#20 The Secrecy of the Bones of a Chief
     (Laura C. Green and Martha Warren Beckwith, 1926)

In case of [the death of] very high chiefs, called “puholoholo,” or of hairless chiefs, called “olohe.” When it was certain that the spirit had entirely left the body and would not return, a shallow pit was dug, large enough to hold the corpse and lined with the leaves of amau or hapuu ferns or of the ti or banana plant. The body was placed within and carefully covered with leaves, and over the whole, earth was sprinkled to a depth of from six to twelve inches. A huge bonfire was then kindled over the spot and kept burning for about twelve hours, when it was allowed to cool and the earth removed. The flesh was then easily separable from the bones. The flesh and entrails were deposited in one calabash, the bones in another and two men carried both calabashes to a secret cave.

One of these men was selected to act as kahu or “keeper” for the cave, the other was destined as the moe puu (that is, “sleeping together,”) sacrifice whose blood was useful “to act as a barrier against evil which might touch the chief’s body.” The kahu stood without the cave while the other went in and deposited the bones. As he crawled out he was dispatched with a blow. Sometimes both the bearers were dispatched; often a number of retainers volunteered to die with their chief. Generally a lot was cast among the retainers by the relatives of the chief, and none but they knew who was destined for the sacrifice. The secret cave might be approached only by a rope over a cliff and, when the bearer was ascending, the rope might be cut at the top and his body be dashed upon the rocks below. So would the secret of the cave die with him.

The reason for this secrecy in depositing the bones of a chief was because of their value for making lucky arrows for rat shooting or hooks for fishing. . . For the bones of a chief to fall into the hands of an enemy for this purpose was regarded as an insult to the family honor; hence the precaution taken to conceal the place of their burial.

[#20] Laura C. Green and Martha Warren Beckwith, “The Secrecy of the Bones of a Chief”, “Hawaiian Customs and Beliefs Relating to Sickness and Death,” American Anthropologist 28 (1926): 181-182.

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