Oh, Them Bones: A Cultural Divide

The Kapalua resort placed this sign at an ancient burial site

Dead people’s bones versus realistic progress for the living is not something easily settled with rational talk. There’s too much emotional baggage.

I’m Mr. Rational. If government needed to build a new school where Mom’s gravesite is, I’d say, “Well, let’s move Mom.” If government wanted to build a new school where possibly my great-great-grandmother’s bones were, I’d say, “OK, build.”

Are we, then, at an impasse? I don’t think so. Most communities have enacted laws that more or less address that. And if they are fair communities, they assign more weight to the strong needs of the living and somewhat less to the dead so long as the project is of great benefit and not simply Joe Developer looking for a site for a condo or car lot or beachfront house.

We know where the modern graveyards are. We do not know where all the pre- and early-contact remains are buried. We’ve got some pretty good ideas, but there are a lot of surprises such as that huge burial site on Maui that interrupted the Ritz-Carlton Hotel project.

I’m not a just-let-the-bulldozers-proceed guy because I respect others’beliefs even when I don’t share them. But bones are, in the end, just bones. Leftovers of a life. Worth something to those who knew the living. National Geographic‘s September 2010 issue had facial photos of disinterred mummies. Nobody said a peep.

It’s a stretch of rationality to say bones you didn’t know were there have meaning for you.

So with that premise, it seems fair and rational for the city to go ahead with rail transit on a phase-by-phase basis, dealing with remains as they come upon them.

Obvious ones should be moved. Knowing there may be others deeper down but not yet discovered should remain an unknown. Might a support column invade a deep burial place? Of course. Sacrilege? I can’t see how, any more than I know if there are remains under the driveway to my house or those rockbed pillars holding up hotels in Waikiki.

People made fun of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for saying “there are known unknowns.” But it’s true. We widely suspect some things we can’t “know” until we meet up with them.

We’ll likely find bones as the train project moves through Kakaako, an old settlement.

But maybe not, until we find them.

Then we know.

Excavate everywhere in advance? We might as well look willy-nilly in the universe for planets. We don’t. We search sector by sector based on evidence.

The Cayetano and Co. lawsuit to ask total-route excavation in advance is odd.

Why has ex-governor Ben signed on to a “hail

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