Ancient Hawaiian Burial Traditions

by M-Rebeiro

Burial caves like this one have been found on every Hawaiian Island. Unfortunately, by the time many of the caves were catalogued by authorities, they had already been discovered earlier and looted.

Hawaiians have several funerary practices that were popular in ancient times that have varying amounts of popularity in modern culture. Two traditions, the ‘paddle-out funeral’ and ‘burial at sea’ are still relatively common while others, such as cave burial and sand dune burial are less so.

Hawaiian cave burial is a tradition in which a body is bent into a kneeling or fetal position and then tied in that position and put in any number of sea-side cliff caves. The body is covered with a tapa cloth. Often the internal organs are removed and the body is filled with salt to help better preserve it, since the bones of ancestors are said to have divine power. Such burial sites are commonly located along the shores of Maui.

Sand dunes were also used as final resting places. A section of the sand dune at Makahu’ena has been preserved as a cultural site to show respect for those buried there.

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