Grave site search going high-tech

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island file

    Stephanie Castillo, left, joins Catherine Lo and Ed Edwards walking the grounds of a Filipino cemetery in Hanapepe last month.

LIHUE — Radar technology will be used this Sunday at the Hanapepe Filipino Cemetery to help a team of Kauai researchers determine where the unmarked mass grave of 16 Filipino sugar cane workers lies.

They were killed in 1924 during a plantation strike when a melee broke out on Sept. 9. An Emmy Award-winning filmmaker from Kauai and a Honolulu-based film crew will video the Sunday search for a new television documentary, “The Hanapepe Massacre Mystery.”

Ground-penetrating radar is used in construction to locate subsurface materials, such as bones and artifacts. Digging up or disturbing graves is not allowed in Hawaii, said research team leader Michael Miranda.

The team suspects from research documents, and has been told by others, several possible locations at the Filipino Cemetery, which is adjacent to Kauai Veterans Cemetery.

Miranda and some of his research team are part of the Filipino American National Historical Society and are otherwise acting as an ad hoc committee on Kauai of the Hawaii State Chapter of FANHS.

The team is focused on locating the unmarked grave of the Filipino sugar workers killed, and to identify them. The researchers are unsure of whether the ground-penetrating radar will find a line of 16 caskets or a mass of bones. The group plans to present their findings in July at a biennial conference of FANHS chapters meeting in Waikiki.

Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Stephanie J. Castillo launched the film Hanapepe massacre project on Sept. 28 with a video shoot of the Kauai researchers walking amidst the Filipino graveyard, noting which possible sites of the mass grave should be X-rayed.

The 1924 melee broke out when Visayan striking workers battled local police and deputized hunters in what’s been called the “Hanapepe War.” Besides the 16 workers killed, four police deputies also died that day. Their graves and names are known.

Catherine Lo, former head of the Kauai Community College Learning Resource Center and author of “The Filipinos of Koloa” (2017), is combing historical documents in the research group’s attempt to identify the names of the 16 killed. They were buried in a long grave, according to newspaper accounts of that day, she said.

A cement marker in the Filipino cemetery shows a date of birth and the death date of Sept. 9, 1924, without naming a person.

“We think this marker was placed by a loved one who wanted to mark the site. We don’t know when it was placed or who placed it. Another mystery,” Lo said.

The first newspaper story of the group’s intention to search for the graves and to identify those 16 Filipino workers who were buried appeared in The Garden Island newspaper on Sept. 9, 2019, which created a lot of local interest in the story.

A follow-up story in The Garden Island and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about the Sept. 28 visit to the Filipino Cemetery by the Kauai researchers and filmed by Castillo has sparked great public interest, said Miranda.

Saturday, Castillo will begin interviewing the researchers and several from the community with stories passed down by family members, eyewitnesses now gone. “The Hanapepe Massacre Mystery,” planned as a 90-minute film, will be made for PBS broadcast, she said.

“My instincts told me to offer my support to this research team and make them a short video to go with their Waikiki presentation in July,” said Castillo.

”From there, it quickly grew to everyone involved wanting to see a full-on documentary film made. My return to Kauai seemed not only timely, but gave me another important and worthy documentary to bring to life,” said Castillo. “We’re on a fast track.”

The film premiere will be in 2024, the 100th anniversary of the massacre.

Castillo said full-length documentaries usually take from five to eight years to make.

“We’ll have to do this in no less than four years,” she said.


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or


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