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Iwi discovered during cesspool conversion

HANALEI — Last week, while switching a cesspool over to a septic tank, an inadvertent discovery of iwi kupuna on Weke Road occurred.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources’s State Historic Preservation Division (SPHD) is aware, a spokesperson said Tuesday. “It is being handled in accordance with departmental policy and state law.”

Cultural practitioners and community members want transparency, to know the iwi are not being removed from the area or separated from each other.

Rosyln Cummings, a cultural practitioner, said she could feel the separation of a pair, and soon after discovered she felt that of a mother and her baby.

“(Monday) our goal was to get them back together and be in peace,” Cummings said. “That’s what we did, we did protocol and put them back in place, not intact, but back where their bones are. The problem is, we believe the two kane (men) no (have) more body parts. Now our priority is to get this sand sifted through because we see dog footprints…”

The owners were converting an underground cesspool to a septic tank when bones were found.

Megan Wong, who has been monitoring the site for over a week beginning May 5, said the owners had an archaeologist on-site, prior to finding bones and has been open with the community.

Archaeologists will need to sift through sand and dirt on the property to ensure there are no other bones within the pile. Cummings said it could take weeks, and needs to be taken care of immediately.

SPHD policy is to leave a burial where found if possible and not move to another location, Administrator Alan Downer said. SPHD has typically has authority over Native Hawaiian burials over 50 years old and makes recommendations to a county’s Burial Council for burial treatment plans.

Nancy Chandler sat across the street Tuesday morning from the property, watching to see if people came and went. Chandler had been on site since last Thursday.

“All we want to do is make things pono for our kupunas,” Chandler said. “They were blessed to be rested where they are. They need that, they need to be left alone, be here, and be respected, not to be trampled on. They need to be safe and then they can cross over if they have the chance. When you’re disturbed, you can’t cross over.”

One solution would be to enclose the iwi and rebury in place.

“We can facilitate this together,” Wong said, noting that a hoʻoponopono has taken place with the owners and community members. “This is environmental and cultural, and we’re trying to bridge that.”

Ka‘imi Hermosura said he was alerted of the burial last Thursday and was shocked to learn a police report hadn’t been made prior to Monday.

“We’re wondering why they didn’t ever make a police report because that’s one of the first procedures that you’re supposed to do,” Hermosura said. “One of the sensitive subjects is that the bones are exposed to the sun.”

From Hanalei to Ha‘ena, cesspools remain one of the main wastewater systems and seep untreated wastewater into the ground.

Per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cesspools must be converted by 2050. According to county real property records, the property was last purchased in July 2020 and is registered to Tahiti, LLC, based in Fresno, California.

“This is not the last time iwi will be discovered,” Wong said.
Source: The Garden Island

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