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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 2, 2005

Secrets of Manoa Cemetery

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

A secret place lies sleeping in Manoa Valley. Traffic speeds by every day, unheeding. Many of the secrets buried there will never be known. Some are still being lost. But there are a few clues to discovery in the dusty archives of Kawaiaha'o Church. The church archivist, Tin Hu Young Jr., was nice enough to pass them on.

Tuesday night, the story will unfold at the Manoa Valley Theatre. You're welcome to come by and listen.

The secret place is the old Manoa Cemetery surrounding the theater. The cemetery marks a transition between the old Hawaiian style of burial and the Christian way introduced by missionaries.

Young believes that much of this transition is due to women, especially Ka'ahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha I. She is the first secret of the cemetery. It was she who gave the land for "Christian burials."

As you know, many Hawaiians of centuries past were buried in caves. Some Hawaiians buried their elders under the house so they could chat now and then. Important elders became 'aumakua, the ancestral spirits who were appealed to in times of trouble and who, very long ago, may have been the origin of some of the ancient gods.

Young knows about Ka'ahumanu because his grandmother lived on her land in Manoa. He said the family opposed Kamehameha during his invasion of O'ahu and fled to the protection of Ka'ahumanu. So when Ka'ahumanu became a Christian, so did Young's grandmother.

The Manoa Cemetery has to be one of the oldest on O'ahu. Ka'ahumanu donated the land, probably in 1823, for "Christian burials."

Young explained that one difference between Christian and old Hawaiian burials is that Christian burials were recorded. And the graves often had tombstones with the name of the person buried underneath.

"Old Hawaiian style is just the opposite of tombstones," said Young. "Only the family has to know."

But when old folks in the family die, their knowledge of who had been buried where often goes with them. So there are many secrets in the Manoa Cemetery. Caretaker James Woosley said he mows over depressions in the ground that are probably graves.

Young said the church records reveal the names of 169 burials in the cemetery but there are only 37 tombstones. Flowers on unmarked graves show that some of the families still know who is buried there.

The program Tuesday night at the theater is to inform people about the importance of the cemetery. I'm going to tell what I've learned about it. Those who attend can sign up to help clear the part of the cemetery that's overgrown.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.