KGMB channel 9 news

Family works to Preserve Puna Cave

December 16, 2005

With the development boom on the Big Island, the Puna district is primed  for progress. But some Native Hawaiians say it's running roughshod over ancestral remains. 

In the heart of the Puna woodland, surrounded by Ohia trees, ferns and a warning to steer clear, Keoni Alvarez unlocks a makeshift security gate. 

"If we knew that it wasn't flagged, it would have given us enough time to preserve the site," Alvarez said.

The site in question is the entrance to a lava tube. Sixteen years ago Alvarez and his brothers discovered the cave and its secret.

"The skull, one was facing towards the ocean, one was facing toward the mountain, another one was in the center," he said. 

Elders determined the three sets of bones. or "iwi" to be those of ancient Hawaiians. The cave was a burial ground. Hawaiians say the Puna district is filled with them. 

"There's a whole series of caves running all over the place for miles," said Kale Gumapac of the group Hui Pa'a. Some of it has been identified, some of it we don't want to identify because of all the artifacts involved in this stuff." 

"This is like Swiss cheese over here," Hui Pa'a Keoni Onipa'a Choy said. "There's another lava tube a quarter mile away. The next one has nine bodies in there. 

Because there is a home construction everywhere, Hawaiians fear overtime a lot is cleared another burial cave is destroyed. 

Alvarez is working through his options. One is to find a why to purchase the property so he can preserve it as is. 

 

 

18306353_BG1.jpg

One man's crusade preserves sacred site

May10, 2012

PUNA, HAWAII ISLAND - Keoni Kealoha Alvarez walks the path on a trail in Puna that he has covered countless times. It leads to a hole in the ground he discovered a long time ago that holds the bones of his ancestors.

"It was more personal because I had that connection to our ancestors. So that's what kind of drove me to try and preserve the site even more," he said.

The half-acre site houses the entrance to a lava tube Hawaiians used as a burial cave.

"There's several families that's in here. It's not only just one burial," he said.

18306353_BG5.jpg

The half-acre site houses the entrance to a lava tube Hawaiians used as a burial cave.

"There's several families that's in here. It's not only just one burial," he said.

Seven years ago, the landowner was a stone's throw from developing the parcel and burying the cave.

"At that time a home was being built. And every day you hear the bulldozers. And you're always thinking that the next lot is going to be the cave that's going to be bulldozed," he said.

"Since this is the Big Island, it's always being developed. Lots of people want to do the good thing but have no avenue to turn to," said Palikapu Dedman, president of the Pele Defense Fund.

18306353_BG2.jpg
18306353_BG3.jpg

Alvarez thought buy the land, save the cave. The landowner agreed to sell for $24,000. There were 24,000 reasons Alvarez couldn't afford it. But he thought of an idea, made a video, and put it on You Tube.

"Aloha, if you would to help save this burial cave from being destroyed due to development, this is how you can help," a smiling Alvarez said on the video.

"I just asked for a dollar. But not only a dollar came in. Nobody turned in a dollar. Usually, it would be like $20, $50, $100," he said.

People around the world saw it and contributed $2,000 toward his cause. His savings and paychecks added more money. In February, Alvarez had enough to take over the property. He said the land is priceless. So is the lesson.

"You don't have to build on something to make it valuable," he said.

Since Alvarez assumed ownership, the Island Burial Council and Hawaii County have recognized the burial ground as a protected site.

And now he has a bigger platform. Preservationists in Hawaii and on the mainland learned of his one-man campaign to preserve the cave. He's been invited to speak to groups in New York and Boston. And now National Geographic is interested in how he did what he did.

18306353_BG4.jpg