Lawmakers consider measures to aid Hawaiian burial practices

HONOLULU — Lawmakers are considering legislation to accommodate traditional Hawaiian burial practices through a technology aimed at replacing burial or traditional cremation.

Supporters of water cremation promoted the alternative while members of the funeral services industry said the technique could bring higher costs, Hawaii Public Radio reported Wednesday.


Traditional Hawaiian burial practices involve the preservation and protection of bones in the belief that they carry a person’s spiritual essence.

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, head of the Oahu Island Burial Council, said bodies were traditionally placed in underground ovens to remove flesh from bones, which were then wrapped and hidden to preserve the bodies’ spirits.

Democratic state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole introduced two bills that would allow the use of water cremation, which is also known as alkaline hydrolysis.

Kawehi Correa, president of Aloha Mortuary, said the technique using pressurized water chambers leaves 90% of bones “pristinely white.”

Water cremation uses an eighth of the energy of flame-based cremation, resulting in more than a 75% reduction in the carbon footprint of traditional techniques.

Keohokalole said the process serves as a replacement for practices that are no longer feasible for Hawaiian families.

“This just allows modern technology to be utilized so that ohana (family) who want to be buried in the dry-bone style can do so,” Keohokalole said.

Critics of Keohokalole’s bills said they fail to address permitting and licensing for alkaline hydrolysis facilities.

Jay Morford, president of the Hawaii Funeral and Cemetery Association, said about two dozen mortuaries and funeral homes oppose the legislative proposals.


“We’re not opposed to people having a choice of what disposition they choose, but I believe that there should be serious regulations looked at in what departments are going to oversee what before this bill moves forward,” Morford said.

Alkaline hydrolysis equipment is more expensive than traditional cremation machinery, costing as much as $400,000 per unit, a cost Morford said could be passed on to consumers.

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