01 Oct 2020  |  Noelle M.K.Y. Kahanu

E moe loa – To sleep the long sleep

In the midst of a pandemic, as a hurricane loomed days away, 
we met at the top of a mauna, under the rising Hoaka moon.

A few dozen of us, some in malo, some in jeans, some in dress, 
all cloaked in black kīhei and face masks. 

Beneath a grove of trees, the lights of Honolulu visible below, 
dusk turned to evening sky. 

Something rustled in the forest just below, while the reburial crew
waited patiently from a distance. 

She arrived, resplendent and enfolded in layers of kapa, 
and our ceremony began. 

Voices rose, ached, wept, for those whose long sleep had been so long disrupted 
by distance, by centuries, by science.

We offered the scent of 'iliahi, tī, hala, pakalana, 
hulu, softened kapa and hand-woven hīna'i 
to ease their sorrow and beautify their surroundings.

Nothing but gratitude and a collective promise
to continue our kuleana.

To care for nā iwi kūpuna 
and to entrust our care 
to those who will follow. 

E moe loa.


This poem shares the experiences of the author in July of this year during the reburial ceremony of ancestral remains returned from Dresden, Germany (2017) and Duckworth Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK (2020). It was the end of their long journey and the (re)start of their long sleep.