision to leave a burial in place could result in paving it over or driving piles through it. In most cases the burial council will probably choose to move the remains.

When a developer has exercised due diligence, then the burial council should not be allowed to force cancellation of a project merely because the council decides the remains should be left in place. Therefore burial councils will be highly motivated to produce thorough and detailed lists of known burials and places where there are likely to be unknown burials, and to share that information freely with governments and developers. Burial councils will not be able to serve as agents of antidevelopment extremism, because they will know that they cannot use concerns over burials as an excuse to stop development when developers have performed due diligence and have relied on the information provided to them by the burial councils (however incomplete or shoddy that information may be).

Developers should be required to examine burial council lists of known burials and lists of places where unknown burials are likely, and to consult with burial councils during the early stages of planning and design. When the developer and burial council sign affidavits that due diligence has been performed, then a permit can be issued. If a burial council refuses to cooperate, or needlessly delays the process, then the Historic Preservation Division or a court can certify that due diligence requirements have been satisfied.

A developer who fails to exercise such due diligence should be fully liable for all delays, redesign, or project cancellation. If burials are encountered during construction on a project where the developer failed to exercise due diligence, then a burial council decision to leave the burial in place and undisturbed should be final even if it means spending megabucks on project redesign. A burial council should not have authority to force cancellation of a project, although the developer might choose to cancel when faced with a need for expensive redesign to avoid disturbing a burial. Governments and developers, realizing the dire consequences of being forced to redesign or cancel a project, will be highly motivated to perform due diligence and consult with burial councils to ensure that those councils cannot later demand redesign.

But if a developer and burial council have signed an affidavit confirming that due diligence and consultation were done, and if in fact there was nothing on the burial council lists which would cause a prudent person to exercise great caution, then the developer should have great leeway to go forward with design and construction. In such a case, if unknown burials are inadvertently disturbed, the burial council should be given a limited period of time to propose how further disturbance should be minimized and mitigated. Under these circumstances the developer should have the absolute right to go forward with the project, and the role of the burial council should be limited to deciding whether the burial should be left in place (perhaps resulting in paving over or mangling it) or should be moved.

Thus, both the burial council and the developer have great responsibility to find out beforehand where the bodies are buried, to work collaboratively to avoid problems, and to resolve disputes efficiently. If either party fails to do its job properly, it will bear the burden of unpleasant consequences.


* PERSONAL NOTE BY KEN CONKLIN: I would like to thank my friend Professor Emerita Rubellite Kawena Kinney Johnson, her daughter Kaleihanamau Johnson, and Hana's father Rockne Johnson, a founder of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii. It was through Kumu Kawena that I became acquainted with Hana. Hana once mentioned to me that her father had told her that living people have rights but dead people have only rites. As the 'olelo no'eau says, "I ka 'olelo no ke ola, i ka 'olelo no ka make." Words have life, words have death. The clever wordplay between rites and rights stayed in my mind as a living concept which matured and gave birth to more ideas, stimulated by ongoing public concern over the conflict between ancient Hawaiian burials and modern land development. I contacted Rockne Johnson to verify how he had used that wordplay, and he was kind enough to send me a letter to editor he had submitted in December 1997 to a British magazine for genealogy buffs in response to two articles which had focused on the extent to which the privacy rights of dead people and their living family members should be respected when publishing genealogical research. Mr. Johnson wrote as follows:

"The dead may have rites but they never have rights! In the November 1997 issue of Family Tree Magazine , Roy Stockdill (Privacy and the genealogist) correctly asserts that "the dead have no right to privacy." His position is firmly rooted in the Anglo-American theory of societal rights as developed by John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, et al. This holds that the fundamental right is the right to life from which all other rights proceed. It then becomes a contradiction to speak of rights of the dead (Family Tree Magazine , December 1997, the Rev. Prebendary A. R. Royall). It becomes patently ludicrous, as the author himself recognized, to write that certain dead "enjoyed" the "right of burial." The living bury the dead for their own reasons. The dead may be buried out of respect, by custom, or for sanitation, but never out of right."


(1) Commentary by Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna in the edition of December 10, 2000: "Those who claim Hawaiian artifacts should consider ancestors' intent"
(2) Commentary by La'akea Suganuma, president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts, who is also the grandson of Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Püku‘i. "Return of objects would reflect ancestors’ wishes" Published in Ka Wai Ola O OHA [Office of Hawaiian Affairs monthly newspaper], September 2005, page 7.
(3) Book review of "Deaths and Funerals of Major Hawaiian Ali'i"
(4) News report in July 1, 2007 edition of newspaper "West Hawaii Today": "County: No alternate plan for Alii Parkway" Additional information from articles on September 20 and 21.
(5) Letter to editor in June 29, 2007 edition of newspaper "West Hawaii Today": "Burial Council: Move the Bones"
(6) News report in Honolulu Star-Bulletin of July 7, 2007 says 53 sets of remains have been found in the $100 Million redevelopment project at Ward Village (Kaka'ako, O'ahu near Waikiki) and the state Historic Preservation Division, which has final say about disposition of ancient native remains, is suggesting the project be redesigned because an archeologist says there could be hundreds more sets of remains in the way of construction.
(7) News report in July 27, 2007 edition of newspaper "West Hawaii Today" says "To date, $6.3 million has been spent on Kona's Alii Parkway project, yet the road is no more than an idea on paper" and describes the history and near future of this project.
(8) News report in The New York Times of September 21, 2009 says an old forgotten Catholic cemetery in Iowa was previously excavated and the bones were moved; but more bones have been discovered during a construction project. The project has been suspended temporarily until the extent of the problem is known, and then the newly discovered bones will be moved and the project will be completed.
(9) News report in Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2010, says a 160-year-old cemetery has been condemned to build a runway improvement at O'Hare Airport, and 1200 burials will be moved.
(10) New York Times, February 26, 2010 "During construction of a General Services Administration office building in Lower Manhattan, graves were discovered 24 feet below ground ... those remains led to the discovery of hundreds of other bodies in the same area ... these were black New Yorkers interred in what a 1755 map calls the "Negros Burial Ground ... In all 419 bodies were discovered — giving a clue to how many others still lie under the foundations of Lower Manhattan. (Estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 20,000.)"


Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday, December 10, 2000

Those who claim Hawaiian artifacts should consider ancestors' intent

By Lee Cataluna, Advertiser Columnist
[Note from Ken Conklin: She is also the daughter of OHA trustee Donald Cataluna, and the family aggressively supports the Akaka bill]

There is a place, a hidden place near the water, where the faintest line in the brush leads through branches and thorns to a clearing so silent and still your ears make up words to fill the void.

My ancestors are buried here, people who lived before Kamehameha rose to power, before Hawai‘i had a flag, before Lili‘uokalani cried for her people.

Someone in my family takes care of the graves, makes sure they’re both hidden and clearly marked, brings gifts and prayers. I don’t know which relative has taken on this kuleana. At this point in the genealogy, it could be one of hundreds of cousins. It could quite possibly be a stranger to me, but someone who shares the same blood.

If by some malevolent turn of fate the gravesite was discovered, uncovered and robbed, I would join in with this anonymous relative to do whatever necessary to return our ancestors and their belongings back to their place. Whatever necessary. Wouldn’t any family?

When it was first reported that Hui Malama I Na K¬puna O Hawai‘i Nei had taken burial objects from the Bishop Museum and returned them to their original resting place in Kawaihae, it seemed such a brazen act. The museum said the objects were loaned to Hui Malama, not given for reburial.

But Hui Malama I Na K¬puna O Hawai‘i Nei is an organization that was formed specifically to take back the bones and burial objects of Native Hawaiians from the hands of museums, universities and collectors and return them to the earth, to their homeland.

Hui Malama has done this many times, working with, and sometimes fighting with, museums worldwide.

The organization has worked with Bishop Museum through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to do exactly this sort of thing. Why Bishop Museum would consider a "loan" to this organization is confusing when Hui Malama’s intent is clear.

Now other claimants are jumping into the fray, some demanding the return of the objects, setting deadlines and threatening lawsuits. The objects in question have been called "priceless," which is still a monetary way to look at their value. People are arguing about who the artifacts belong to, where they belong.

Last week, the Bishop Museum board told the 13 legally recognized claimants to decide unanimously among themselves what the final disposition should be.

This is huge. It isn’t very often that Hawaiians have the opportunity to decide for themselves, especially when the issue is something so complex, emotional and important to the culture.

Complex, but at the same time, very simple.

The trouble starts when you look at these items as historically or scientifically significant and stop looking at them as what they are. These are gifts lovingly and reverently placed in the graves of family members.

This is like the rosary you put in your grandmother’s hands before you closed her coffin. It’s the wartime medal your grandfather was buried with at Punchbowl. It’s the ring you left on your mother’s hand when you said your last goodbye.

These things were intended for burial in that cave at Kawaihae, not for study, not for preservation, not for divvying up among later generations. Hui Malama sees these objects for what they are and did whatever necessary to put them back where they were intended to be.

The 13 claimant groups have the opportunity to work together as a family, as far-flung descendants of the same line, to do the right thing by their ancestors.

Hawaiians believed that the dead and the living members of a family must take care of one another, that both sides work together for the health of the culture. The claimants need to remember what their ancestors intended back then, and what they’d want today.


Ka Wai Ola O OHA [Office of Hawaiian Affairs monthly newspaper], September 2005, page 7.

Return of objects would reflect ancestors’ wishes

By La‘akea Suganuma

La‘akea Suganuma is the president of the Royal Hawaiian Academy of Traditional Arts. Suganuma is also the grandson of Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Püku‘i.

He ‘onipa‘a ka ‘oia‘i‘o.
Truth is not changeable

Over the last five years, the path of the Kawaihae (Forbes) cave controversy has twisted and turned like a lei wili, seemingly random at times, but firmly guided with a specific outcome in mind. This path was designed to reveal to us truths that some have forgotten.

For starters, there is no such word in our language as “moepü.” The dictionary lists “–moepü” with a preceding hyphen, indicating that it’s not a stand-alone word. For example, ho‘omoepü means to place artifacts with the dead (literally to put to sleep with). The object placed is still the object. In other words, a favorite fishhook placed with a fisherman is still a fishhook. It does not become a “placed with the dead.”

We are in conflict over the Kawaihae cave objects only because the instigator of this controversy, the Bishop Museum under former director Donald Duckworth, gave away all 83 objects to Hui Mälama and lied about it being a loan.

What I offer is not intended to criticize anyone, as I believe that all the claimants have aloha for our ancestors and want to do the right thing. We differ, however, as to what that is.

Ua ao Hawai‘i ke ‘olino nei malamalama Hawai‘i is enlightened, for the brightness of day is here.

The biggest issue is whether the objects belong back in the cave. Hui Mälama says they do because we should not second-guess the ancestors. I say they don’t – for the very same reason.

If you think Hawaiian, the answers are simple.

Hui Mälama is fond of relating a story from Samuel Kamakau’s book Ka Po‘e Kahiko that demonstrates the mana of the ancestors and sanctity of burial sites. The story tells of a burial pit in Waimea filled with ancient possessions of various chiefs, which mysteriously started burning from within, continuing for days. A haole doctor had planned to loot the cave to take the “artifacts” on tour to England. But all was destroyed. Kamakau suggested the ancestors demonstrated their wishes that the treasured apparel and weaponry was not to be plundered.

I would agree and further assert that there is no such thing as an accidental discovery of a burial cave. The kapu placed on a burial cave must be lifted in order for the cave to be “found.” Nothing is discovered without the blessings of the ancestors.

If we believe in the power of our Waimea ancestors to protect themselves and their belongings, it then follows that our Kawaihae ancestors could do the same.

Look at what was happening in 1905. Everything Hawaiian was being replaced with foreign ways. Language, dance, customs, traditions, all slipping away from the descendents of those whose iwi and possessions lay hidden in the cave.

The ancestors asked: “How will our descendants know us unless they see what we created and understand how we lived?”

Because the ancestors knew that their iwi would not be used against them and everything hidden would remain in Hawai‘i nei, not displayed in far off lands, the kapu was lifted and the cave was “discovered.”

Do the küpuna have the power to protect themselves or not? It can’t be both ways. Either you believe and trust in the ancestors, or you don’t. In the Hawaiian way of thinking, if these things were not meant to be seen, they wouldn’t be. It’s as simple as that.

So who is second-guessing the ancestors?

Why do I support the return of the objects to the museum? Because it is the desire of the ancestors, and must be carried out!


Honolulu Advertiser, Saturday, July 22, 2000

Ali'i funerals were a procession through social change

DEATHS AND FUNERALS OF MAJOR HAWAIIAN ALI‘I by Rianna M. Williams, self-published, soft-cover, $40 from Rianna Williams, 1121 Kaimoku Place, Honolulu, HI 96821, or $45 at the ‘Iolani Palace gift shop.

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser columnist

Funeral rites of Hawaiian ali‘i from Kamehameha I through Prince Kuhio make a clear statement of the evolution of Hawaiian culture during a 100-year period. That’s the message in "Deaths and Funerals of Major Hawaiian Ali‘i" by Rianna M. Williams, a private publication available by mail order.

Jim Bartels, now director of Washington Place, says in his introduction, "Ali‘i funerals were the most identifiably ‘Hawaiian’ form of public event . . . so this record of death ceremonies is a story of life."

Williams provides an amazing amount of detail for some 20 ali‘i funerals, starting with the death of Kamehameha I at Kailua-Kona in 1819, including a form of mourning called "ritual chaos" and the cleaning of flesh from the bones of the corpse before secret burial in a cave.

According to Williams, Kamehameha was buried at Kaloko in Kekaha, North Kona. A report by Kalakaua that the bones were found and removed has been refuted by several sources named in the book.

Burial practices of the ali‘i had changed dramatically by the death of Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu in England in 1824, because missionaries insisted that ritual chaos was sinful. The king and his queen were buried publicly in coffins after a Christian service, although the tradition of wailing persisted.

Queen Ka‘ahumanu died in 1832 holding the hand of missionary Hiram Bingham. She left strict instructions that no pagan rituals be observed.

But the new customs were not wholly accepted. The term Hawaiians used to describe the new mausoleum, Pohukaina, on the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace, was "the foreign tomb."

The steady death toll of Hawaiian ali‘i makes somber reading. I couldn’t get through it in one sitting or even two. But the amount of information is impressive.

On the death of Kamehameha II [error -- should be III] in 1854, 2,000 of his retainers were clothed in black for the funeral. The body lay in state for almost a month while Queen Kalama maintained vigil at the head of the casket.

In 1862, Queen Emma slept 10 nights in the cold, damp new Royal Mausoleum in Nu‘uanu Valley beside the corpse of her small son. She didn’t eat for eight days after the death of her husband, Kamehameha IV, in 1863. New elements of Hawaiian society entered the picture. The fire department marched in the funeral procession with the king’s retainers.

In time, the Royal Hawaiian Band joined in, and so did an increasing number of Hawaiian societies.

A bizarre event occurred on the death of Queen Dowager Kalama. The American consul refused to lower the consulate flag to half-mast because he hadn’t been officially informed of her death. The captain of an American war ship in the harbor sent his marines ashore. They stormed the consulate and lowered the flag. This caused a big flap in the American community.

Kalakaua’s funeral was the largest. In San Francisco, where he died in 1891, 30,000 people surrounded Trinity Church. They stopped cable-car traffic for two hours. Kalakaua’s funeral in Hawai‘i saw a return to traditional rites. Some Hawaiians shaved their heads in ritual chaos. Others wanted to offer Lahilahi Webb as a human sacrifice to be buried with the king because she went to sleep on her death watch beside the coffin.

Moving of the body at night to the church or to ‘Iolani Palace also returned as a practice, imitating the secret burials of ancient times.

Right through the funerals of Princes Ka‘iulani, Queen Lili‘uokalani and Prince Kuhio, friends and retainers made kahili for the funerals. Twenty-seven kahili were carried at Lili‘uokalani’s funeral.


West Hawaii Today (Kona), July 1, 2007

County: No alternate plan for Alii Parkway

by Jim Quirk

HILO -- There's no back-up plan should the state deny Hawaii County's bid to build a section of the planned Alii Parkway near a Hawaiian burial site.

"No, we don't have an alternate route selected," county Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu said Friday.

Since the 1960s, the county has talked about building the Alii Parkway. In 2004, the county was finally on the verge of moving forward with the project that promises to alleviate traffic concerns in West Hawaii when it was learned a portion of the planned road cut past an ancient burial site.

The county redesigned its plans to satisfy concerns of the Burial Council, which apparently would rather the road be placed somewhere else.

The Burial Council soon plans to make a recommendation to the state on the county's latest plan, which entails building a short bridge over the remains, which are tucked inside a lava tube.

Planning Director Chris Yuen clarified Friday the Burial Council doesn't have the final say on whether the county can build the highway over the burial site.

The Burial Council, he said, will make a recommendation to Melanie Chinen, administrator of the state Historic Preservation Division, and she will make the final call.

Should the Burial Council provide a negative recommendation, and should Chinen deny the county's proposal, Yuen said the county would have to "plan a major redesign, because you can't go very far in either direction" of the burial site.

One of the other construction possibilities is something Yuen said was dismissed by the county because of its tremendous cost.

"You could build a very big bridge at a cost of $20 million that would go way into the air (over the burial site) and come back down somewhere else," he said. "That was an alternative we declined in-house. We don't want to spend $20 million just on that."

As it stands, the project is already estimated to cost $30 million.

"We don't have a back-up plan, but we think this plan (building a short bridge over the remains) is a very reasonable and respectful way to handle the situation," Yuen said. "We think we've been very respectful of the lava tube and remains and hope this plan gets approved."

County officials are hopeful the Burial Council will discuss the issue during its July meeting and tender its recommendation to the state soon thereafter.


** Additional article of September 20:

West Hawaii Today (Kona), September 20, 2007

County hopes for Burial Council approval

by Jim Quirk

HILO -- This is the day.

It's been three years since the Big Island's Burial Council rejected a proposal from Hawaii County to build the Alii Parkway in Kona, but Mayor Harry Kim is hopeful a revised plan now meets with the council approval Thursday.

The Burial Council was set to decide on the latest proposal in August but held off at county request so members had time to review the massive amount of documentation, mostly archaeological studies, that have compiled throughout the years on the subject.

Several thick reports, full of maps, charts, historical data and complex scales, are what members of the Burial Council were asked to review, along with the county's latest proposal that calls for building a small bridge over a burial site that was "rediscovered" in 2004 as the county was about to move forward with the project.

The location caused the Burial Council to disapprove the plans and the county to take the matter back to the drawing board.

The documentation, which Bob Yanabu, a civil engineer with the Public Works Department, said contains more than 1,000 pages, is a compilation of numerous studies conducted over the years in an effort to build the long-awaited Alii Parkway.

Talked about since the 1960s, the first serious study occurred in 1973, according to the documentation, when the Archaeological Research Center Hawaii did the initial fieldwork for a realignment project.

That study identified 121 habitation structures along the proposed highway corridor, along with 66 burial sites, 31 walls, 26 agricultural features, such as mound complexes and terraces, 11 religious structures, five trails and seven miscellaneous features, like a cave, petroglyphs and lava bubbles.

The study, however, was shelved until 1983, when the county commissioned another archaeological survey "to provide archaeological data for the updating of the Alii Drive Realignment Environmental Impact Statement," according to the documentation.

That study involved a "reconnaissance survey of previously unsurveyed new corridors," as well as an inspection of the areas surveyed in 1973 to determine which sites identified in that study were still present."

The most significant progress with the planned road project didn't occur until after Kim took office in 2000, but so far not a shovelful of dirt has been turned because of the ancient burial site, while $6.3 million in taxpayer dollars has been spent in planning and land acquisition for the planned roadway.

County Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu said this week the county, with its redesign, has addressed the concerns raised by the Burial Council.

Should the Burial Council give a negative recommendation, Kaetsu said the county is hopeful the state Historic Preservation Division, which has the final say, approves the latest design regardless.

It's unclear whether the Burial Council will have time to tender its recommendation Thursday, she said.

Kim, Public Works Department officials and representatives from Honolulu company R.M. Towill Corp., the consulting firm that prepared the redesign, are expected to address the Burial Council during the meeting, but the Alii Parkway topic is the last thing on the agenda, Kaetsu said.

The meeting starts in the morning, but the Alii Parkway project won't be discussed until 3 p.m.


West Hawaii Today (Kona), Friday September 21, 2007

Burial Council approves plan
Treatment of human remains in lava tube accepted

by Bobby Command

In a stunning reversal of its previous actions, the Hawaii Island Burial Council on Thursday stepped aside to allow Hawaii County to pursue its quest to build the Alii Parkway.

The council accepted a treatment plan of human remains in a Kahaluu lava tube, which were discovered after the approval of a burial treatment plan for the original 4.5-mile highway.

While the decision to adopt the treatment plan does not prevent the council from commenting on any further discoveries of Native Hawaiian remains, it shifts authority over the disposition of the iwi, or bones, to the state Historic Preservation Division.

In return for the blessing by the Burial Council, the county pledged to have another archaeologist re-examine the entire right-of-way for the $82 million road, which will stretch north from Keauhou parallel to the shore until it turns mauka and ties into the Queen Kaahumanu Highway at Hualalai Road. "This is another set of eyes," said archaeologist Hal Hammatt, who will conduct the three-week survey.

Native Hawaiian and former Councilman Curtis Tyler testified to the Burial Council that the re-examination would reveal numerous undiscovered remains that he claimed would make it impossible to build the road.

Bruce McClure, Public Works director, said the completed survey would be presented to the Hawaii Island Burial Council for comment, but any new discoveries would be considered inadvertent.

The law states any discoveries of remains following the acceptance of a burial treatment plan are under the jurisdiction of the state Historic Preservation Division, an office of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

But McClure also said the reduction of the limited access road from four lanes to two would allow engineers to use the entire 300-foot right-of-way needed for a four-lane highway to avoid further conflicts with burials. "I think we conveyed to them that we are proactive about these things," Mayor Harry Kim said. "We wanted them to know that our hearts are in the right place when it comes to the iwi."

Kim also said Alii Parkway was an effort to build a road that would conform to the needs of the people, rather than have a community move out of the way of a highway.

The proposal approved by the council will allow the county to build a small bridge over a portion of the lava tube which contains the remains. However, the part of the cave containing the remains would not be covered by the bridge.

There was some talk of one more deferral before taking a final vote to allow the Hammatt report to be prepared. But council members changed their minds after Hammatt said it would take much longer than three weeks to interpret and assemble the data he collects.

Tyler, who said he voted for the highway while on the council, said he has since changed his mind about the road, which would be a major arterial through the makai lands of Kailua-Kona, fed by major mauka-makai collectors.

"The road cannot be built," Tyler said. "(The Kahaluu remains) are just the tip of the iceberg."

Tyler said that it would be a matter of feet before more remains are uncovered in the Kahaluu area. He added that caves with mass burials also would be encountered as the road inched closer to Kailua-Kona.

In addition, Tyler said he presented evidence to both the county and the Burial Council about the remains. "It's all there," he said. "It's not speculation."

While Burial Council members remained skeptical about the county's plans, it was not the same resistance as in the two previous attempts by the county to gain approval of the treatment plan.

In June, the Burial Council reiterated its 2004 decision to preserve in place the remains, which were moved into the cave by Kamehameha Investment Corp. officials after children were caught handling them.

However, it was apparent early in the meeting when council member Ku Kahakalau asked about the size of a construction buffer that the council would not summarily dismiss the county's revised burial treatment plan.

Some of the council members were sympathetic to West Hawaii motorists, who are suffering from overburdened infrastructure. "Traffic is so heavy," said Pele Hanoa, Burial Council member of Ka'u. "We need some roads. Is there any way we can compromise?"

Tyler recommended a series of mauka-makai connectors that would link Alii Drive with mauka roads. He also advocated the widening of Kuakini and Queen Kaahumanu Highway from Henry Street to Kamehameha III Highway.


West Hawaii Today, June 29, 2007, Letter to editor

Burial council -- Move the bones

I have bit my tongue for years, but now must voice what multitudes have wanted to voice: There are bones everywhere on this island. I must surmise that the reason for bones being left all over is the fact that the ground is mostly lava and it was too difficult to dig a hole and give them a proper burial. Even the Neanderthals buried their dead. People have no idea who most of these bones belong to as no one seems to claim them and give them a proper burial like they deserve.

They should be interred in a place where they can be honored and preserve the Hawaiian heritage. It should be criminal to leave bones laying around everywhere. They are in lava tubes, banana orchards, just about everywhere.

The bones represent the dead. We are alive on this island and need roads. We need four-lane roads and we need them now. The burial council should be disbanded and the Hawaiians need to preserve all the bones in a proper burial place.

Every time we need something to be built, bones are found and the project sits in limbo and nothing gets done.

Everyone cries for infrastructure yet it takes decades for anything to get done. Why? Between the environmental impact studies, the burial council and the county counsel every project gets tied up for years and years. Millions of dollars and years' worth of time are squandered arguing over whether bones will be disturbed or someone will be offended if progress takes place.

We cannot live in the past. We can try and preserve our heritage as best as we can, but we must move forward to make our lives tolerable. Again, hello, we are alive.

Move the bones.

Clayton Adams


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 7, 2007

Diggers find burial pit
An archaeologist expects to find hundreds of remains under the Kakaako project site

The state has asked General Growth Properties to dig deeper around the site beneath the planned Whole Foods Market at Ward after the discovery of still more native Hawaiian remains.

The latest count of iwi, or Hawaiian burials, at the Ward Village site, has now grown to 53, according to Melanie Chinen, administrator of the state Historic Preservation Division.

But it is not the current count that has prompted the state division to request further study of the construction site. It is the setting of the most recent discoveries, which a staff archaeologist says could contain multiple burials. And another archeologist says the total could be in the hundreds.

In a letter to General Growth last week, the division describes another discovery of a burial during a June 5 visit to the Diamond Head side of the construction site, where a 67,000-square-foot Whole Foods store is planned.

Staff archaeologist Jenny Pickett also believes that one of the sites in that vicinity -- referred to as "site 49" -- could contain multiple burials due to the size of the burial pit there.

Since 2004, General Growth has had plans for a mixed-use retail center with a parking garage and a 17-story rental residential tower on a 6-acre site bounded by Auahi, Kamakee and Queen streets.

Just three days before the June 28 letter, the historic division had asked General Growth to consider redesigning its project in order to preserve in place 30 sets of remains found earlier.

The majority of those remains, on the Ewa side of the construction site, near the Pier 1 Imports store, were beneath the structural core of the planned residential tower.

General Growth senior vice president Dwight Yoshimura has said that the company is reviewing the state's redesign request. It had previously told the agency that redesign of the $100 million project was impractical.

The state's latest request calls for an additional excavation in the area planned for the Whole Foods store, on the Diamond Head side of the construction site fronting Auahi Street.

Hal Hammatt of Cultural Surveys Hawaii, which is conducting the archeological study for General Growth, has requested permission to expand testing of the unexcavated sections of the Whole Foods site to determine the extent of the burials. General Growth representatives could not be reached for comment on the latest request by press time.

But the additional discoveries come as no surprise to Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology. He says at 53, the total count is just a sixth of about 335 that he estimates are at the Ward Village site. Dye said any professional archaeologist would have made that prediction, given the sample size and type of soil, when the first 11 sets were originally discovered. And it was clear from the beginning that further investigation would have been appropriate for the site, he said.

The Oahu Island Burial Council, based on the initial information it was given, approved a plan last fall to remove and rebury the 11 sets of remains at the site. Several members said they might have voted differently if they had known of the additional burials. "From a professional archaeologist's point of view," said Dye, "it never made sense to me how the decision could be made with no recognition that there are likely to be hundreds of burials at the site."

Dye, who now has his own company, served six years as the state's Oahu archaeologist during the 1990s. He reviewed the initial survey of the site and said the state should go one step further, requiring General Growth to excavate every piece of the property "underlain by sand" that is going to be developed. Burials discovered within old beach sands are likely to be native Hawaiian burials. "Only then will the likely impact of the proposed development on traditional Hawaiian burials be known," he said.

Besides hundreds of iwi, Dye said, the Ward Village site contains a unique archaeological site, much of which would be destroyed by development. "Archaeologists have searched for decades to find an undisturbed deposit like this in Kakaako," he said.


West Hawaii Today (Kona), July 27, 2007

Where's the road?
$6 million spent on Alii Parkway project, without an inch of road built

by Jim Quirk

HILO -- To date, $6.3 million has been spent on Kona's Alii Parkway project, yet the road is no more than an idea on paper.

And there may be no groundbreaking in the foreseeable future, despite regular political promises otherwise.

For decades, Hawaii County has planned the Alii Parkway project with the notion it would relieve traffic congestion in West Hawaii.

According to data from county Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu, $4.826 million in federal dollars, $887,990 in county funds and $570,000 in private funds have been spent over the years toward land acquisition, planning, design and archaeological studies related to the project, which has been in the works since the 1960s.

Of the $6.3 million, Kaetsu said $1.5 million has been spent on archaeological research, $1.3 million on land acquisition, $220,000 on planning and about $3.3 million on design work. It was faulty archaeological work, mapping performed by consultants, that failed to locate properly a known burial site in the highway corridor.

The project was set to move forward in 2004 but was halted when the burial was "rediscovered" in an area where the road was planned.

The county redesigned its plans to account for the burial, which are tucked inside of a lava tube, by including a small bridge over the site.

The decision of what happens next rests with the Hawaii Island Burial Council. It is scheduled to make a decision on whether it approves of the county's redesign in August. Some Burial Council members, however, have already made it clear they do not and will not approve of the county's redesign.

Kaetsu said she's hopeful that, should the Burial Council give a negative recommendation on the county's proposed mitigation plan, the state Historic Preservation Division -- which has the final say -- still approves the project.

Mayor Harry Kim recently said the state always goes by recommendations tendered by Hawaii's burial councils. Although Kaetsu said it would be "unusual" for the state to disregard the Burial Council's recommendation, she's still hopeful the state goes against the norm should the Big Island's Burial Council say no to the plans.

"It is up to the state Historic Preservation Division," she said, adding the revised plans calls for "preserving in place" the ancient bones "like they said we had to."

The county still has no back-up plan should the redesign fail, Kaetsu said.

"We are exploring our options and looking at other possibilities," she said, adding "we still have faith" the redesign will meet the Burial Council's approval.

It is also unknown how much more money the county would have to spend on another redesign should it again be faced with a negative decision from the Burial Council and state, Kaetsu said.

Meanwhile, the status of the initial $2 million allotment in State Transportation Improvement Program funding the county was supposed to receive this fiscal year for the project remains in limbo because of the Burial Council situation.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation, which issues the federal STIP grants, pushed back the county's initial $2 million grant earmarked for the project to 2010 because of the Burial Council roadblock.

State DOT officials told Kim recently they'll work with the county to push the funds back up on the schedule should the Burial Council issue be resolved.


New York Times, September 21, 2009

Forgotten Iowa Graveyard Stops Condo Development


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A man stumbling upon a human jaw while out walking his dog was the first sign something was amiss. Then officials uncovered something more: More than 600 sets of remains, long ago buried and forgotten, on the site where luxury condos were supposed to be built.

The remains, found on a site overlooking the Mississippi River in Dubuque, have left the nearly $60 million condo plan in limbo, and the developer has sued the nuns who sold him the property. No one is exactly sure why -- or how -- no one knew the pre-Civil War remains were still there.

Whether the graves were lost because wooden markers deteriorated, stone tablets were reused or the sites were never marked in the first place, the excavation by the state's archaeologist's office has put the project on hold for two years with no start date in sight.

''We were told they have been cleaned out and that's what we believed,'' said developer A.J. Spiegel. ''It was a true shock, a moment of, 'What do we do now?'''

Spiegel and his company, Peosta, Iowa-based River Pointe Development LLC, have filed a lawsuit against the Sinsinawa Dominicans Inc., an order of nuns now based in southwest Wisconsin. Their attorney claims the religious order didn't know there were any remains remaining. The diocese, which owned the land before the nuns, says it sincerely believed they had all been moved long ago.

The lawsuit, filed in Dubuque County District Court in May, claims the nuns did not disclose that bodies were still buried in the old Third Street Cemetery, also called Kelly's Bluff Cemetery, when he bought the property in 2002 for $1.5 million.

Iowa law requires property owners to pay for excavating a site for human remains, and Spiegel is seeking compensation for those costs, the relocation of the remains and the lost use of the site. No dollar amount was listed in the lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial next August.

He said there are no immediate plans to develop the land, where he had hoped to build two 12-story towers.

''It's very unmarketable because who would want that responsibility?'' he asked. ''So we will proceed to clean up the entire area for remains.''

The graveyard was the first Catholic cemetery in Dubuque and possibly the state, with burials from 1839 until it closed in 1856. Ownership was transferred from the Archdiocese of Dubuque to Sinsinawa Dominicans Inc. shortly after World War II.

Attorney Glenn Johnson, who represents Sinsinawa Dominicans, said the nuns did not know the site still contained human remains. As part of the land's transfer, he said, the diocese was supposed to move the remains to another cemetery.

''There must have been some remains they could not locate,'' Johnson said.

The Rev. Loras Otting, the diocese's archivist, said church officials sincerely believed that the remains had been moved long ago. Otting, who has the original burial registry dating back to Aug. 4, 1839, said many of those laid to rest there were poor, and no marker or stone was erected.

''Or they put up a wooden marker and those deteriorated, and if there were stone markers, they were taken years later for sidewalks,'' he said.

The registry contains the names and ages of 819 people buried in the cemetery, but no map has been found showing where the graves were. Otting said the registry indicates the remains were moved in the late 1860s and buried in a common grave at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Key West, Iowa.

''Everyone thought at the time they got as many as they could,'' he said.

River Pointe had begun moving soil and doing initial grading work on the property when a local attorney walking his golden retriever found a human jaw in June 2007.

''I was shocked the bones were that visible,'' said Francis Henkels. ''It was pretty clear. It wasn't just a couple of bones, there were quite a few bones.

''I tend to look down a lot -- I'm a fossil hunter and I tend to gaze down -- and I saw something that just appeared to be out of place and it turned out to be human bones,'' he said.

That led to an excavation by the state archaeologist's office. Shirley Shermer, director of the state archaeologist's burials program, said there were remains of at least 600 bodies at the site, mostly in unmarked graves.

''In these old, historic cemeteries, if it is closed and no longer used, some of the graves are moved,'' she said. ''Sometimes, if the local belief is all the graves have been moved, more than likely only some of them have been moved.''

She said her office is about three-quarters of the way through its analysis of the remains. But unless other documentation surfaces, such as a map identifying the graves, it's unlikely the remains will ever be identified, Shermer said.

The remains, mostly fragments, will be reburied in a common burial vault at Mount Olivet Cemetery.



Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2010

Chicago wins cemetery land for new O'Hare runway
Relocation of about 1,200 graves could begin within weeks

** Photo
** Photo caption
Still at issue are plans to move graves at the 160-year-old St. Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville. Despite the remaining obstacles, officials say the O'Hare runway project could be completed by 2014. (Tribune photo by Chuck Berman / July 2, 2009)

By Art Barnum, Tribune Reporter

The City of Chicago on Monday was awarded possession of a 161-year-old cemetery that lies in the path of a future runway at O'Hare International Airport, and the relocation of about 1,200 graves could begin within weeks.

DuPage County Judge Hollis Webster ordered that the title of the 5.3-acre St. Johannes Cemetery in Addison Township be transferred from St. John's United Church of Christ to the city. She also ordered that Chicago pay the church $630,000 for the land, which stands between two segments of a new runway already under construction.

The acquisition was considered one of the last major impediments to the $15 billion O'Hare Modernization Project.

Webster ruled in December that Chicago had a legal right to use eminent domain proceedings to acquire the site from the church, which has argued against the city's plan. On Monday she approved Chicago's motion to acquire the site under quick-claim proceedings after the city said a delay in the runway project could unnecessarily increase the project's price tag.

City officials said Monday that the current schedule calls for the graves to be moved by spring 2011, allowing for the new runway to be finished and opened by June 2013.

Webster ordered that no graves be moved for at least 20 days to allow church attorneys to file an appeal. The weather also could affect when the graves are moved. The church also will be allowed to argue the $630,000 reimbursement figure at a future date.

The church has maintained for years that the removal of the graves violates the religious beliefs of the church.

According to testimony, the city has hired a company to handle the disinterment. City officials said the city will work with next of kin to have the graves moved to whatever cemeteries they want, within reason, and will pay the relocation costs. About 15 graves already have been relocated by survivors on their own.

The cemetery has existed about half a mile north of Irving Park Road in Addison Township since 1849 but has averaged only about one burial a year over the last 20 years, according to testimony.


New York Times, February 26, 2010

A Burial Ground and Its Dead Are Given Life


Cemeteries are at least as much for the living as the dead. They are the locus of tribute and memory; they affirm connections to a place and its past.

So in 1991, when during construction of a General Services Administration office building in Lower Manhattan, graves were discovered 24 feet below ground, and when those remains led to the discovery of hundreds of other bodies in the same area, and when it was determined that these were black New Yorkers interred in what a 1755 map calls the "Negros Burial Ground," the earth seemed to shake from more than just machinery. The evidence created a conceptual quake, transforming how New York history is understood and how black New Yorkers connect to their past.

That is a reason why Saturday's opening of the African Burial Ground Visitor Center, near where these remains were reinterred, is so important. Among the scars left by the heritage of slavery, one of the greatest is an absence: where are the memorials, cemeteries, architectural structures or sturdy sanctuaries that typically provide the ground for a people's memory?

The discovery of this cemetery some two centuries after it was last used provided just such a foundation, disclosing not just a few beads, pins and buttons, but offering the first large-scale traces of black American experience in this region. Here, underneath today's commercial bustle, are tracts of land that for more than a century were relegated to the burial of the city's slaves and free blacks.

In all 419 bodies were discovered — giving a clue to how many others still lie under the foundations of Lower Manhattan. (Estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 20,000.)

The new visitor center, inside the federal building that was ultimately constructed over a portion of the excavation (the other part became a burial site and memorial), is meant to explain the site's significance — not a simple task, because the passions stirred by the discovery were not just historical, but also personal. There was a felt connection to the people, unearthed in their disintegrating coffins, who in the early decades of the city's settlement were often forced into its construction. A sacral regard for the dead was joined with a sense of identification and continuity.

The months after the discovery only amplified those passions. While the city has paved over a multitude of cemeteries in its hectic past, here the government's initial intention to exhume and preserve the remains while proceeding with its nearly $300 million construction project was sadly inadequate. Protests and political interventions led to the suspension of building and the revision of plans.

In 1993 the burial ground was placed on the National Register of Historic Places; in 2006 the memorial site was declared a national monument and placed under the oversight of the National Park Service. In 2007 a memorial sculptured by Rodney Leon was unveiled, and now the site's $4.4 million visitor center means to place it all in context.

To do this the center's exhibition (created by Amaze Design) combines a sense of communal rededication with a sense of historical enterprise that followed the 1991 discovery. A revision in popular understanding has taken place about slavery's history in New York City, evident in several recent books and an impressive series of shows at the New-York Historical Society. In the 18th century slaves may have constituted a quarter of the New York work force, making this city one of the colonies' largest slave-holding urban centers

For seven years scholars at Howard University, led by the anthropologist Michael L. Blakey, also examined every bone fragment and relic found at the site before they were ceremonially reinterred in 2003 at a memorial next to the slightly shrunken footprint of the new building. The scholarly reports, alluded to in some of the displays, show injuries to bones attributed to strenuous physical labor, signs of malnutrition and some physical indications (like filed teeth) of an African heritage.

These various themes do not always accompany one another felicitously in the exhibition; in fact the passion and the detached historical analysis often seem to trip over each other, but the overall impact is considerable. The visitor center also includes an introductory film, a shop and classroom space.

You leave the building to see the memorial itself, where in seven raised mounds containing crypts filled with coffins, all the human remains and artifacts were reinterred. At the memorial's center is the starkly ponderous $5 million monument of black granite designed by Mr. Leon.

The site seems carved out of the area's bleak office surroundings. It makes the past seem like an excision, a resurrection of an alien time and place, a reminder of what lies deep underfoot.

The initial appeal of the show is emotional, immediate. "You are standing where thousands of Africans buried their loved ones during the 1600s and 1700s," it begins. "Slave holders forcibly brought these men, women and children here from the Caribbean and Africa."

Displays are built around a life-size tableau in which a few black slaves gather around two wooden coffins — of a child and a man — about to be interred in the burial ground. We hear outdoor sounds along with the unfamiliar funereal chants of a woman leading the ceremony. The mourning figures, sculptured by Studio EIS, are uncannily affecting.

In keeping with the site's recent history, the personal becomes political. Throughout the exhibition, contemporary black New Yorkers are referred to as "the descendant community," a group with familial connections to the remains. "Reclaiming Our History" is the show's title.

And one part of the exhibition is an account of the struggle to preserve the site, paying tribute to political activism. Five "scrapbooks" outline the political battles and controversies. Racial radicals, serious scholarly arguments, national politics and impassioned community hearings all play roles.

The creation of the burial ground and the visitor center becomes, in the show, a consummation, a posthumous triumph. But there is also a tendency to exaggerate the effect of that activism. It became clear relatively quickly what this site represented and that something more was required than a simple archaeological excavation.

The best parts of the exhibition are about the distant past. We learn, for example, that of the 419 graves examined, nearly half were of children. We see graphs comparing mortality in this gravesite and the Trinity Church graveyard (Trinity had forbidden the burial of blacks there in 1697); there was a significant difference in life expectancy.

Manual labor, as another display points out, also left its mark on bones. One schematic portrait of a man's skeleton points out that the skull is notable for a "thickened ridge where his shoulder and neck muscles connected to the back of his head," caused by heavy lifting.

And because nothing concrete is known about any of the remains — "only 20 percent" were found with any personal items and even those were minor — the exhibition smartly incorporates individual examples of slaves identified because they escaped, were freed or were sold. The displays also give a condensed survey of slavery in New York, its onerous laws, its rebellions and its perversities.

But the passions inspired by the burial ground seem to skew the account. One Howard University report is explicit: The "research agenda" was "designed and implemented" to address topics raised in community meetings. They were to focus on "the cultural and geographical origins" of those buried, "the quality of their lives under captivity," the ways they resisted and how they created new identities.

These are all important matters (though there is no evidence, as the exhibition says, that "determined activists and scientists created a new way to study past people's lives"). But some of the questions also seem to presume certain answers. A partial reading indicates that the reports themselves are impressive and cautious. But we don't really know from the displays what to make of the skeletal evidence of physical strain, or the fact that half the studied remains indicated malnutrition, without comparing those findings to bone samples of free manual workers of the period. This would surely reveal something about slavery in New York, even if limning its brutal nature might seem crude.

The show also asserts that the blacks buried here had close cultural connections with Africa. It would be surprising if there were no such connections, and there is some evidence here. Around the waist of one corpse was a string of beads and shells associated with African customs; the coffin of another is inscribed with a symbol that has been linked to an African "sankofa" sign (and turned into a logo now used for the visitor center and the outdoor monument). But the assertion of the connection, at least in the exhibition, reaches beyond the evidence; some of the tests were also apparently inconclusive.

And one exhibition section is devoted to contemporary African culture without showing any real connection with the burial ground or its artifacts. We see samples of cloth now made in Nigeria and Mali, a picture of a fabric market in Ghana, a pipe from Benin — though no cloth survived in the burial ground, and no pipe is mentioned as a relic.

The point is simply to establish an association. Instead it raises questions about it. A historian outside the Howard group has even challenged the assertion that the "sankofa" sign had the African meaning ascribed to it.

And while no such exhibition can fully pay attention to scholarly details, at times we seem guided here to ignore complications rather than understand them. The show says, for example, that all those buried here were slaves. But even the research panel's reports are less sweeping.

Certainly the vast majority were enslaved, but there is evidence of free blacks in New York, well before this gravesite was closed in the 1790s. Washington Square Park is on land once owned by free blacks whose farmsteads in the mid-17th century spread over 130 acres. And by 1790 a third of the city's blacks were free.

We are talking about small numbers of course, but all the numbers are small. New York's entire black population in the middle of the 18th century was no more than 2,500.

So there is still much more to be understood about the history of slavery and black Americans in New York. But in the meantime the burial ground gives back to both the "descendant community" and to everybody else a sense that we are all arising out of a more complex and painful past than we have often imagined.


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(c) July 20, 2007 by Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights are reserved (but rites are not yet appropriate).