A few smatterings of stars were out, but they quickly dissolved into the baby blue that dissolved into the pearly white that dissolved into the bleached white that awaited, as clouds blew quickly toward the south, an infusion of color from the dawn when Koko and I went walking this morning.
Waialeale was clear, but Makaleha was capped with those mystic, misty swirling clouds that are such a perfect topping to Kauai’s jagged, verdant peaks.
And yesterday’s unanimous recommendation by the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council to reject the 16th incarnation of Joe Brescia’s burial treatment plan for his house atop an ancient cemetery at Naue was a perfect topping to hours of heartfelt testimony urging it to do just that.
“But what does that mean?” asked a lawyer friend, when I shared the news. I’m not sure, since the county Planning Commission has already rejected attempts to revoke Brescia’s permit because he hasn’t met Condition No. 5 of the design review commission, which states, “No building permit shall be issued until requirements of the State Historic Preservation Division and the Burial Council have been met.”
Except it does send a very clear message — one that even Princeville Corp.’s Mike Loo supported — that capping burials with concrete and then building a house on top of them is not the Council’s idea of “preserving in place.”
In making the motion to recommend rejection, Council Vice Chair Keith Yap said “caps are not appropriate, and we’re still very much against any kind of building over the graves.”
During public testimony Kumu Kehau Kekua had explained that “our kupuna need to huaka’i [travel] into higher and different realms of life…. This movement cannot occur if there are cement caps restricting movement.” She also noted that Naue means “to move, to tremble,” and it, like Wailua, was specifically chosen by the Hawaiians as a burial area because it facilitates such movement.
Later, in response to questions from state archaeologist Nancy McMahaon, Yap reiterated: “We don’t feel good about building over the iwi, especially the caps. We don’t know what the solution is, but we think the solution should come from the owner.”
Nancy then said she’d thought she’d heard from those testifying that placing concrete jackets over the iwi “would be OK,” but the crowd of about 40 persons quickly corrected her, saying, “No, nobody said that.”
The Council also expressed concern about the concept of “vertical buffers,” which references the space between the house and some seven burials beneath it, as well as Brescia’s landscape plan, which calls for coconut trees in front of the house, where Wainiha resident Caren Diamond said even more burials are likely to be found. The Council members said they were worried that burials would be disturbed during the planting process, as well as by tree roots.
The Council further directed Nancy to have Brescia provide more details about his septic system, and how the leachfield could impact burials, as well as to disclose his plans for providing access to the iwi by lineal descendants.
Jeff Chandler, who is a descendent, asked the Council during his testimony: “What am I supposed to do? Toss a flower over the fence?”
Uncle Nathan Kalama offered what he termed a "cowboy hat" solution: Allow Brescia to build atop the bones, but require him to post a sign out front welcoming people to a cemetery, and mark all the locations of the 31 known burials on the lot, so that it would be clear to anyone on the property that they were walking on graves.
He then went on to say that “a Hawaiian problem can only have a Hawaiian solution and the Hawaiian answer is a`ole [no]!”
I mentioned Uncle Nathan’s comments to my neighbor Andy this morning, and he liked the idea of the sign. We then got to talking about the issue, and Andy said that when the Hawaiians go to visit the burials, they should wail, especially at 5 in the morning, as the sun is rising. Andy said that Captain Cook had reported in his journals that even aboard his ship, he could hear the mourners wailing on land.
And I said yes, maybe the Hawaiians could go to Wailua, and all the resorts and vacation rentals and other places where burials were disturbed and wail there, too, and perhaps that would start getting people’s attention.
Because when I go to the Burial Council meetings and talk to Hawaiians — as well as non-Hawaiians who are sensitive to this issue — I pick up tremendous grief and pain. It was palpable in the County Council chambers where the meeting was held — with DOCARE officers stationed out front, even though the crowd was respectful and orderly — and evident in many of the comments that were made.
“This desecration is very, very eha to us; it’s painful and it stings,” Aikane Alapai said. “Haena has already had one tidal wave. This hewa, this desecration, is the recipe to one more happening.”
“I’m from Michigan, but my stomach hurts badly thinking about these things,” said Leslie Lang.
“Those are my tutus up there,” said one young man, whose name I didn’t get. “Please make that house go away and make it back into a cemetery. Just leave the bones alone. Leave ‘em alone already.”
The comment that really got me, though, was one the made by Aukai Peter, from his wheelchair, his voice strained: “When I close my eyes at night, I try to imagine that immaculate place, perfect, as it was. Now all I hear is screaming, intense pain. I have nightmares. You need to correct the wrongs, leave the bones alone. That’s all I have to say.”
And it struck me then that landowners who want to build atop bones should be required to attend the Burial Council meetings and listen to what the people have to say. They shouldn’t be allowed to insulate themselves from the grief and the anger by sending an attorney in their place. They should be forced to be present at the proceedings so they can be made fully aware of the implications of their actions.
I asked Brescia’s attorney, Calvert Chipchase, if he told Joe what was said in these meetings, if he conveyed the depth of emotion that was expressed.
“Oh, Joan, you know I can’t disclose attorney-client privilege,” he said, somewhat exasperated.
“Yes, but I just wondered if he knows what's going on here, if you ever talked with him about these things,” I pressed.
“I know what you’re getting at, but I just can’t comment,” he said.
Nor could he comment when I asked what sort of solution they might have to the Council’s concern about the burials being capped and the house being built atop iwi.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what’s in draft #17.