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Ancestral Remains of Native Hawaiians Placed in ‘Eternal Rest’ at PMRF

24 July 2023

From Lisa Ferdinando

PACIFIC MISSILE RANGE FACILITY, Hawaii - “This process is a sacred duty that honors the iwi kūpuna and preserves the connections to the past,” PMRF Cultural Resources Manager and Archaeologist Tara del Fierro said, about the annual Mauiki‘iki‘i O Ke Kauwela, Summer Solstice, ceremony, at Pacific Missile Range Facility.

The annual Mauiki‘iki‘i O Ke Kauwela, Summer Solstice, ceremony, at Pacific Missile Range Facility, PMRF, honors the past ancestors of western Kaua‘i, and places in 'eternal rest' the iwi kūpuna, or ancient remains, discovered at the installation over the past year. 

“We have the connections to the land and the ancestors,” PMRF Cultural Resources Manager and Archaeologist Tara del Fierro said at the annual Mauiki‘iki‘i O Ke Kauwela ceremony, at the Lua Kupapa‘u O Nohili Crypt at PMRF. “The iwi is now resting here for their eternal rest.”

Lineal descendants of western Kaua‘i gathered for the ceremony on June 21 that included song, hula, prayers, blessings, and an offering of leis and flowers that were gently placed on the crypt, in tribute to the ancestors whose remains were discovered over the past year at PMRF. 

PMRF Commanding Officer Capt. Brett Stevenson presented a ho‘okupu, or offering of respect, placing at the crypt a native naupaka plant from Kuaki‘i, or Divers Landing, where major storm surge had revealed iwi kūpuna. The intent of this offering was to create lasting connections to the site, and for the plant to be incorporated into the design of a new crypt to be built there.

“PMRF has a sacred duty to watch over the sanctuary and ensure the care of the iwi kūpuna,” Stevenson said. “PMRF is honored to be included in the broader ‘ohana, or family, of the descendants.

“Our responsibility in creating this sanctuary will always endure. It is one of my most important responsibilities,” he said.

The previous evening, the descendants gathered for a sunset ceremony in which the iwi kūpuna was interred in the crypt, entombed into their moe loa, or eternal rest, del Fierro said. The crypt was resealed, for the last time, since a new crypt is to be added to the site, she said.

The descendants represent Na Ohana Papa O Mana, or the families of Mana, whose ancestors were interred in western Kaua‘i. Iwi kūpuna rest throughout the seven miles of coastline and other locations at PMRF. Shifting sands, wind, storm, tidal surge and climate change result in a changing natural landscape that reveals the traditional burial sites from untold years ago. 

When iwi kūpuna are discovered, meticulous care is taken to ensure the remains are processed in accordance with Native Hawaiian traditions and customs, in consultation with the lineal descendants, del Fierro said. The options, she said, are to rebury the remains, or conduct an archeological process to inter the remains at the crypt during the Summer Solstice ceremony.

“This process is a sacred duty that honors the iwi kūpuna and preserves the connections to the past,” she said. 

“The Summer Solstice ceremony is a time to reaffirm the commitment to mālama, or to care for and protect, the iwi kūpuna,” del Fierro said. “It is an opportunity to highlight the kuleana, or responsibility, to maintain lasting connections with the lineal descendants, burial council and others for the care and protection of ancestral remains.”


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