At least 40 people gathered for an overnight vigil Sunday through Monday to honor the kupuna whose skeletal remains have been discovered and/or removed from the construction site of the Maui Lani Center across from Baldwin High School along Kaahumanu Avenue.
Members of Hui Pono Ike Kanawai, a Native Hawaiian law research group, hosted the 12-hour vigil called "Turning the Hearts of the Children to Their Fathers" from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday along the dust fences surrounding the center currently under construction. The group said that at least 19 burials have been discovered and more burials and skeletal remains are expected to be found as excavation continues.
"It was to bring recognition and respect to our iwi kupuna (Native Hawaiian ancestral remains) in all the sand dunes there. Especially in this Maui Lani Shopping Center where the bones of the remains are being dug up, (and) moved . . . and we as their descendants need to remember them," explained Clare Apana who stayed overnight and has launched a legal challenge to the development.
"It was an incredible experience. The iwi kupuna seemed very, very pleased that we came to honor them and just to be with them," Apana, a hui member and nearby Sand Hills resident, said of her spiritual experience.
Fellow hui member and officer Joyclynn Costa of Haiku also said the kupuna were with them, because at times a light mist would fall as they did an hourly oli, or chant, and at other times the makani, or winds, kicked up.
When the group did a chant near the construction entrance to the project, heavy rains fell. The group chanted at different spots outside the project during the vigil. The heavy rains also fell as the group ended its vigil Monday morning.
"It wasn't something you say it was coincidence," Costa said.
Construction on the Maui Lani Center project has been ongoing for months. Shopping center developer HRT Ltd. said nearly a year ago that its anchor tenant would be Safeway. While the original project design envisioned a center with a leasable area of 128,000 square feet, those plans were scaled back to a development with 105,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space and 550 parking stalls.
Lloyd Sueda, the developer's representative, could not be reached for comment Monday.
On Wednesday, the Maui/ Lanai Islands Burial Council is scheduled to discuss a draft burial component of a data recovery plan for the site as well as a preservation plan.
Apana's lawsuit is tentatively scheduled for trial in August, said her attorney, Lance Collins, on Monday.
Apana maintains that the developers of the 13-acre project have not taken adequate steps to safeguard burials in sand dunes on the property.
Collins has said that Apana is challenging a Maui Planning Commission "finding of no (environmental) significant impact" for the project. He has said that the significance of the burials on the property and other cultural impacts were inadequately addressed, and a full environmental impact statement should have been done.
According to a news release from Hui Pono Ike Kanawai, the area where the shopping center is being built is where the battle of Kakanilua, or the Battle of the Feathered Cloaks, was fought. Nearly 1,600 Hawaii island chiefs, along with women and children, lost their lives as a result.
The group said in its news release that it is a well-documented custom of Native Hawaiians to bury their dead in sand dunes.
The battle took place between the Hawaii forces of Kalaniopu'u and the combined Oahu and Maui forces under the command of Maui King Kahekili.
Costa said that the ancestors buried at the construction site "don't have a voice." Decisions are being made that may not be in their best interest, and they are becoming victims to the "necessity of modern day" life.
"The more that is being moved and graded and displaced, the more of our history is also moved and displaced," she said.
Costa said that there needs to be a "fair playing field" with developers. Groups like theirs may not have the resources to hire lawyers or the expertise to be heard in the process.
"Everything really lays heavily in their (developers') favor," she said.
Costa said that "it's not the shopping center itself" that she has an issue with. It's the process.
"Whatever they (developers) need to do, we need to look at it. . . . We need an even playing field or balance," she said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.