Everyone has a ghost story in Hawaii. It doesn't matter how educated, how prominent, experienced or logical you are. Everyone knows about some kind of reportedly haunted spot on the island. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, you've still heard about a weird account from a friend of a friend or your hippie auntie or even your crazy uncle.
Every couple of years, a new development becomes the epicenter for rumor, conjecture and wild speculation. I remember when it was the Nature Center in Iao Valley and later The Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua. Now we've got Safeway.
When the developers of Maui Lani started clearing the kiawe, scrub brush and sand dunes just below the old Sand Hills subdivision and right across the street from Baldwin High School to make way for a new commercial development, it came across an unexpected find. The workers found old human remains and disturbed graves. A controversy began.
The developers had to appear before the burial council - an agency under the Department of Land and Natural Resources - to address how they would handle the disrupted graves.
Native Hawaiian groups described the need to be culturally sensitive and respectful to the remains found there. Some residents have even threatened legal action for the treatment of the graves. Last June, a group called Hui Pono Ike Kanawai held a 12-hour candlelight vigil for the iwi, or bones, that have resurfaced. The group noted the historical significance of the site.
The new Safeway may have been built over an old battleground. In the late 18th century, a few years before Capt. James Cook landed at Waimea, the islands were controlled by strong chiefs who forged alliances among the islands. The high chief who ruled Maui Nui, which included Lanai and Molokai, successfully repelled an invasion from a Big Island chief. The battle took place among the sand dunes of Wailuku. The invaders were outnumbered and destroyed. Many died in the dunes, and their bodies were piled in heaps.
The battle was very important. The casualties were so great and the Maui warriors were so dominant that it kept the invasion in check for nearly 30 years - before Kamehameha invaded. His battle in the West Maui Mountains took place in nearby Waikapu. This time, the Maui troops retreated through the sand dunes into Iao Valley, where they were ultimately defeated.
The builders stated publicly that they have respectfully relocated the remains as per a plan before the burial council. They also had the grounds of the Safeway and its parking lot blessed for good measure.
You can see the developer's efforts for yourself. In the parking lot between the store and the old Sand Hills subdivision, you can see two stately, low-lying platforms assembled from smooth stones. Ti leaves surround the platforms, and all around it is a black iron fence.
But some say the spirits of the dead are restless. Folks say the new Safeway is haunted. By now, most people have heard something about the new place.
The dead are a part of life here. Safeway's allegedly supernatural status is a classic kind of local lore. It combines pre-contact history, archaeological remains, land-use laws, and good old-fashioned ghost stories. In a lot of ways, it's the way our community responds to change.
The development has disturbed old graves, and that spells trouble for many people who identify with their ancestors buried in the sand hills. Many feel that it's a sign of disrespect. Whether the stories are true or not is irrelevant. The rumors and ghost stories are a sign of dissatisfaction in the community. The more land we clear, the more stories about haunted places will surely arise.
* Ben Lowenthal is a trial and appellate lawyer who grew up on Maui. His email is email@example.com. "The State of Aloha" alternates Fridays with Ilima Loomis' "Neighbors."