By Edward Halealoha Ayau and Kamuela Kalaʻi
Kawaiahaʻo Church was established in April 1820 during the rule of Kuhina Nui (Queen Regent) Kaʻahumanu. With its love for God and Hawaiian traditions, the Church has been a beacon of hope, love and aloha for many over the past 200 years. The year it was established, the world faced a cholera outbreak which killed millions. Hawaiʻi was not safe from this pandemic. The Church was there for the people, to pray with the living and to bury the dead.
In the years that followed, Kawaiahaʻo continued to be a beacon of light for Hawaiʻi through the measles, smallpox, polio and Spanish influenza pandemics. The Church has been there through every major disease since, and we believe it is here for us now.
However, at least three times in its history, Kawaiahaʻo Church uncharacteristically took actions to disturb the people whose families chose the Church burial grounds as their final resting place. The most recent episode started in 2007 when the Multi-purpose Center Project began with the demolition of Likeke Hall. Most of 2008 involved the Church contriving a way out of having to perform an Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS), which they managed to do by leaving out a planned underground parking garage. The disinterments began despite a year-long formal hoʻoponopono in which we pleaded with Church leaders, including two former kahu, to not disturb the burials on its grounds.
Cultural descendant Dana Nāone Hall, former Chair of the Maui/Lānaʻi Islands Burial Council, filed a lawsuit against the Church, DLNR Chair and DOH Director for violating their own rules by not requiring an Archaeological Inventory Survey prior to issuing a blanket disinterment permit. The lawsuit resulted in a judgment against the Church whereby the Intermediate Court of Appeals determined that DLNR (though the State Historic Preservation Division) violated its own rules by not having the matter of burial treatment considered for formal determination by the Oʻahu Island Burial Council (OIBC). The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court upheld the Intermediate Court’s decision and remanded the case.
Following years of hoʻoponopono and soul searching, Kawaiahaʻo Church recently indicated that it would no longer pursue the construction of the multi-purpose center. While this appeared to be good news, Kawaiahaʻo hesitated to allow the 700+ iwi kūpuna to be reburied in their original locations. Instead, the Church requested that the burials be relocated, leaving the possibility of building a multi-purpose center in the future.
On April 22, 2020, after proper notification of the meeting with the Lt. Governor’s Office, and under the effective leadership of Chairwoman Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, the OIBC unanimously voted to preserve all burial sites in place by adopting a Burial Treatment Plan prepared by recognized lineal and cultural descendants. The OIBC’s historic action, which will allow for the reburial of all 700+ iwi kūpuna, honors the spirit of aloha, the very spirit of Kawaiahaʻo, because it honors the families. Many of the burials addressed within this Burial Treatment Plan were themselves victims of past pandemics, some known by name.
Chairwoman Wong-Kalu stated, “This Council prides itself on being an open, fair and balanced process where all parties are allowed to express their views in a safe environment; where legal rules are observed and cultural protocols are practiced. The recognized ʻohana did an outstanding job to organize a burial treatment plan and walked the Council through the legal process in a herculean effort to heal themselves from the kaumaha (spiritual, emotional, physical trauma) caused by the intentional disturbance of over 700 iwi kūpuna.”
The ʻohana shares in the celebration of Kawaiahaʻo Church’s 200-year anniversary. Please join us in encouraging Kawaiahaʻo’s Board of Trustees to withdraw their appeal and accept the OIBC determination to preserve in place as the final word in the 13-year effort to rebury 700+ iwi kūpuna, which is the only way for the living descendants to release their painful kaumaha and for us to collectively heal as a lāhui. We honor the Church for their courage to make things pono so they can continue to be a beacon of hope, faith and aloha for the people of Hawaiʻi. Aloha Ke Akua; God is love.
Edward Halealoha Ayau and Kamuela Kalaʻi represent the opinions of the recognized lineal and cultural descendants with the exception of the Caroline Norman ʻohana.