The Hawaiian Church of Hawaii Nei: Perpetuating and Continuing the Care of Ancestral Remains


By ʻIhilani Chu

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) Iwi Kūpuna Repatriation and Reinterment grant is timely and greatly needed. It is important to us as Kānaka ʻŌiwi to care for our ancestors, and now is the time for our lāhui to mālama nā iwi kūpuna.

Initially, the need was to bring kūpuna home from around the world. So many were treated with disrespect and bundled together in bags, placed on shelves, or stored in glass containers.

Later, with rising development here at home, so, too, did our kūpuna rise.

As developers ravaged the land throughout our islands to build their hotels and high rises, iwi kūpuna began rising as they were disturbed and desecrated. Our kūpuna were put into paper bags and cardboard boxes and placed in storage, waiting to be returned home – to be kanu back to our ʻāina, so that their ʻuhane may lele wale ka pō, fly off and return to the realm of gods.

In Hawaiian it is a sign – walk lightly, take baby steps, and appreciate what we have for we are on an island with limited resources. This was the wisdom of our kūpuna.

In this process, we re-learn to value our resources the way our kūpuna valued the ʻāina – with great care, respect and the kuleana to mālama. Caring for our ancestors empowers and strengthens the Native Hawaiian community spiritually and culturally.

Our project is called “E Hoʻomau o Nā Mālama i Nā Iwi Kūpuna” and our purpose is to prepare and provide Hawaiian sacred items and resources (i.e., hīnaʻi lau hala, kaula hau, and kapa). We do this by conducting workshops on how to make these cultural items, and then provide them to lineal descendants, Native Hawaiian groups and organizations to mālama nā iwi kūpuna in preparation for reinterment.

We address the needs of nā iwi kūpuna by providing our lāhui with the education and knowledge necessary to gather and prepare the materials, and then create the items, needed for the care of nā iwi kupuna. Our kūpuna used three specific resources to make sacred burial items: lau hala, hau, and wauke.

Our workshops are two-day events and participants are required to attend both days to learn the full process. On day one we focus on gathering and preparing. On day two we focus on crafting the sacred ceremonial items. We use traditional tools where possible.

The in-person workshops (following COVID-19 guidelines) on Oʻahu, Maui, Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi have been well-attended with many participants coming together for the hana nui to mālama nā iwi kūpuna for reburial. Some have requested additional workshops to pass this ʻike to the next generation.

Our kumu for the workshops include Kahu Loko- ʻolu Quintero, an expert in hīnaʻi lau hala. He has an extensive background in Hawaiian arts with years of experience weaving hīnaʻi lau hala for Hui Mālama i Nā Kūpuna o Hawaiʻi Nei and numerous reinterment projects. He was traditionally trained with a kuleana to pass on this ʻike kūpuna to future generations.

Another of our kumu is renowned kapa master Dalani Tanahy, who is also an expert in growing and cultivating plants for fiber and dyes. For over 25 years, she has taught students and created kapa for entities working to rebury ancestral remains unearthed at construction sites and for families who want their loved ones to be wrapped in kapa as their final wishes.

I am the kumu for the kaula hau workshop. I have spent more than 20 years caring for the ancestors of Hawaiʻi, first as a member of Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei and now continuing this kuleana. I’ve been trained and educated in all aspects of the traditional care of nā iwi kūpuna, including ceremonies and protocols. This training ensures that the respectful treatment and reburial of nā iwi kūpuna is passed on.

We would like to mahalo the members of The Hawaiian Church of Hawaiʻi Nei; our Native Hawaiian organizations, companies, and foundations; esteemed Native Hawaiians in the community; Native Hawaiian practitioners, lineal descendants, and cultural descendants; and the many individuals and their ʻohana island-wide for their support and kōkua of our project.

We especially mahalo the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its staff for their support, encouragement and guidance in the grant process. It is a pleasure working with the OHA team.

ʻIhilani Chu is a kumu and project manager and member of The Hawaiian Church of Hawaiʻi Nei.

The Hawaiian Church of Hawaiʻi Nei is the recipient of a $50,000 Iwi Kūpuna Repatriation and Reinterment grant award from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The iwi kūpuna grant is one of 11 grant programs the agency administered in fiscal year 2021, with more than $16.2 million awarded to Hawaiʻi nonprofits in service to the Native Hawaiian community. To learn more about OHA grant offerings visit