Being Hawaiian to me means being proud of who we are and where we come from. The rich history and Mana’o passed down from our elders is what keeps our traditions and culture vividly alive. We as Hawaiians had control of our land, ideas, and traditions over two centuries ago. I can’t help but imagine what life was like back then. The transition from the old independent chiefdoms, to a Monarch in favor of an elected legislature. The protocols of the reigning dynasty, attending Royal galas, to the way us Hawaiians lived in the country still intrigue me. Meet Uncle Bill (William John Kaihe’ekai Mai’oho), the 6th generation of Kahu and a direct descendant of the two brothers, Ho’opili and Ho’olulu on the state’s Seal. Uncle Bill, a man who has a very unique position as Kahu (honored attendant, guardian) of Mauna’ala is rich with knowledge. His grandfather’s side of the family were chosen by King Kamehameha The Great to make sure no one would find his iwi (bones) once he passed away. It is believed that one’s Mana (power) is found in their bones. Sitting with Uncle Bill is like entering a portal that travels back in time through the centuries. The knowledge he has accumulated over the years is boundless, and the fact that he’s willing to share his wealth of wisdom is something to admire. Besides taking a tour of the grounds, Uncle Bill was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions, speaking on topics ranging from the different Royal Monarch families that are buried there to the unique laws applied on the property.
1. Hello Uncle Bill, could you please start by letting everyone know how many generations your family has been caring for the property here in Nu’uanu.
For the last three generations: my Grandfather, my Mother and myself.
2. Exactly who is buried here?
The Kamehameha dynasty which is the first to have been placed at Mauna Ala. That is from Kamehameha second to the fifth, and there are a total of 24 Kamehameha’s buried here. We also have the Kalakaua dynasty where there are members of King Kalakaua’s family and Queen Kapiolani’s family, a total of 20 members of the Kalakaua family. Then we have the Wyllie crypt named after a government official during the Kamehameha dynasty and it also contains 8 members of Queen Emma’s family. Lastly, we have the grave site of John Young. John Young and Isaac Davis were the two foreign sailors that helped Kamehameha create the Kingdom of Hawaii.
3. Who was initially responsible for setting aside these grounds for the Royal families?
King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma.
4. I heard somewhere that local laws do not apply to the property, is this true?
That’s not true, but the state and federal land laws do not apply to Mauna Ala.
5. Living this close to so much mana, you must be constantly visited by the spirits from the past. Would you care to share any of these experiences?
Those are gifts from my ancestors so I do not share these experiences with anyone.
6. Has any individual or group ever tried to take bones or artifacts from the property?
There really hasn’t been any desecration of the burial sites or crypt sites of Mauna Ala; although the fence was once vandalized and one of the small crowns pried from it.
7. Is there anything visitors should absolutely not do when they visit the grounds?
You can take pictures of the chapel and the Kalakaua crypt but no video or camcorders are allowed to film in either of these places.
8. Please describe what it means to you to be a native Hawaiian?
In today’s modern world I am privileged to practice this sacred aspect of our culture.