By Kai Markell, OHA Compliance Enforcement Manager
Twenty-one years ago, while digging in the sand at Oneʻula Beach to start a fire to cook his dinner, a Kanaka ʻŌiwi uncovered human bones. He immediately notified the police. As required by law, the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) was also notified.
The iwi kupuna was buried in an extended position with an extensive array of necklace beads made of clay, shell, bone, glass and ceramic. Determined to be a female, there were also two whale teeth around her neck in the lei opuʻu style (uncarved cetacean teeth), five whale ivory kupeʻe around her wrists, and in her hands, nestled together, were two large lei niho palaoa.
She was clearly a Hawaiian chiefess of significant rank, and the fact that trade beads were among her burial possessions indicated that she was buried after 1778.
Over the years, the mystery of her identity deepened as she awaited some type of final disposition. Eventually, her discovery would alter 200 years of Hawaiian history.
This is my personal testimony and only part of the story.
Moʻolelo of Oneʻula
Oneʻula Beach is in ʻEwa, Oʻahu, and has long been a gathering place for the community. Oneʻula, arguably, translates into “blood sands” or “royal sands.”
Conditions there are ideal for limu. It is said that the area seeds limu in the currents from Waikīkī in the east and as far as Nānākuli in the west. Limu practitioners referred to the area as “Hale o Limu.”
At Oneʻula, the fresh waters of Kāne flow both overland and through the underground karsts, limestone and coral caverns, which permeate the ʻEwa region, to meet and embrace the salt waters of Kanaloa. Some accounts also describe these caverns as where the mysterious ʻōlohe (hairless ones) resided.
Kaloʻi Gulch, which empties at Oneʻula, originates mauka not far from Mauna Kapu in the Waiʻanae Range at Pālehua in a place called Waiwānana (prophetic waters).
This is where Hawaiian life begins, in the powerful, healing shoreline waters where coral, limu, fish fingerlings, and other important elements of Papa thrive.
Development at Oneʻula
In the 1970s, a Japanese corporation began planning to develop the 1,100-acre coastline of Oneʻula with luxury homes, resorts, commercial properties, a golf course, and a marina.
As was standard, an archaeological survey of the area was conducted. The dry coral plains of ʻEwa, overgrown with keawe and haole koa trees, were viewed as a desolate wasteland with no significant habitation or use by ancient Hawaiians.
But the ʻEwa Plain has changed over time. It was once a place where wiliwili and diminutive ʻōhiʻa lehua trees flourished. In moʻolelo, a spring there called Hoakalei was visited by Hiʻiakaikapoliopele during her epic journey. Because of its relative isolation, an ancient name for the area was Kaupeʻa (crisscrossed) a name that references kapu, as with pūloʻuloʻu (kapu sticks) crossed to indicate something forbidden. The region had a reputation for being “ao kuewa,” a place where ghosts wander.
The developer’s archaeological survey recorded 56 cultural sites in the area, however, only six were deemed “worthwhile” and identified for preservation. Of the remaining six, several were carelessly destroyed during construction activities.
In the early 1990s, the developer sought a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) from the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to traverse and use state lands, including submerged lands, to construct a marina entrance channel through the beach and reef.
Despite passionate opposition by Native Hawaiian and environmental groups, BLNR approved the permit in 1993.
In 1994, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and other advocates initiated a contested case. For weeks, evidence and witness testimony was presented, but BLNR confirmed their previous approval of the CDUP stating that “there are no fishing villages, burial grounds, or other spiritual sites in the area where the proposed channel is to be constructed.”
OHA appealed BLNR’s decision to the First Circuit Court, where the Honorable Judge Wendell Huddy found in favor of BLNR. OHA then appealed Huddy’s decision to the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court.
More Challenges and Controversy
The prophetic waters of Pālehua emptied into the sea as controversy arose and bulldozing at Oneʻula began while the matter was still before the Supreme Court.
In February 1998, cultural practitioners from across the pae ʻāina descended upon Oneʻula. Vigils and protests were staged as a kāhea went out to bring attention to the area’s imminent destruction. Protestors were unified in their objection to the archaeological survey findings (the evaluation and significance of sites) and the destruction of the cultural landscape.
The Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches, representing 18 Hawaiian churches, and the Hawaiʻi Ecumenical Coalition submitted a petition stating that Oneʻula holds a rich array of sites with “great historic and religious significance.”
By March, as protests mounted, the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court issued a decision, by way of an unpublished “Memorandum Opinion,” finding that the CDUP violated the state’s duty to protect the traditional and customary rights of Native Hawaiians “to the extent feasible.”
They returned the case to BLNR and directed the board to address the following questions:
- Are traditional and customary native Hawaiian rights exercised in the petition area?
- If such rights exist, to what extent will they be affected by the proposed action?
- If these rights are found to exist, what feasible action should be taken by BLNR to protect these rights?
These questions formed the genesis of the landmark three-tier test used in the seminal Native Hawaiian rights case, Ka Paʻakai o ka ʻĀina v. Land Use Commission, State of Hawaiʻi.
To comply, BLNR held another contested case but, once again, they determined that there were no culturally significant sites in the area and, once again, granted the CDUP to the developer – ultimately leading to the destruction of countless irreplaceable cultural sites.
Less than a year later, in January 2001, the remains of a high-ranking aliʻi wahine were discovered almost dead-center of the proposed marina entrance.
Identifying the Chiefess
Determining the identity of the chiefess buried at Oneʻula took almost a decade.
In April 2010, after reviewing an array of historical documentation and discerning spiritual messages and hōʻailona, the Oʻahu Island Burial Council (OIBC) identified her as Kaomileikaʻahumanu, or the “lei that causes suffering to Kaʻahumanu.”
Kaomilei was a chiefess of Kalanikūpule and her name in life was Namahanakapukaleimakaliʻi. She was the half-sister of Queen Kaʻahumanu. They shared a father, Keʻeaumokupapaʻiahiahi.
She endured the jealous wrath of Kaʻahumanu when she became pregnant with twins, not by Kalanikūpule, but by Kamehameha I. She died from blood loss while giving birth to the twins at the birthing stones of Kūkaniloko and was buried beneath the sands of One- ʻula within an underground cave system known as Waipouli.
Driven by vindictive rage, Kaʻahumanu erased the genealogy of Nama- hanakapukaleimakaliʻi from the chants, and upon her sister’s death, renamed her Kaomileikaʻahumanu.
On a dark, quiet night in 2014, in a solemn, torch-lit procession of kāhili-bearers and chanters, Kaomileikaʻahumanu was carried by recognized cultural descendants and other ʻohana and reinterred elsewhere at Oneʻula. No longer unknown; no longer erased.
A Revelation Dismissed in Favor of Development
Based on their findings, the OIBC strongly recommended that SHPD recognize and protect Oneʻula, as it was revealed that along with Kaomileikaʻahumanu, other aliʻi and commoners were also buried in the Waipouli cave system at Oneʻula.
However, SHPD never took any formal action on OIBC’s recommendation.
Then, in October 2018, several more burials were disturbed by development activities about 30 yards mauka from where Kaomileikaʻahumanu was found. They were again found near the proposed marina entrance where twice before BLNR determined that no burial or spiritual sites existed.
The iwi, quickly covered up and not properly investigated, reportedly possessed the same type of beads found with Kaomileikaʻahumanu, and thus may be her moepuʻu (death companions).
Much like the punitive erasure of the genealogy and existence of Nama- hanakapukaleimakaliʻi, the important historical and cultural resources at Oneʻula continue to be diminished and deliberately erased as development in the area continues.
Oneʻula, the Royal Sands, the Blood Sands, the prophetic waters indeed.
He ʻonipaʻa ka ʻoiaʻiʻo – the truth is unchangeable.