HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kawaiahao Church’s plans for a new multi-purpose center and more than 600 iwi kupuna that were unearthed during construction have been in a legal and bureaucratic limbo for about decade.
Last month, 15 more burials at the church’s construction site were discovered that were exposed during erosion.
“It’s just horrific beyond words,” said Kamuela Kala’i, a cultural descendant who is fighting for immediate reburial at the site.
“They don’t deserve to build anything here. They have done the worst thing they can possibly do to anybody’s kupuna and they dug them up and they disturb them and desecrate it,” she said.
The Oahu Island Burial Council voted for emergency action after worries about erosion threats from recent storms.
“That weather posed a great threat and greater erosion and exposure of burials so we are just lucky they all didn’t come tumbling out,” said Hinaleimoana Wong, chair of Oahu Island Burial Council.
It’s believed that since more than 600 iwi kupuna were buried at the site, some of them were laid to rest during a mass burial during an epidemic during the 1800′s. The church has said most of the iwi kupuna were Christian burials in coffins.
Years ago, Kala’i visited some of the iwi kupuna stored in the church’s basement.
“I saw 20-something baskets in a caged room with a chain around the caged door with about 25 baskets with supposedly 69 kupuna,” she said.
In a statement from Kawaiahao Church lead pastor,
Kahu Kenneth Makuakane and Brickwood Galuteria, Chair of the Board of Trustees, the church said it's "respectful of the on-going process, which requires full compliance and a great deal of patience."
That process involves an archeological inventory, consultations with both the State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council and meetings with lineal and cultural desendants.
“Kawaiahao Church, with participation and input by the recognized descendants, will develop a Burial Treatment Plan which will honor the iwi kupuna,” said the statement.
“It has been a very painstaking discussion. To know that the over 600 plus whole and partial burials have been stored underneath the church for this entire time,” said Wong.