The final resting places of Hawai‘i’s departed speak volumes about those living in the islands today.
John Hook, Josiah Patterson, and courtesy of Kamehameha Schools Maui
In the 245 years since Western contact, countless many have settled in Hawaiʻi from beyond the archipelago, bringing with them customs and traditions that together form the multiethnic backdrop of the islands today. Though less obvious than Hawai‘i’s rich diversity of foods and festivals, the final resting places of those who called the islands home have their own stories to tell about Hawai‘i’s ongoing evolution as an epicenter of culture in the Pacific.
Kahi Haliʻa Aloha Memorial
A large stone monument stands at the corner of Kalakaua Avenue and Kapahulu Avenue in Waikīkī. With its broad lava rock facade, the monument seems to blend into the adjacent Kapiʻolani Park, and few who pass realize that beneath its gentle slope are some 200 iwi kūpuna, or skeletal remains.
Known as Kahi Haliʻa Aloha, or “the place of loving remembrance,” the unassuming monument is home to Native Hawaiian remains that were unearthed in various construction projects as Waikīkī was developed into a major tourist destination during the 20th century. Located on a busy intersection fronting the Honolulu Zoo, the monument stands not only as a memorial to the individuals who lived and died there, but also as a reminder of the dynamics that have shaped these islands over time—in people, practices, culture, and topography.
Manoa Chinese Cemetery
The first in a wave of foreign contract workers imported to work on the islands’ sugar plantations, Chinese laborers began arriving in Hawai‘i in 1852. Later that year, the first Chinese cemetery was founded: the Lin Yee Chung Cemetery, also known as the Manoa Chinese Cemetery. The oldest and largest Chinese cemetery in Hawaiʻi, Manoa Chinese Cemetery is unique in the islands for observing both traditional Chinese cemetery design and funeral rites.
One of the cemetery’s founders, Lum Ching, is credited with using feng shui principles to determine the ideal location to establish a burial ground for the local Chinese community, who by 1884 constituted nearly a quarter of Hawai‘i’s population. Nestled in the upper reaches of Mānoa Valley with the steep walls of the Koʻolau mountains at its back, the site of Manoa Chinese Cemetery was deemed to be “a haven suitable for the living as well as the dead.”
Each spring, the cemetery hosts a ceremony for Ching Ming, a month-long traditional Chinese festival honoring the departed. During Ching Ming, families gather to clean ancestral graves and leave offerings while picnicking at the gravesites.
Steeped in tradition and history, it’s no wonder many of Hawai’i’s most recognizable Chinese names are buried here. Among the cemetery’s notable residents are Chang Apana, the real-life inspiration for author Earl Derr Biggers’ fictional detective Charlie Chan, and Henry Awa Wong, known during his life as “the unofficial mayor of Chinatown.”
Valley of the Temples
Located at the foot of the verdant Koʻolau mountain range, the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kāne‘ohe is a scenic final resting place. While people typically visit cemeteries to honor the deceased, Valley of the Temples is a popular destination for visitors and locals alike thanks to its picturesque Byodo-In temple.
Byodo-In is a small-scale replica of the 11th-century Buddhist temple of the same name located in the town of Uji, just outside of Kyoto, Japan. Hawai‘i’s Byodo-In temple was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to the islands, and its grounds were meticulously designed by renowned Kyoto landscaper Kiichi Toemon Sano. The nondenominational Buddhist temple invites visitors to ring its giant brass bell for happiness and longevity, light incense, and offer a prayer.
Mauna ʻAla Royal Mausoleum
Mauna ʻAla was born of tragic necessity, when the four-year-old son of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV passed away suddenly in 1862. Struck by grief, the king fell ill and died just 15 months later. Pohukaina, the burial ground at ʻIolani Palace, was full, and so Queen Emma and the newly crowned King Kamehameha V, brother of Kamehameha IV, worked fervently to construct a new royal mausoleum. When the first wing was completed in 1864, father and son were carried in a procession from ʻIolani Palace to Mauna ʻAla and laid to rest together.
Upon the mausoleum’s completion at the end of 1865, those buried at Pohukaina were moved to Mauna ʻAla to keep the Kamehameha dynasty together. All but two of Hawaiʻi’s reigning monarchs are buried at Mauna ʻAla.
Considered one of the most sacred sites in the islands, Mauna ʻAla is much more than the resting place of historical figures—it is a symbol of the legacy of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The students of Kamehameha Schools and St. Andrew’s Schools make annual trips there to pay homage to the schools’ royal founders. Hula practitioners visit to honor King Kalākaua, beloved for his unwavering patronage of the traditional Hawaiian art form. And every year, thousands turn out for the Onipaʻa Peace March, which begins at Mauna ʻAla and ends at ʻIolani Palace, in solemn observance of the illegal Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.