Note: This is part 7 of a larger webpage. The larger webpage is entitled "Dialogs with a racist -- Bringing to public awareness the explicit, enthusiastic, and unapologetic racism of Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a featured blogger on the public website of the largest circulation newspaper in Hawaii." To see that larger webpage, go to
7. Dem Bones (Gonna Rise Again)
["Hawaiians say, "Ola na iwi," the bones live. For us, they do. ... Just as Christians believe their Lord could breathe life back into their bones and raise an army, so do we believe in our akua's ability to raise an army from our bones. In 2004, Vilsoni Hereniko entitled his Rotuman film Pear ta ma 'on maf, The Land has Eyes. He reminds us, "the land has teeth and knows the truth." The land has eyes. Brescia would do well to remember that."]
Trisha Kehaulani Watson dialog started July 12, 2009
Honolulu Advertiser featured blog He Hawai'i Au
Original essay by Trisha Kehaulani Watson
There are many folk songs entitled, "Dem Bones," now sometimes known as "Dry Bones," the most famous being the song we teach children about anatomy. ("The hip bone connected to the back bone...") What most people don't know is that the songs actually come from a Biblical reference.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (New International Version)
The Valley of Dry Bones
1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"
I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."
4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath [a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "
Ezekiel 37:5 The Hebrew for this word can also mean wind or spirit (see verses 6-14).
Pick your culture. Pick your religion. I don't care who you are or where you're from, you don't desecrate burial sites. There is life in bones. A field of bones was the whole house of Isreal according to the Bible.
Hawaiians say, "Ola na iwi," the bones live. For us, they do. For people and cultures throughout the world, respecting the dead and caring for their buried remains is a fundamental and basic show of respect.
This is why Joseph Brescia's action in Naue are universally appalling.
Brescia even went so far as to subpoena a film making doing a documentary about the issue. The ACLU has taken up the case. Alvarez's work can be seen in the video below.
Brescia's arrogance is amazing. This sort of disrespect for the dead should not be tolerated in any place or culture. There is something universal about role of the deceased. They are more than our ancestors. They are a source of power.
Brescia can take on the living. He can defy council recommendations. He can hire attorneys to sue community people. He can litigate his "property rights." What he cannot do is control the awesome power our kupuna have to defend themselves and the awesome power our akua have to defend our kupuna. Just as Christians believe their Lord could breathe life back into their bones and raise an army, so do we believe in our akua's ability to raise an army from our bones.
In 2004, Vilsoni Hereniko entitled his Rotuman film Pear ta ma 'on maf, The Land has Eyes. He reminds us, "the land has teeth and knows the truth."
The land has eyes.
Brescia would do well to remember that.
** Reply by Ken Conklin
Here is a very thoughtful, respectful, philosophic analysis of the issue of what to do when burials are found in property awaiting development (whether it's highway construction or home construction doesn't really matter). Two versions are offered: 1300 words published in "West Hawaii Today"; or a much more detailed version with lots of references.
"Hawaiian Bones -- The 3 Rs -- Rites For the Dead, Rights Of the Living, and Respect for All"
In addition to that essay, I offer three observations:
(1) Most ethnic Hawaiians today do not believe the soul of a dead person lives in the bones.
It's very clear that most ethnic Hawaiians today do NOT believe that the spirit of the dead person continues to live in the bones. Consider the high-visibility public funerals of Israel Kamakawiwoole, Rell Sunn, and Don Ho. Those three (like thousands of others) were cremated, and their ashes were scattered in the ocean. Was that a desecration of the bones? Was it disrespectful to the dead? Does it mean those famous people will not be able to be resurrected when God is ready to do that? Of course not.
And for those ethnic Hawaiians who are Christian, they also believe that when the trumpet blows and the Lord calls people to resurrection, it won't matter whether the bones have been moved or treated disrespectfully or even if the bones no longer exist. That's because God is all-powerful, and the soul does not depend on the bones for its continuing existence.
As Trisha should know (expert in Hawaiian studies), the main reason bones of ali'i were buried secretly in inaccessible places in ancient times was to protect the bones from enemies, who otherwise would use the bones for sorcery to cast spells on other members of the family still living, or simply to harass and be nasty to the family of a vanquished enemy. But today, nobody is out there threatening to do sorcery or treating bones disrespectfully for the purpose of being nasty.
So what's all the fuss over native Hawaiian burials being moved or built on top of? The fuss is being done for two main reasons: anti-development activism, and political demands for ethnic Hawaiian race-based sovereignty. Spirituality is merely being used as a pawn in their political power struggle. Most of the activists at Naue have zero direct relationship to the bodies buried there -- the activists go there not because they are family members but because they want to use those dead bodies politically. (Yes, I know someone will now tell me that all ethnic Hawaiians are members of one big family that includes the gods and the islands, but surely you understand the difference between a race and a family).
(2) Mark Twain in 1866 saw thousands of bones out in the open in Leahi crater, and nobody, either sovereign native government or family descendants, seemed worried about it.
In 1866 (long before the monarchy was overthrown), Mark Twain visited Hawaii and wrote a series of commentaries for a California newspaper. In one of those essays Twain reported a native-escorted horseback moonlight ride through Leahi (Diamond Head crater) where there were thousands of bones scattered in the open -- so many bones there was no way for the horses to avoid crunching them as they passed through. Those bones were open to the sun and the rain and to any person who cared to go there to plunder or abuse them. Yet the monarchy government made no effort to bury those bones or cover them up or protect them in any way. The clear conclusion is that ethnic Hawaiians, or at least their sovereign government acting on their behalf, did not consider the bones to be sacred or in need of protection. Here's where you can read Mark Twain's essay on the internet:
Twenty-five essays from Mark Twain from the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), published in the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866
THE EQUESTRIAN EXCURSION CONCLUDED
The Sacramento Daily Union, April 24, 1866
(3) A burial council decision to leave a burial in place cannot be used as a ploy to stop development; construction will go forward and the burial council needs to take that into account when deciding whether to move the burial or leave it in place.
A burial council does not have the right to stop a property owner from developing his property. The job of the burial council is to make recommendations for the most culturally appropriate way to handle burials or reburials. The main question is whether to leave existing burials in place or to move them somewhere nearby.
The anti-development activists mistakenly think they can stop development merely by having a burial council say the burials must remain in place. Not so. If the burial council says the burials should be left in place, then the developer has every right to build on top of them. It's time for burial councils to start taking that into account when they make their choice. Leave in place (and it will be built on top of), vs. move and rebury somewhere nearby.
If the decision is to move and rebury then the burial council will have a lot of say-so regarding cultural protocols for doing the move. If the decision is leave in place, that's the end of the council's role, other than to recommend cultural protocols for the right way to put the burial back where it was before it was discovered, or protocols for protecting the burial even while construction takes place above it.
Trisha says at the end of her essay "... Just as Christians believe their Lord could breathe life back into their bones and raise an army, so do we believe in our akua's ability to raise an army from our bones."
And that's the main point, of course. The activists want to use the bones as pawns on a chessboard, to assert the right of a racial group to grab political power and control all the lands of Hawaii. To accomplish that mission they will even revive an ancient religion and try to use it to intimidate Hawaii's people, putting fear in their hearts that some sort of retribution will be visited upon them by the ancient gods.
Trisha ends with "... 'the land has teeth and knows the truth.' The land has eyes. Brescia would do well to remember that." Oooh. Spooky. Be very afraid and shake in your boots. There's a difference between respecting the ancient gods and fearing them. I respect the ancient gods and offer them prayers in Hawaiian language as personal protocol when visiting heiau; but not because I fear retribution. (As a side note, I wonder why prayers to the ancient gods are offered only in Hawaiian language. Are the gods incapable of understanding English? The Catholic Church already figured this out when they abolished Latin for the Mass and replaced it by whatever language is spoken locally).
Trisha would do well to remember that Liholiho Kamehameha III, his stepmother and co-ruler Ka'ahumanu, and High Priest Hewahewa in 1819 (the year BEFORE the Christian missionaries arrived) deliberately and publicly broke the kapu and ordered the destruction of all the temples and burning of the wooden idols -- the sovereign rulers of Hawaii, exercising sovereignty on behalf of their people, made the decision to destroy the old religion.
A civil war then took place. The diehard deadenders of the old religion (like Trisha) were led by Kekuaokalani, to whom Kamehameha had given the war god Kukailimoku upon his death. But they were killed on the battlefield in the Battle of Kuamo'o; after which the order to destroy the temples and burn the idols was carried out nationwide. It was clear to everyone that the war god which had led Kamehameha to victory no longer had any mana. And later, when Christianity arrived, the leaders eagerly embraced it, and so did most of the people.
So today's ethnic Hawaiian activists who want to revive the old religion are disrespecting the choices made by their ancestors in their exercise of self-determination on behalf of the Lahui. Today's activists are abusing the old religion, abusing the old gods, and abusing the ancestors, by using burials and religion as pawns in a political game. They are also abusing today's living people, both ethnic Hawaiian and not.
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