The sun rose dark orange in a wide smear of purple as a white half-moon, Koko and I looked on. As we walked, Waialeale brightened from the top down, the hues of its bulk shifting from gray to lavender to blue as mist crept deeper into the recesses of the pastures on this still and silent — save for bird song — morning.
It was quite a contrast to Friday, which I spent in busy Honolulu picking up an award from the Hawaii Ecotourism Association at a lovely luncheon.
The worst part of the day was coming out from enjoying the exhibits at the Honolulu Academy of Arts to find the rental car had been towed from its space on a street where parking isn’t allowed after 3:30 p.m. Ka-ching! On the taxi ride to the tow yard, a personalized license plate offered an apropos message: SPEND IT.
The best part of the day was receiving so much aloha, which came in words, smiles, hugs, a very nice award made of koa and four fabulous lei, including a gorgeous triple strand purple crown flower, which I’m told was the Queen’s favorite, a delightfully fragrant double strand of white ginger, a distinctive ti leaf, kukui nut and shell lei and a beautiful orange ilima.
I felt like a million bucks wrapped in nature’s splendid handiwork. I’ll take Hawaii’s form of adornment over diamonds and pearls any day.
When I got home, a friend who had stopped by to check on Koko and drop off some moi caught on the North Shore that morning said, “You leave a mean waft trail when you walk.” He then recalled how he was decked out with lei up to his nose following his 1978 high school graduation, and had hung the string of mokihana in his various cars all these years until it finally bit the dust a few months ago.
He said it always brings tears to his eyes when the UH Warriors are given lei on seniors’ night. Although many of them are not from Islands, they’re still covered with lei and even they start crying from the outpouring of aloha. “Only in Hawaii,” he said.
His words reminded me of something another friend said as we were walking through the museum and he recounted some of the highlights of a year-long trip he’d taken around the world.
“So even after seeing all those places you knew you wanted to return to Hawaii?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “without a doubt. I saw other places that were as beautiful, or more beautiful, but they didn’t have the aloha spirit.”
If you’re open to it, it can change you in ways that are deep and indescribable. If you’re not, well, then all I can say is you’re seriously missing out. And why are you even here?
That seems to be a fitting segue to the ongoing dispute over Joe Brescia building a house atop burials at Naue. While in Honolulu, I discussed the resumption of construction with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp director and a staff attorney who is representing some of the folks that Bescia is suing. We talked about the personal and financial toll that is often exacted upon citizens who speak up and get involved in community and cultural issues, which is especially tragic in this case, because the courts found that the State Historic Preservation Division failed to properly do its job.
Then in today’s Garden Island I see state archaeologist Nancy McMahon defending the move to build atop burials, saying it happened in pre-contact times:
“The Hawaiians did it all the time,” said McMahon, explaining that Hawaiians used to bury their family members and then build their homes over the burials. McMahon said it is common practice in today’s Hawai‘i to build over cultural and burial sites. “We do that with (cultural) deposits all time.”
“We did that in Kapa’a,” she said. “There’s a huge cultural deposit, and you drive on top of it all the time.” McMahon said the area goes all the way through Kapa’a, and has burials in it, also.
Surely McMahon recognizes the difference between a family burying its own dead under the house or in a plot nearby, as is still done in Samoa and the Cook Islands, and having an outsider erect a spec home atop ancient burials. And just because the state has allowed it to happen in modern times, does that make it right?
Even more intriguing is how McMahon and Brescia’s attorney have such different takes on why those burials are now capped:
McMahon said Brescia did not have permission from the Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau Island Burial Council to cap the burials, explaining that construction workers have placed large circular cement slabs over the burials, a few feet below the surface, and then covered them with dirt.
“He wasn’t supposed to do that, they never got that approval,” McMahon said. “They did that on their own, without consulting the burial treatment plan.”
“We’ll let her lie,” Chipchase fired back, explaining that the plan under review by the SHPD says that the burials must be preserved in place. “Capping is one part of that.”
Chipchase said the only caps that were placed are within the house’s blueprint. The house will sit on stills [sic] above the ground. “Nothing actually rests on the burials themselves.”
Actually, both sides aren’t quite speaking the truth here. If you go back and read the “Living in Limbo” post I wrote following the Burial Council’s Nov. 5, 2008 rejection of the burial treatment plan and the comment left by Mike Dega, Brescia’s archaelogist, you’ll see that this whole issue of timing and approval is all a little fuzzy.
But the fact remains that the burials were capped shortly before a hearing on a motion for an injunction to stop construction. And it was precisely because of the capping that the judge three times refused to grant such a motion, saying that considerable work had already begun.
Now, with each passing day of construction, the project becomes further entrenched, and Dega and SHPD have yet to produce a new burial treatment plan for the Council to review, as the court ordered.
So when will it be ready? When the house is pau with a for sale in front?
Meanwhile, the Burial Council did its part in rejecting the BTP that would have given after-the-fact approval to capping the burials. But it didn’t go one step further and ask the Planning Commission to revoke the permit because that condition had not been met.
That wasn’t because they don’t care if Brescia builds his house on those iwi. It’s because they’re told that if they don’t follow the advice of the state Attorney General’s office, they won’t have representation if they’re sued. And the AG's office doesn't tend to offer counsel that might hamper the plans of those who are here because of one reason: money.