Descendants worry reburial of hundreds of iwi kupuna may be too costly for church

A cultural descendant looks at project site at Kawaiahao Church.
A cultural descendant looks at project site at Kawaiahao Church.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Apr. 24, 2020 at 5:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Under a new proposal, more than 700 iwi kupuna unearthed during a construction project at Kawaiahao Church would be reburied where they were found — next to the church.

But the plan for the human remains will likely be costly.

The Oahu Island Burial Council voted unanimously to approve the reburial plan.

The bones were removed during construction of a planned multi-purpose center. That plan has since been scuttled, and descendants of the iwi kupuna have been waiting for years for a plan on what’s next.

In the meantime, the bones at the center of litigation and government bureaucracy since 2009 have been sitting in the church’s basement for years.

"The ancestral descendants are extremely traumatized that their ancestral burials are not laying at rest," said Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, chair of Oahu Island Burial Council.

"The council is very relieved we were able to finally offer them support in the way that they had been seeking us to do," she added.

About 30 families have been recognized as descendants, including Edward Halealoha Ayau, who is a lineal descendant and iwi kupuna repatriation advocate.

He hopes reburial could happen as soon as possible, but is worried the church won’t be able to afford it. He estimates it could cost at least $250,000 for the project — so there’s now a fundraising effort.

"We are in the process of raising money to do so that it happens sooner rather than later frankly out of fear that the church may not have the funding it needs to conduct the reburial," said Ayau.

"I am confident in that they will be reburied back to where their families had originally placed them," he said.

The remains discovered at Kawaiahao were Christian and Hawaiian burials. Many of them were the victims of past plagues. It's one of the largest discoveries of iwi in the state.

The Council’s burial treatment plan goes to the State’s Historic Preservation Divison. HNN reached out to Kawaiahao Church for comment and did not immediately hear back.

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