Island History

Coco Palms Burial Grounds

Coco Palms Burial Grounds beginning where the Wailua River empties into Wailua Bay and extending inland up the Wailua River Valley for about 2 miles on the southern and 3 miles on the northern side of the river, Wailua Nui Hoano (Great Sacred Wailua) is one of the oldest inhabited and most sacred places in all Hawai‘i. For centuries it was the domain of Kaua‘i’s ali‘i, and within it on the property of the Coco Palms Hotel is located the chiefs burial grounds. In February of 1973, about 30 skeletons were unearthed at Coco Palms by Louis Rego Trucking Co. workers during their bulldozer and steam shovel excavations for new construction at the hotel.

When the skeletons were unearthed, hotel manager Grace Guslander immediately contacted archaeologist Dr. William “Pila” Kikuchi, who determined that “the bones appear to be prehistoric, or about 300 years old.”

Shortly thereafter, the skeletons were reinterred at Coco Palms according to Hawaiian tradition with Rev. David Kaupu officiating. In old Hawai‘i, the dead were first prepared for burial by being cut open. Then the inner parts were removed and the cavity was filled with salt preservative. Next, the knees were drawn up tightly to the chest and the corpse was wrapped in kapa. Burial took place at night — secretly if the departed was a very high chief — and was completed by daybreak, followed by a purification ceremony performed early in the morning. During the ceremony a temple priest sprinkled salt water mixed with turmeric on the people and prayed.

A portion of the prayer is as follows: “Hasten, O Uli; hasten, O water. Here is Uli, Uli; here is water, water. I fly to thy shrine, O Kane, the approachable one. A rustling in heaven — it rustles with the sprinkling. Light appears. The deity is silent.”

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