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Khon channel 2


Protecting sacred Hawaiian burials is a

David v. Goliath tale

April 22, 2023

HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s your chance to see one of the most important documentaries on Native Hawaiian culture this year. 

For hundreds of years, Native Hawaiians had a rich spiritual belief system that heavily relied on the lives, experiences and knowledge of their ancestors, also known as kūpuna.

In particular, on Hawaiʻi Island, Native Hawaiians utilized caves to lay the sacred remains of their kūpuna. These caves provided protection as well as a means of visitation and meditation. 

As Hawaiʻi became colonized by Europe, the United States and other interests, many of the sacred burial caves were gutted, either by looters or for development purposes. 


Although the sacred cave burials became a part of Hawaiʻi’s past, one man felt the calling to preserve his kūpuna’s final resting places. 

Keoni Alvarez was born and raised on Hawai’i Island. He returned to his home in 2019 to take on the mission of saving the memories of Hawaiʻi’s ancestors. Fortunately for the world, Alvarez decided to make a documentary on his work and the resultant outcomes.

“Over twenty years ago, I found my calling when I stumbled upon a secret cave in the forest near my ancestral home of Puna on Hawaiʻi Island,” reminisced Alvarez.

What he found in these caves changed his life forever.

“Inside this cave were iwi, the sacred bones of Kānaka maoli from generations past. At only eight years old, I could not begin to imagine how this discovery would change my life,” he said.

Alvarez explained that in 2002 his district was targeted by developers who wanted to obtain a bit of affordable property on the Big Island.

“Faced with a powerful, wealthy outsider who threatened to plow through the cave near my home, I found myself in my very own David vs. Goliath scenario,” explained Alvarez.


“Faced with a powerful, wealthy outsider who threatened to plow through the cave near my home, I found myself in my very own David vs. Goliath scenario,” explained Alvarez.

KAPU: Sacred Hawaiian Burials promises to take viewers along Mr. Alvarez’s journey in realizing his identity, heritage and ultimately his legacy within the tradition of protecting his land for his people. 

“Until I know what will happen to the property, I will remain the keeper of this cave to prevent this burial ground from going under,” said Alvarez. 

Kapu has made a big splash in the film world. The passion and deep devotion to his work that one experiences is palpable. The brilliance of this full-length documentary is that you feel like you are standing beside Alvarez as he takes his quest.

The documentary has won numerous awards at film festivals such as the Hawai’i International Film Festival. 

On Tuesday, April 25, you can experience the documentary at the State Capital Auditorium for yourself.

A Hawaiian independent producer, director and writer from the island of Hawai’i, Alvarez was able to travel the world for several years on Norwegian Cruise Line where he worked in the Broadcast department. This experience introduced him to many different cultures, peoples and places.

In 1990, he began his career as a graduate of Na Leo O Hawaiʻi Public Access Station and the WGBH Producers Academy in Boston. Through his early adulthood, he always enjoyed filming his Hawaiian culture through stories, language and dance.

Palikapu Dedman organized a protest against the largest mass burial desecration in Hawai’i’s history. 

This burial ground is the most important historical site at Kapalua on Maui. The site was unearthed when digging began for the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Kapalua. 

When the importance of the discovery was realized, the hotel was moved inland. The area, which contains over 900 ancient Hawaiian burial sites dating between 610 and 1800, has been recognized as a sacred site.

This burial ground and Palikapu’s stand to protect it started a movement of thousands of Native Hawaiians protesting to protect burials. 

“He is recognized and respected in the Hawaiian community for his knowledge and activism to protect Hawaiʻi’s culture, land and natural resources,” said Alvarez.

Kalaʻi Kamuela is another Native Hawaiian who has been working with Alvarez. 

“I descend from thousands of generations of kūpuna. The only reason I exist today is because of my kūpuna. I have kuleana, duty, obligation and responsibility to mālama and protect iwi kūpuna burials. I am Kālai. I am moʻopuna,” said Kamuela.

Alvarez, who wrote, produced and directed Kapu will be in attendance at the State Capital showing of the film. 

He hopes that more legislators and island leaders — like Mayor Mitch Roth (pictured below) — will take the time to see and understand the quest to protect these sacred sites.


 You can see the film on Tuesday, April 25. The event begins at 5 p.m. and concludes at 8 p.m. It is free and open to the public.


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