Iwi Kūpuna (Ancestral Remains)
Updated: Apr 4
Although this organizationʻs focus is cultural education surround hiking and climbing within Hawai’i, Iwi Kūpuna ( Hawaiian ancestral skeletal remains) are a huge aspect of cultural concern when recreating outdoors. The pōhaku (boulders), plants, waterfalls and the land are all fueled by our ancestors. Please help support the Hawaiian community and spread awareness for better care for our ancestors
As the outdoor recreation community continues to navigate through the island they may encounter Iwi Kūpuna (Hawaiian ancestral skeletal remains). Iwi kupuna can be disturbed and dislodged from their original resting place by natural causes such as tidal shifts that expose ancestral burials in coastal sand dunes, or erosion, exposing ancient burials up mauka. Another place where iwi kūpuna can be encountered is within caves upon hillsides and cliffsides.
It is definitely possible to unknowingly walk into a burial site or cave. Itʻs best to understand that every sand dune, every cliff side and every cave has a large potential to be a burial site.
If you come across skeletal remains that appear to be human, it is important that you contact 911 and DOCARE immediately. There are many reasons for this, many with very real modern implications. It takes a highly specialized expert to make the distinction between an ancient burial and a potential murder victim. When you call DOCARE, the skeletal remains will be examined by a professional osteologist to determine if they are human. A police report will be made and it will be confirmed whether or not the remains are truly of ancient or historical origin, and consultation will occur to ensure the iwi kupuna are treated properly and put to rest in an appropriate manner.
DO NOT take photos of Iwi Kūpuna (Hawaiian ancestral remains), Below we have outlined a few reasons as to why such actions and photos are extremely disrespectful and ultimately ILLEGAL.
Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) were, and STILL ARE, very strict about who could handle the iwi of our deceased. For example—in Hawaiian tradition only highly trusted blood-relatives have the authority to touch the body. Often an appointed person or group of relatives of the deceased conducted the actual interment of their dearly departed’s remains. This occurred at night in a purposefully designated burial area. These sites were kept a secret for the safekeeping and protection of the iwi from abuse or disturbance.
Historically within the United States, ancestral remains have been and continue to be treated inhumanely and have not received common law protections. An example of this is that Indigenous peoples previously did not meet the legal definition of “human beings” and moepu (funerary objects) were permissible to be taken as they were considered to be merely “abandoned goods”. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, our burial sites were raided and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Our mass burial sites have been excavated to make way for hotels, stores, luxury homes and military bases. Even to this day, black market sales of our ancestral remains are still being conducted. This is extremely dehumanizing.
Taking photos or venturing into these sites (more specifically caves) is highly offensive to the Kūpuna you are disturbing and is disrespectful to the LIVING descendants. Our organization takes an active role in preserving and protecting Iwi Kūpuna; once we see or are made aware of the iwi, we are forever linked. That Kūpuna now becomes our KULEANA.
We have had an increase in Iwi Kupuna being found and reported to us. We are happy to be one of your contacts as to keep track and make sure that proper protocols are followed for the Kupuna but the first contact should be 911 & DOCARE (808)692-8015.
I hope this post helps you understand the severity of this issue. The exploitation of, and utter disrespect toward our Iwi kūpuna is ongoing.
OLA NĀ IWI
Mahalo! Mahalo! Mahalo! To the Climbers who recognized a sacred space that was in desperate need of cultural protection and reached out to us in September 2020. Since then itʻs been months, of clean ups, conversations with the state and working to educate the Homeless Transplant community that decided to take up space at this site. We are aware this is a cryptic post but when it comes to protecting Iwi Kupuna, location based posts WILL never happen.
Since the site had a State Inventory of History Places Site # we had to wait for the state to act. But today the state has vowed to make sure the Burial Treatment Plan is finally implemented. Still a few more months to go to make sure the Kupuna are fully protected. But just wanted to take some time and space on the site to thank the Hawaiʻi Climbing Community members who did the right thing in this area.