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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 11:49 a.m., Wednesday, June 25, 2003

30 forgotten graves found in Kaka'ako

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The remains of 30 people, buried in what may be a 100-year-old cemetery, were found by construction crews working on the state's Queen Street extension project in Kaka'ako.

Workers discovered the forgotten graves at the end of April while digging trenches for underground utilities, said Jan Yokota, executive director of the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, which oversees the project. The graves were in the middle of the $5.5 million roadway extension, which will link Queen and Waimanu streets just diamondhead of Kamake'e Street.

"You never know in that area," Yokota said. "Kaka' ako is a fairly old area. You just have to be prepared for it and work with it."

State burial experts were called and they have been on the site ever since.

"Those discoveries led to additional exploration to determine if there were more individuals, and sure enough, there were," said Kai Markell, of the state's Burial Sites Program.

For unknown reasons, the burial site had long ago been swallowed by development in Kaka'ako. Several warehouses and asphalt parking lots had been built there, but were removed when the project began in February.

Markell said it's hard to say when the burial grounds were in active use, but after examining the burial styles of remains and coffins. he believes it was used sometime in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The graves could be a cemetery used by an old, plantation-style community, he said.

"It's hard to really say what was there, or even put a date on the entire burial area," he said. "It may go across an expanse of time."

Historians have noted that the area had once been a bustling immigrant waterfront community. There were homes and shops that catered for dockworkers from nearby Honolulu Harbor. And there used to be a city dump where Ala Moana Park is now.

Graves are common in Kaka'ako, said historian Nanette Napoleon, director of the Cemetery Research Project.

"Almost every time they build a project in that area, bones come up," she said.

And it was not uncommon for an old cemetery, even one marked with headstones, to be erased from the landscape by construction, she said.

"Until 15 years ago, there weren't any laws in place to protect human remains like that," Napoleon said. "Typically, they bulldozed them up and took them to the dump. I've seen it happen, with my own eyes."

State officials hope to decide what to do with the remains "within a few weeks," Markell said. "We're trying to do research and contact some people who may know what existed there before," Markell said. "We are trying to see if we can find descendants of or families of people who might be related."

State officials could end up moving the remains to park space that will be created next to the roadway. But relatives who can prove a link to remains will have the option of moving them somewhere else, Markell said.

Knowing the exact boundaries of the burial site will be an important factor in any decision to move remains.

"You can never be 100 percent certain," Markell said. "But if you relocate an individual, you don't want to leave a family member behind."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.