History and Culture


For at least two thousand years, native Hawaiians have placed the earthly remains and spirits of their “kupuna,” or ancestors, within the landscapes of Hawai’i.

When a departing kupuna was laid to rest there was never a doubt that their remains would empower their descendants until they themselves were reduced to earth. Some kupuna were covered by stacked stones while others were buried with no surface markers at all, frequently in sand dunes.

Remains of high chiefs or those kupuna of high honor often were interred at night to conceal their location from jealous rivals who might steal and degrade or otherwise use the spiritual power of the remains for personal gain.

Because of these cultural practices, ancestral bones can be found almost anywhere in Hawai’i today. Burial sites are often accidentally disturbed either by nature (high surf or erosion) or by human activity through projects that involve excavation.

If you discover a burial site: stop activity in the immediate area; leave remains in place; contact the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division and your County Police Department. Reporting a burial site disturbance is required by law (Hawai’i Revised Statutes, Chapter 6E) and severe penalties could result when SHPD is not notified of such disturbance.

Let us all continue to give these ancestors the dignity and respect they deserve. Become a partner in preserving and protecting Hawaiian burial sites.