During the reign of Kamehameha IV, there was talk of building a new royal mausoleum (at the time, Hawaiʻi’s ruling chiefs were buried in the crypt enclosure on the ʻIolani Palace grounds, known as Pohukaina, sometimes called ‘the mound’.)
His death on November 30, 1863 was the impetus needed to begin the construction of a new chapel; it was completed in January 1864 and a State funeral was held for Kamehameha IV on February 3, 1864.
Mauna ‘Ala is the resting place for many of Hawai‘i’s royalty. (Mauna ‘Ala means “fragrant mountain.”) On October 19, 1865, the Royal Mausoleum chapel was completed.
RC Wyllie, Hawaiʻi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was buried with a State funeral in the Royal Mausoleum on October 29, 1865.
The next night, October 30, 1865, the remains of 21 Ali‘i were removed from Pohukaina at ‘Iolani Place and transferred in a torchlight procession at night to Mauna ‘Ala, the new Royal Mausoleum in Nu‘uanu Valley.
“Earth has not seen a more solemn procession what when, in the darkness of the night, the bodies of these chieftains were carried through the streets”. (Hawaiian Gazette, January 14, 1880)
In a speech delivered on the occasion of the laying of the Cornerstone of The Royal Palace (ʻIolani Palace,) Honolulu, in 1879, JH Kapena, Minister of Foreign Relations, said:
“Doubtless the memory is yet green of that never-to-be-forgotten night when the remains of the departed chiefs were removed to the Royal Mausoleum in the valley.”
“Perhaps the world had never witnessed a procession more weird and solemn than that which conveyed the bodies of the chiefs through our streets, accompanied on each side by thousands of people until the mausoleum was reached, the entire scene and procession being lighted by large kukui torches, while the midnight darkness brought in striking relief the coffins on their biers.”
The March 10, 1899 issue of the Hawaiian Gazette noted that Liloa (1500s,) Lonoikamakahiki (late-1500s) and Alapaʻi (1700s) are among the buried at Mauna ʻAla.
In 1866, the remains of John Young, the British seaman who became a close friend and advisor to Kamehameha I, had been moved to Mauna ‘Ala.
Then the first major crypt was built during 1884-1887 by Charles Reed Bishop, husband of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, to house the remains of the Kamehameha family. Later, he too was buried there and the crypt sealed.
The Kamehameha crypt is the resting place Kamehameha II to V and other members of family – there are a total of 24 Kamehameha’s buried there.
Lunalilo chose to be buried on Kawaiaha‘o Church grounds in his personal crypt and not at the Royal Mausoleum.
A second crypt was built in 1904 to house nine of Queen Emma’s relatives and close associates. This tomb is named for Robert C. Wyllie, a close friend of the Kamehameha family and an important figure in late-19th century Hawaiian politics.
Between 1907 and 1910, a third crypt was built to shelter the Kalākaua family. The Kalākaua crypt holds the buried remains of members of the Kalākaua dynasty – a total of 20 members of the Kalākaua family.
It was Queen Lili‘uokalani’s wish and vision to convert the mausoleum building into a chapel, to be used specifically to celebrate the birthdays of Hawai‘i’s kings and queens and their legacy of aloha, left to the Hawaiian people through the various trusts created by these high chiefs and high chiefesses, to care for their people.
By a joint resolution of Congress on May 31, 1900, the 3.5-acres of land that make up the Mauna ʻAla premises were “withdrawn from sale, lease, or other disposition under the public-land laws of the United States” and the property is to be used as a mausoleum for the royal family of Hawai‘i.
Mauna ‘Ala is managed by DLNR’s State Parks Division; there is a curator agreement for the property. William John Kaihe‘ekai Mai‘oho (Bill) was appointed curator of Mauna ‘Ala in January 1995. His mother was kahu for 28-years prior. This position was handed down through the generations.
I had the good fortune to meet Bill on a couple occasions. Once, at Mauna ‘Ala for a service in the chapel and presenting of ho‘okupu at the Kamehameha crypt; the second was at the awa ceremony for the curator agreement between DLNR and the Royal Order of Kamehameha I at Kaʻawaloa Point at Kealakekua Bay.
Mauna ʻAla is open to the public from 8 am to 4 pm, Monday thru Friday and on Memorial Day.