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‘My Most Sacred Kuleana’: PMRF, Lineal Descendants Honor Ancestral Native Hawaiians at Annual Summer Solstice Ceremony

27 June 2024

From Lisa Ferdinando

Hula dancers with the Halau Ka Pa Hula O Hinano shared graceful movements as the sounds of traditional drumming filled the space around the Lua Kupapa‘u O Nohili (crypt) at Pacific Missile Range Facility, June 20.
During this first day of summer, lineal descendants of Western Kaua‘i gathered at this sacred space, the crypt, joining PMRF personnel for traditional protocols and tributes to honor the ancestors who had inhabited these lands on the Mānā Plain.

In this rural, remote Navy installation, iwi kūpuna (ancestral remains) buried generations ago reveal themselves through a changing natural landscape, whether from shifting sands along the seven miles of coastline, climate change, erosion or other means.

When these remains are discovered, cultural resource experts take meticulous care to ensure they are processed in accordance with Native Hawaiian traditions and customs and in consultation with the lineal descendants.

At this Summer Solstice, or Ka Māuiki‘iki‘i o ke Kauwela, ceremony, PMRF Commanding Officer Capt. Brett Stevenson highlighted the importance of the care and protection of these ancient remains. Honoring the ancestral Hawaiians is a sacred duty here, he said.

“We have our military mission to protect the homeland and protect our island home. Side by side, we have a collective kuleana (responsibility) to this place and to make sure that it endures forever. That's what this is all about. That's what the meaning is here,” Stevenson said.

The ceremony included traditional protocols and tributes, pule (prayer), oli (chant), ho‘okupu (ceremonial presentation of gifts) and mele (chants, songs).

“I want you to think about your ancestors or your family, your kūpuna (elders, ancestors), friends, brothers and sisters,” PMRF Archeologist and Cultural Resources Manager Tara del Fierro said before the ho‘okupu presentation.

“Just think about them just for a moment, cherish this memory,” del Fierro said, continuing, “By sharing this time together and to be present here now, you have become one of our ‘Ohana here, and let us all be ‘Ohana and join in, in honoring our iwi kūpuna.”

In a quiet procession, participants made their way to the crypt to present offerings of lei and native plants. The crypt is in the vicinity of the rolling and majestic Nohili Dunes, a wahi pana, a legendary and sacred space, revered as a traditional gathering area and ancient burial ground.

“Answering the call of Nohili. That's why we're here,” Stevenson said. “That's my most sacred kuleana to make sure that this place endures and thrives.”

He continued, “Days like today are a reminder to all of us of how important our purpose is and so as we continue to take steps on this journey that we're all on, you're all part of that.”

The crypt, built in 2019 to preserve and protect the iwi kūpuna, was permanently sealed after the interment of remains on the eve of last year’s summer solstice. In partnership with Hawaiian practitioners, an additional crypt area is currently being designed.

Stevenson recalled visiting the crypt after taking command of PMRF, the world’s largest instrumented multi-domain training and testing range, in June 2022. That moment with Deputy Public Works Director and cultural expert Thomas Nizo left a lasting impression, he said.

“Two years ago when I came here, this was one of the first places that Thomas brought me to,” Stevenson said. “It moved me. It will always be part of what's inside of me.”

As the ceremony came to a close, participants encircled the crypt for the closing oli and mele. Holding hands and swaying to gentle ukulele strumming, participants united in song, sending the soothing sounds of Hawai‘i Aloha wafting through the air.

PMRF, Lineal Descendants Honor Ancestral Native Hawaiians at Annual Summer Solstice Ceremony
Members of the Ka Pa Hula O Hinano halau take part in the Ka Māuiki‘iki‘i o ke Kauwela, Summer Solstice, ceremony at the Lua Kupapa‘u O Nohili (crypt) at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Hawaii, June 20, 2024. The ceremony brought together PMRF personnel, lineal descendants of West Kauai, and other members of the community to honor the ancestral Native Hawaiians of the Mānā Plain. (U.S. Navy photo by Lisa Ferdinando)


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