Science Fact: Hawaiian sea burial is a heart-felt and respectful tradition carried out not only for native Hawaiians, but sometimes for Mainland visitors as well. The condo that Nola and I own is at Honokeana Cove in West Maui. Last month I attended a sea burial on nearby Napili Bay Beach for Fetta Luebke, who was for many years the head of our condominium association’s housekeeping service. This post is a tribute to Fetta, whose memorial service and sea burial typifies the beauty and emotion of this custom.
1. The outrigger canoe is made ready for the family
2. Fetta’s son and husband wear flower leis
4. Fetta’s son Scot speaks of her joy of life as his sisters look on
5. Scot and some other relatives will paddle out on these surfboards
6. Family members who don’t plan to ride surfboards board the outrigger canoe. Fetta’s husband sits in the center carrying a gourd holding her ashes.
7. The burial party – outrigger canoe and surfboards – heads out to sea
8. The ashes are consigned to the sea. Leis and flower petals are spread over them.
9. Back on shore, the family disembarks
10. Those on surfboards stay a while longer paying their respects, then paddle back to the beach
Science Speculation: At Honokeana Cove, we have many long-time owners and guests – some have been coming regularly since the condos were opened in 1969. Inevitably, some pass away, and some have asked for a Hawaiian sea burial of their ashes in our Cove, which is home to several dozen large Green Sea Turtles. These guests are generally “haoles”, that is, “foreigners”, visiting Maui from somewhere outside the Hawaiian islands. Most often, they live in the Western US and Canada, and of course are not ethnically Hawaiian.
Nevertheless, there’s an honorable history of people adopting ethnic customs that are not part of their genetic heritage. Consider celebrations of St Patricks Day and Columbus Day by people who are not noticeably Irish or Italian any other days of the year. For that matter, Christmas is a holiday whose non-religious aspects have been adopted by many non-Christians.
It seems appropriate to close with a description of the sea burial of Duke Kahanamoku. Duke was a five-time Olympic medalist in water sports between 1912 and 1932, and is credited with popularizing the sport of surfing, which was previously known only in Hawaii. During most of his lifetime he was the world’s best-known Hawaiian. Duke died of a heart attack at age 77 in 1968 and was honored with sea burial off Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. A description of his sea burial will give you an idea of the intense feeling and emotion that is still associated with Hawaiian sea burial today:
The beachboys sang their farewell song “Aloha Oe” and the shoreline of people began to weep. Duke’s ashes were paddled out to sea by an armada of outrigger canoes and surfers. Nadine Kahanamoku scattered his ashes into the sea. The mourners in the canoes, boats and on surfboards threw flowers and flower leis for Duke. Soon the ocean was a blanket of flowers and Reverend Akaka spoke amongst the tears, “Paoa was a man of aloha. God gave him to us as a gift from the sea, and now we give him back from whence he came.” A rainbow formed over the island, as the canoes made their way back to the beach.