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home : opinion : opinion December 7, 2019

9/15/2019 12:01:00 AM
A Burial Tradition In Hawaii

Paulette Ballard
Guest Columnist


Brenda Beard is one of the happiest ladies I have ever met. She is a breast cancer survivor, having had her surgery several years ago, and then undergoing radiation therapy. To her every day is a good day. She never meets a stranger, because she gets to know everyone she meets. Her smile is infectious and our instructor at the gym is constantly telling her she is having way too much fun!

While Brenda and I were talking at the gym she told me about her plans to go to Hawaii a week later. Her daughter-in-law’s grandmother, who lived in Pennsylvania with Brenda’s son and daughter-in-law, had passed away and had made prepaid arrangements for her burial to be in Hawaii. Betty Valente, eighty-two years old when she died, was a native Hawaiian. Brenda’s son and daughter-in-law gave her a free ticket to go with them so she could see Hawaii. She had always wanted to visit Hawaii, and although she would have preferred the circumstances were different, she definitely wanted to go.



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She told me that for some reason in Hawaii the body is held out for twenty-one days after death. Brenda wasn’t sure why, but assumed this is in some way related to a custom. The body was embalmed in Pennsylvania before being flown to the Mililani Mortuary in Makai. At the funeral home a lace cloth was placed over the open casket to cover the body as was customary.  Native Hawaiians brought food into the mortuary for the family and they would partake of the food with the family while the body was lying in state. Brenda told me that after their family member was buried, the family was told to come back two hours later and bring foods their loved one had enjoyed. The family brought the food and it was positioned around the grave. I asked Brenda if the food was for them to partake of or just to be left there. She said they just left the food there and she assumes it was for the animals around the graveyard.

Brenda said as she looked around the graveyard she saw food, a bottle of wine, some glasses, and an assortment of other items at various graves.

Brenda was in Hawaii for six days and found it to be a beautiful, scenic paradise. Her flight home was at night, which made her uncomfortable, so she said she never closed her eyes during the long, long flight.

Being the curious person that I am, I researched Hawaiian burial services. History reveals that brightly colored clothing was to be worn instead of black. Family and friends of the person who died would eat dinner together that evening. In addition to sharing the meal, they would talk about the deceased person's life with storytelling and laughter being part of the event.

Hawaii burial methods practiced in ancient times involved the body being buried in a cave. On occasion the body was laid out flat, but at other times the person was placed in the cave with his or her knees drawn up to their chest. A rope was wrapped around the deceased person's legs and placed around the neck. The rope would be pulled tight to position the body into a rounded shape (a fetal position). It was then wrapped in tapa cloth.


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