Under rainy skies and the roar of storm-generated thunder Saturday morning, a handful of volunteers cleaned up a long-neglected county facility – the “Old Filipino” cemetery on a hillside of the Kalepa Ridge in Hanama‘ulu.
The volunteers cleaned up a third of the 1 1/2-acre cemetery thus far to show respect to those buried there – Former Hanama‘ulu residents and former workers of Lihue Plantation Company from the last century.
The volunteers also took on the job to enable residents from Hanama‘ulu and from other parts of the island to visit the site and pay respect to departed loved ones, said Eddie Sarita, who was among the volunteers.
“It is a terrible thing to see these people all covered with high bush, trees,” said Sarita, a Hanama‘ulu resident and manager of the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall. “That is why we cleaned up. And we will be coming back till the job is finished.”
Peter Rayno Jr., another volunteer, said the overgrown vegetation has turned back people who might have wanted to visit the cemetery in the past.
“They should be stopping by now,” Rayno said. “That is the main thing why we are cleaning this place today.”
During the cleanup from 6:30 a.m. to noon, Sarita and Rayno, a resident of Lihu‘e , also were joined by Arthur Maghanoy of Hanama‘ulu, Rusty Cleveland, who recently moved to Kaua‘i from North Dakota, and Ernest Domingo of Lihu‘e.
They trimmed trees that ran along the border of the cemetery and cut away tall grass that covered grave sites.
The cemetery was created by Lihue Plantation at the turn of the last century and contains as many as 1,200 grave sites.
The cemetery ceased to be one officially, when Lihue Plantation officials conveyed the property to the county in the early 1960s, Sarita said.
The cemetery was able to accommodate as many grave sites as it has because gravemarkers became lost over time, and more burials were crowded onto the lot, Sarita said.
“They didn’t have maps back then, and when the markers fell, well, people were buried on top of others at time,” Sarita said.
The cemetery once boasted a chapel and is punctuated with concrete and wooden crosses and headstones, some leaning and some standing.
The cleanup allowed some volunteers to reconnect with their past lives in Hanama‘ulu and to connect with former relatives and friends.
As a youth, Sarita recalled he, family members and friends used to mind pig pens in the area that belonged to his father. “It was our old stomping grounds,” blared Sarita with a smile.
Sarita came across the grave of his uncle, Vicente Alimboyuguen, and briefly stood solemnly over it. “He was a good man. He was my uncle,” Sarita said simply.
Alimboyuguen’s son and Sarita’s cousin, Benito Alimboyuguen, also is buried at the cemetery.
The younger Alimboyuguen was an all-star basketball player at Kauai High School in the 1950s. He died after he fell while trying to put a Christmas tree on top of a roof in San Francisco years ago, Rayno Jr. said.
Rayno was almost stopped in his tracks when he came across the grave site of Rosario Volmoja, a Hanama‘ulu housewife who died in 1954 at the age of 34.
Though not related, the woman was like an auntie to him as a youth, Rayno recalled.
She was married to Frank Volmoja, “my father’s good fishing buddy,” said Rayno, whose father, Peter Rayno Sr., was remembered by Hanama‘ulu residents of bygone generations for having started up sports leagues for Hanama‘ulu youths. The park in Hanama‘ulu is named after the senior Rayno.
Rosario Volmoja also was Sarita’s godmother. “Coming here to do this brings back a lot of good memories about people we knew and loved,” Sarita said.
Cleaning up the grave site brought Maghanoy, 62, closer to his origins. “My mother (Filemino) is buried up here (she passed away in 1959),” he said.
Those who are buried at the cemetery include babies, youths, military veterans and Filipino bachelors who worked for Lihue Plantation, had harbored hopes of returning to the Philippine Islands one day, but died on Kaua‘i.
Lihue Plantation workers maintained the cemetery when the graveyard was still owned by the plantation, Sarita said.
But maintenance of the facility has not been at the same level since the county took control of the graveyard more than 40 years ago, Sarita said.
“There have been attempts to maintain it. Retired county workers come spray and weed, and the Mormon Church (volunteers) did it for awhile,” Sarita said.
But the maintenance has not been consistent enough to keep the cemetery looking presentable, Sarita said.
“I am not blaming the county. We can barely keep up with (maintaining) our parks. This is a manpower issue,” he said. “It (the cemetery) is considered abandoned because there is no assigned system of care.”
The volunteers hoped to change that, Sarita said, and more volunteers are needed to continue the work.
“People have said this place is a forgotten place,” Sarita said. “It isn’t forgotten anymore. We want people to come by and use it, again.”
Cleanup volunteers can call Sarita at 241-6623.