What is iwi kupuna?
With construction continuing in Wailuku, descendants are asking people to keep speaking up.
The iwi were were actually discovered years ago at the County of Maui’s Wailuku parking structure project site. However, a recent post on social media is stirring up conversations about it.
Cultural descendant Noelani Ahia said she has been battling the project from the very beginning.
“It was really upsetting,” Ahia said.
Ahia said she was disturbed when she was first notified that her ancestors were possibly uncovered during construction of the new parking structure near the corner of North Market and West Vineyard Streets.
“For me as a descendant, don’t want the project, don’t want development where there’s iwi,” she said.
“But if there’s no legal way I can stop it and jumping in front of bulldozers doesn’t work ... we have to do our best to do harm reduction,” she said.
The county confirms there were inadvertent discoveries of four burials back in 2021.
However, a recent post on social media has resurfaced the conversation. But the post is not entirely accurate. There are no heiau on site and the walls in the video are not heiau features.
Nonetheless, Ahia is grateful people are speaking up.
“I’m really happy that somebody spoke out about it. We need more people, especially construction workers and people in the industry to be the eyes and ears and be aware. Because for a long time, things would just go, they’d get swept under the rug.”
The iwi were brought before the Maui Lanai Burial Council immediately following the discovery and customary proceedings took place.
The county says they are mindful of iwi kupuna protocols and have been working with the project archaeologist and state officials. They said based on guidance from cultural descendants, the iwi will be re-interned properly.
A Hawaiian delegation, museum colleagues and American embassy delegates attended the handover ceremony. The repatriation took place after talks between the museum, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Hui Iwi Kuamoʻo.
Five mea makamae pili aliʻi, or treasures associated with aliʻi, were also returned.
Researchers believe that Gordon Augustus Thomson removed the iwi from burial caves when he traveled to Hawaiʻi in 1840. He donated the remains to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1857. They were included in a 1910 donation to the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, a precursor to NMNI.
The iwi kūpuna and mea makamae pili aliʻi had been part of the museum's World Cultures Collection.
“National Museums Northern Ireland believes it has legal and ethical responsibilities to redress the injustices shown to Native Hawaiian cultural values and traditions, and so through ongoing dialogue, it was agreed that these iwi kūpuna and mea makamae pili aliʻi should be returned by repatriation to the Native Hawaiians through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a self-governing corporate body of the State of Hawaiʻi," Kathryn Thomson, chief executive at NMNI, said in a statement.
“We are re-evaluating our World Cultures Collection on an ongoing basis, to better understand the complex global stories of some 4,500 items – and how and why they came to be in Belfast. We understand and respect cultural values and are in ongoing liaison with source communities and their representatives to establish if items within the collection can and should be returned to their ancestral homes. We remain open to further repatriations as these engagements develop," she said.
The Hawaiian delegation also repatriated an iwi poʻo, or skull, from Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The iwi kūpuna will be reburied on Molokaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island.
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Description Interview with Mike Lum at Hau Bush.
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