Hawaiʻi County Council resolution urges protection, preservation of sacred Kumukahi
November 16, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
As a sign of commitment to lineal descendants and residents of Puna, the Hawai‘i County Council passed a resolution on Wednesday that reinforces its promise to protect and preserve one of the state’s most sacred sites, Kumukahi.
Located down Lighthouse Road, Kumukahi, meaning beginning/first source, is where the sun first greets all of the Hawaiian Islands. The revered land also is where Hawaiians buried their kūpuna centuries ago.
Despite its sacredness, the area has been desecrated. In the 1990s, iwi kūpuna (ancestral bones) were disturbed. They have yet to be reinterred, and currently are being held by the state.
The 2018 Kīlauea eruption covered 900 feet of Lighthouse Road, blocking access to the site. It’s become a place where people leave trash.
In 2020, County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said conversations began with the Hawai‘i County Planning Department, University of Hawaiʻi, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, property owners in the vicinity of Kumukahi and direct lineal descendants to resolve iwi kūpuna issues through development of a burial treatment and preservation plan.
Kierkiewicz presented resolution 330-23 on Wednesday saying it is designed to elevate the work that has been happening over the last few years.
The planning department has and will continue to convene the relevant government agencies and community stakeholders to facilitate the protection and preservation of iwi kūpuna, as well as foster the management and stewardship of Kumukahi with the participation of all parties.
The resolution said that the nonprofit, Hoʻoulu Lāhui — which was founded in Puna in 1995 for the purpose of awakening Hawaiian culture, values, beliefs and lifestyle in partnership with the community to achieve unity, harmony and total well-being — has agreed to provide immediate and long-term support through community engagement and project management.
Kierkiewicz said the county will use geothermal royalties, which is money collected from Puna Geothermal Venture, to pay for resources going toward the protection and preservation effort of Kumukahi.
County Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder supported the resolution, saying it was important the planning department be in communication with the community.
“There have been wrongs in the past that need to be addressed,” he said.
Several Puna residents spoke in support of the resolution, including lineal descendant Keone Kalawe, who drove two hours to the council chambers in Kona to testify in person.
Not only is he trying to find closure to return his iwi kūpuna to their resting place, but he also wants people to start respecting Kumukahi.
He testified that since the 2018 eruption the area has been littered with burnt cars, dirty diapers and other opala (trash).
“People need to realize that Kumukahi is as sacred as the Mauna or Kīlauea,” Kalawe said. “Imagine if you went to the Mauna or Kīlauea and saw burnt cars and opala all over the place. How would you feel?”
Testifiers also expressed concern over the reopening of Lighthouse Road, saying it will have a significant impact on the burial sites, cultural site and natural environment, especially after the lava flow created a 200-yard wide black sand beach that is already attracting visitors and residents.
“The community faces the international tourist hub at Four Corners or a protected and preserved very special Hawaiian place,” Greg Owen said. “Can we not have one place that is not commercialized, commodified and exploited?”
The county is underway with its Kīlauea eruption recovery plan to restore access to roads and ocean access five years after the eruption. To allow enough time to collaborate on the Kumukahi preservation efforts, the county decided to repair Lighthouse Road last. Road construction is now slated for September 2025.
Kierkiewicz publicly apologized to the lineal descendents saying she was sorry that iwi kūpuna still needs to be re-interred.
“To see the desecration really breaks one’s heart and soul,” she said.