Putting Disturbed ‘Iwi To RestWhen development disturbs ancient bones, the Kaua’i-Ni’ihau Burial Council steps in to make their reburial peaceful and pono
Barbara Say has stories that will leave you with chicken-skin.
As one of the original founders of Kaua’i-Ni’ihau Burial Council, Say has experienced her fair share of hair-raising moments. Since the 1970s, the Kaua’i native has been one of the individuals responsible for the proper burial of Hawaiian ‘iwi (bones) after they are discovered during construction projects. One of her most chickenskin moments occurred when bones were found on the Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa construction site.
“There were so many,” recalls Says. “I can just see the big banquet tables. We had two of them full.”
They were traditionally wrapped in cloth and placed in lauhala baskets woven by volunteers like Say, and were reburied in a location where they would remain undisturbed.
Say describes the ceremony and the natural events that took place such as the rising full moon and simultaneously setting sun.
“I literally had tears because I thought, ‘This is so perfect.’ To me, that sign was perfect,” she says.
This was one of the original large-scale burials conducted by the council since its inception in 1972.
Say also has assisted in the proper removal and reburial of bones at Coco Palms and Waipouli Beach Resort, among others.
“We ask forgiveness,” she says regarding the many procedures council members follow to remove the bones.
The Wailua resident says she is always asked why the bones are buried in certain places. “But we don’t know,” she admits.
Many were likely buried in the yard of what was once their home.
“Maybe that was some-body’s backyard, some-body’s tutu,” she says.
Sometimes, however, ‘iwi are found in unlikely places, such as the three bodies discovered at the top of the hill in Hanamaulu when the electrical towers were being built. “I don’t know why they went to the top of the hill,” she says regarding the burial.
One thing is for certain, Say makes sure that the bones are not compromised again. She is part of the process of determining the most suitable location in the same area.
“It’s a hard decision. I sleep on it,” she says. “Once I put them away, I’m so at peace and I pray that never are they disturbed again. Never, ever.”
When asked why she contributes to such a cause, Say says simply, “I’m always willing to help.”
Now retired, the former longtime Hanalei resident, who now makes her home in Wailua, lends a hand to many causes across the island, such as Ka’ahumanu Society civic club, where she serves as vice president.
Her greatest passion throughout the years, however, has been helping to ensure that the bones of Hawai’i’s ancient inhabitants are treated with the respect she believes they deserve. The burial council is made up of some 10 members, and its decisions and arrangements made are not always met with mutual agreement within the community.
But Say, who is of Hawaiian ancestry, says there is no way around continued development on the island.
“Whether or not we like it, this is progress,” she says. “Life is what you make of it. And if you’re going to dread everything, you’re going to be an unhappy person. So why fight?
“We’re just trying to make everything pono,” she adds. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s who you are today. It’s what you make out of yourself. Don’t bring back the old stuff. You can never repair it. Move forward and take care of what you have today so tomorrow will be better for your siblings, your family.
“Life is too short to be spent arguing.”