Kamehameha I died May 8, 1819 at Kamakahonu at Kailua-Kona.
“His bones, in accordance with traditions afforded high kings, were separated from his flesh and placed in a kaʻai, a basket woven of sennet cordage.” (Bill Maiʻoho, Mauna Ala Kahu (caretaker,) Star-Bulletin)
“Mother of pearl was inlaid for the eyes and the king’s own teeth formed the mouth; his flesh was thrown far out to sea.” (Maiʻoho)
“Kamehameha was a planner, so he talked to Hoapili and Hoʻolulu about where his iwi should be hidden,” noting Kamehameha wanted his bones protected from desecration not only from rival chiefs, but from westerners who were sailing into the islands and sacking sacred sites. (Maiʻoho)
Hoapili (originally known as Ulumāheihei) (c. 1775–1840) and Hoʻolulu (1794–1865) were brothers. Both were trusted advisors to Kamehameha.
Their father, High Chief Kameʻeiamoku, was one of the “royal twins” who helped Kamehameha I come to power – the twins are on the Islands’ coat of arms – Kameʻeiamoku is on the right (bearing a kahili,) his brother, Kamanawa is on the left, holding a spear.
When the days of purification were ended and the platform for the body was covered with kapa and a girdle of leaves had been placed, then the high priest finished his ceremonies within the temple house where he had been praying that the spirit of the dead might be given life and welcomed to the company of the good spirits to dwell with Wākea. (Thrum)
When these ceremonies were finished, Hoapili and Hoʻolulu prepared to obey the command given them by Kamehameha to take care of his body and thoroughly secrete it. (Thrum)
The chief’s bones belonged by right to the family of Keawe-a-heulu and to the hidden burial places of its members from Kiolakaʻa and Waiʻōhinu in Kāʻu, but Kamehameha doubted whether this family could keep the place secret, for the place where the bones of their father, Keōua, were hidden was pointed out on the cliffs of Kaʻawaloa. (Kamakau)
Kamehameha had therefore entrusted his bones to Hoapili and Hoʻolulu, with instructions to put them in a place which would never be pointed out to anyone.
Different stories suggest different places where Kamehameha’s bones are located: to an undersea cave that could only be accessed at low tide; over the rough lava plains of Puʻuokaloa to Kaloko in Kekaha; within Kaloko fishpond and others. All stories note he was buried in secret under the cover of darkness.
The ceremonial burial of iwi kupuna (ancestral Native Hawaiian remains) and moepū (funerary objects) involves great secrecy in order to protect the burial site and ensure the peace and sanctity of ancestors who have passed away, as well as the spiritual, physical, and psychological well-being of their descendants. (He Ho‘olaha, OHA)
Kamehameha’s final resting place and his bones have never been found; a saying related to that site notes: ‘Only the stars of the heavens know the resting place of Kamehameha.’
For Hawaiians, burial locations were one of the most secretive traditions in a culture over a thousand years old, and proper handling of ancient burial remains uncovered today; continue to be a highly sensitive cultural concern. (Yardley)
State law (§6E) addresses dealing with burials; §6E-43 Prehistoric and historic burial sites – at any site, other than a known, maintained, actively used cemetery where human skeletal remains are discovered or are known to be buried and appear to be over fifty years old, the remains and their associated burial goods shall not be moved without the department’s approval.
§6E-43.5 Island burial councils; creation; appointment; composition; duties. (a) The department shall establish island burial councils for Hawaii, Maui/Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai/Niihau, to implement section 6E-43.
The councils shall: Determine the preservation or relocation of previously identified native Hawaiian burial sites; Assist the department in the inventory and identification of native Hawaiian burial sites; Make recommendations regarding appropriate treatment and protection of native Hawaiian burial sites, and on any other matters relating to native Hawaiian burial sites.
Reportedly, upon the death of Ka‘ahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha, Kuakini, with the help of Hoapili and Ho‘olulu (who had previously hidden the bones of Kamehameha) took the bones of Ka‘ahumanu and put hers with his, so she would be with Kamehameha forever. (Mellen)