Digging Up Bones of Native Hawaiian Warriors in a Heiau
When you dig a hole, do you expect to see skeletons coming out of the earth? Sometimes, that happens in Hawaii, as urban development occasionally does come across ancient burial grounds. In May 1898, seven workers were evening out the dirt mounds in the Helumoa coconut grove to make way for a seaside annex for the Hawaiian Hotel. They were removing a tree by cutting its roots, completing most of the work by their 12 p.m. break. When the workers returned at 1 p.m., the tree started falling, and the workers ran away.
Then, the unimaginable happened: “Flung high in the air by the catapultic motion of the roots was a mass of human bones–entire skulls, femurs, vertebra, ribs, everything.” Afterwards, only the foreman, wanting to keep his job, returned to the area and found more skeletons, including five skulls. A set of skeleton was “in a sitting posture with arms extended over the head, as if the subject had been warding off a blow when struck down to his ultimate tomb.” Another one had “a temple dinged in, as if from a spear thrust.”
Colonel John W. MacFarlane, the royal chamberlain, didn’t think Mr. Bishop, the owner of the property, knew about the burials before the discovery.
Kaohi, a Native Hawaiian woman who lived there since birth, explained the site contained the Puuo’niihau Heiau (temple), and the Hawaiian warriors who died defending Oahu from the warriors of Kamehameha I were buried in the walls over a century ago. Kaohi was most likely referring to the heiau Helumoa, and the first mo’i (ruler) of Oahu, Ma’likukahi, created it around 1350 AD. Also known as Apuakehau, Helumoa was once the main heiau for the ali’i (the Hawaiian ruling class), and the celebration of the Makahiki (the harvest festival) on Oahu every year started there.
– Alice Kim
“A Golgotha at Waikiki: Several Human Skeletons Found in “One Burial Blent”
Evening bulletin., May 11, 1898, Page 5, Image 5
Dye, Bob, ed. Hawaiʻi Chronicles: Island History from the Pages of Honolulu Magazine. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 1996. Print.
White, Kai and Kraus, Jim. Waikiki. Charleston, South Caroline: Arcadia Publishing, 2007. Print.
During the 19th century, most Hawaiian royalties resided in or close to the Helumoa area, including Kamehameha V, who lived in a traditional grass house. The area had a good surf spot and a lot of food and water. In the 16th century, when Kakuhihewa ruled Oahu, the coconut grove was created and reportedly had 10,000 coconut trees. Today, however, most of the coconut grove is gone, and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (formerly the Hawaiian Hotel) and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center now stand in the area.