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A childhood discovery led this Hawaiian filmmaker on a journey of protecting burial practices

Keoni Kealoha Alvarez
Courtesy Keoni Kealoha Alvarez
Keoni Kealoha Alvarez

A local filmmaker is putting together a documentary focusing on the protection of Native Hawaiian burial practices.

Keoni Kealoha Alvarez was 8 years old when he and his older brothers found skeletal remains in a cave near their home on the Big Island in the Puna area.

That discovery of iwi kūpuna led him to a much deeper exploration of the historical and cultural significance of Hawaiian burials.

"It’s not like today that you can hire somebody at the morgue and they’ll just take care of it. No, Hawaiian style was all hands-on. And only the closest people to that family member would partake. There was a protocol. There was Kahunas involved — all that expert to ensure that that person, after when they get treated for the burial, but also their soul, their afterlife would go to where it needs to go," he said.

Alvarez’s project is called: “Kapu: Sacred Hawaiian Burials.” It will premiere later this year.

To learn more about how that moment became the beginning of a lifetime’s journey into understanding and protecting Hawaiian cultural burial practices, click here.

This interview aired on The Conversation on April 18, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Lillian Tsang is the senior producer of The Conversation. She has been part of the talk show team since it first aired in 2011. Contact her at ltsang@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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