Project Iwi Kuamoʻo: Building Capacity to Care for Iwi Kūpuna

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Project Iwi Kuamoʻo is a three-year project developed by ʻAha Kāne and supported by a grant from the Administration for Native Americans. ʻAha Kāne is an organization of Native Hawaiian men whose purpose is to normalize Native Hawaiian worldviews and cultural practices.

Thus, the purpose of Project Iwi Kuamoʻo is to build capacity within our lāhui to provide care and protection of ancestral bones and burial sites. The project focuses on training and developing competency in traditional and contemporary repatriation and reburial practices in the following areas: cultural protocols, producing reburial materials, building reburial platforms, repatriation advocacy, and burial sites management.

The expertise required for teaching these practices was acquired over the past 30 years, originating with Kumu Edward Lavon Huihui Kanahele and his wife Pualani Kanahele Kanakaʻole.

Photo: Haumāna at the ʻAha Kāne/ANA project training at Windward Community College
Haumāna at the ʻAha Kāne/ANA project training at Windward Community College on March 13. These hīnaʻi lauhala were used to ceremonially prepare 27 iwi kūpuna originating from Oʻahu that were repatriated from Germany in February 2022 by Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo. – Photo: Courtesy

Following the events at Honokahua, Maui, the Kanaheles established Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei and trained its members in cultural protocols related to the handling of iwi kūpuna, teaching them to prepare ancestral bones for reburial and how to create reburial materials. Members practiced what they were taught and cared for the ancestral bones through repatriation and reburial. In addition, the expertise of traditional mason Billy Fields was sought to build reburial platforms and seal burial caves.

In year one, the trainings offered by Project Iwi Kuamoʻo are being held on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi. In year two they will be offered on Maui and Hawaiʻi, and in year three on Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, plus additional trainings on Oʻahu.

The Iwi Kūpuna protocol training includes learning the traditional chants and prayers originally taught by the Kanaheles. These oli and pule help reconnect the living to their own ancestors in order to request all the tools necessary to be successful in wrapping the ancestral bones and conducting reburial ceremonies.

Reburial materials training involves making kapa cloth, from cleaning and stripping the bark of the wauke (paper mulberry tree) and meticulously beating it into soft cloth. The training also includes weaving of hīnaʻi (baskets) from lau hala.

Repatriation advocacy training covers national repatriation laws (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the National Museum of the American Indian Act) and international policies (United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and the 30-year history of Native Hawaiian repatriation efforts – including the strategies successfully used to return the bones for reburial. Burial site management training involves teaching state burial laws including HRS Chapter 6E and Hawaiʻi Administrative Rules Chapter 13-300.

Finally, alakaʻi training is also offered for Native Hawaiians who already have experience in the care of ancestral bones or who possess exceptional leadership qualities and desire to learn advanced practices and strategies to elevate their care of the iwi.

ʻŌiwi interested in learning more may contact Desiree Cruz at project.iwikuamoo@gmail.com for information about upcoming trainings.