For most of her adult life, Roslyn Nicole Manawaiakea Cummings of Kauaʻi (who prefers to be called Manawaiakea) has focused on her kuleana as a cultural practitioner and as the proud mother of seven children.
Then she was contacted by community activist Elizabeth Okinaka regarding concerns about a proposed luxury condominium development in Kōloa on Kauaʻi’s south shore.
Manawaiakea accepted Okinaka’s request to visit the site. After visiting and conducting protocols, she received hōʻailona (signs) that led to a kāhea (call) to protect the iwi kūpuna that were there.
“It became a deep dive into this kuleana and something that needed to be done with a pure heart,” Manawaiakea said. “But we need to ask ourselves what is our kuleana as Kānaka Maoli? I am not here to be like Gollum holding this kuleana like it’s ʻmy precious.’ We all have different kuleana but it’s our collective kuleana to care for our kūpuna. All of us. Not just me. Not just in Kōloa.”
For centuries, the sand dunes of Weliweli, Paʻa, and Māhāʻulepū have been known burial grounds – this was attested to by Kānaka Maoli from the area to early missionaries. Rev. Samuel Whitney remarked in 1826 that when he visited Māhāʻulepū it was “white with human bones.”
While surveying the area decades later, Rev. John Mortimer Lydgate noted numerous human remains in Keoneloa near Paʻa and Weliweli, Kōloa, and other nearby areas. In 1835, the first commercial sugar cane plantation in the region changed the landscape of Kōloa. Over the subsequent century, iwi from Kōloa and other nearby areas were pillaged for museums and for private collections around the world.
Community protests to protect the iwi began in 2020 when California-based Meridian Pacific’s 282-unit luxury condominium development (dubbed “Kauanoe o Kōloa”) was approved by Kauaʻi County officials.
Compelled by an overwhelming kuleana to protect both the iwi kūpuna and the environment, Manawaiakea, Okinaka, and Nākaiʻelua Villatora co-founded “Save Kōloa.”
Save Kōloa started a petition, “Stop Kauanoe o Kōloa,” which has garnered over 48,000 signatures. In May 2022, Save Kōloa and Friends of Māhāʻulepū filed a case in the fifth circuit court against Meridan Pacific and Kauaʻi County for violating regulations protecting endangered species and culturally significant sites.
Despite the challenges to the project, Meridan Pacific began “microblasting” the construction site about a month later.
“They were dynamiting our iwi kūpuna. That’s how little respect they have,” said Manawaiakea. Vocal protests from the community began shortly afterward – not only to protect the iwi kūpuna, but also the extensive cave system underground.
Okinaka, who is of Paiute, Nez Perez, and Nahuatl ancestry, was raised on Kauaʻi. She said the cave system in Kōloa is “one of the 10 most endangered habitats in the world and there has been no serious mapping of the area.”
She noted that the cave system is home to the endangered Kauaʻi Cave Wolf Spiders and to Kauaʻi Cave amphipods (small crustaceans) that are only found in that place. “We still donʻt understand the impact of these caves, how they connect to each other, and how it affects our water supply on Kauaʻi.
“There also are oral traditions that the caves have burials and were used by Kānaka Maoli for travel and for [religious] protocols. Our kids need to visit these sites and have a connection with the ʻāina. They need to know that you can actually have a sustainable future by respecting the land and living off of it instead of destroying it. We need good people in the county, on the planning commission, the burial councils, and in the State Historic Preservation Division who understand that these spaces need to be protected.”
Manawaiakea added, “We have a lot of upcoming and new development going on in Lāwaʻi, ʻŌmaʻo, Kalaheo, Kōloa Landing, and Poʻipū. Hotels like Hyatt plan to expand. We need to put a chair on the table, and not just sit at the table.
“At the end of the day, these developers are going to make their money and then leave. It’s our people who are going to face the consequences. Our kūpuna are more valuable than money.”
For more information go to: Facebook @savekoloa or www.change.org/p/stop-kauanoe-o-koloa.
OHA supports proactive protections and mālama iwi kūpuna initiatives statewide through grants and services that strengthen pilina, ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina. For information about OHA’s Iwi Kūpuna Repatriation and Reinterment Grant go to: www.oha.org/grants. For more information about the Island Burial Councils visit: www.oha.org/burialcouncils.