Political Bones

This weeks news that human remains had been placed within the TMT construction site was a surprise to many. Apparently a well known protester, Palikapu Dedman, had placed an iwi, human remains, into an ahu constructed last year on the site. He did this twice! Apparently the first set of remains had vanished, so he replaced them with a second set.

An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with the summit in the background
Outrage was quickly expressed at this revelation in various online forums, the conversation on Facebook was particularly scathing. Condemnation being particularly intense from other Hawaiian commentators that can not fathom how traditional values could be violated like this. The use of ancestral bones as political playing pieces is something many found utterly disgraceful, a sentiment I share.

While much of the local community was quick to express disapproval of this action, notable TMT opponents do not appear to have condemned this outrageous action. Indeed I have yet to see any condemnation for the act on any of the opposition sites or Facebook pages. Yes, I have looked. They link the article, but there are no comments. Even more telling, it appears that many in the local Hawaiian community were aware of this for some time now, but have been silent on the issue.

In addition to the recent revelations in the papers concerning the iwi in the TMT site ahu. There is a claim of another burial in a contested case filing. Dated Sept 2nd, we have document 252 “Fergerstrom Notice of Family Burial Claim Under the Proposed TMT Site” filed by Harry Fergerstrom claiming that a family burial is located “on the access road to the TMT”. The filing is accompanied by a DLNR Burial registration form application.

It seems to be a common belief that the summit is a burial ground. it is certainly an idea that those protesting the TMT are trying to push, they have made this claim in the past. The most recent push may be an attempt to capitalize on the Standing Rock DAPL pipeline controversy that has so much media attention.

It’s important to remember that Mauna Kea is a burial ground – Kealoha Pisciotta quoted in Civil Beat

Mauna Kea is site of mass burial of iwi for centuries. – Pohaku Keaau comment on the Hilo Tribune website

The problem with this argument is that the summit does not appear to have ever been a significant burial ground. There are only a handful of confirmed burials on the mountain and a couple dozen suspected burials, mostly at lower elevations (below 10,000 feet) and none within a mile of the TMT site.

Ahu in the Road
An ahu built in the downhill lane of the Mauna Kea summit access road
There are a couple old references that mention burials at the summit, but there is scant on the ground evidence to support this, it is very possible that they are referring to the lower elevation areas that are known. Hawaiian burials are very common along coastlines that were heavily populated in pre-contact times, there is little mystery in how the ancient Hawaiians buried their dead.

The TMT site itself is mostly solid rock outcropping, there is scant place to hide a burial. The TMT site has been repeatedly examined for burials by various parties, none has been found, at least nothing historical, discounting these recent planted burials. And while the proposed access road to the TMT does cross the lower edge of a cinder cone, this particular path has been previously disturbed by an older road and is unlikely to hide anything.

What a lot of people do not realize is how much the cinder moves about, slowly slumping down the sides of the pu’u under the power of frost heaving and solifluction. If there were “mass burials” of iwi secreted on the summit over the centuries they would not be a secret any longer. We would have beautifully preserved bones appearing out of the cinders on a routine basis. In my decade on the summit I have never seen or heard of such an event.

No doubt the burial ground argument will have traction with those inclined to believe despite the lack of any evidence to the contrary. We will be hearing more on this issue, a new and utterly disgraceful maneuver by TMT opponents.