DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the Hawaiian Memorial Park cemetery in Kaneohe, the Hawaii State Hospital conducted a remembrance service yesterday for 668 patients who died at the hospital from 1930 to 1960 and whose remains were neglected after cremation and storage. Michi Wong, left, and Tammy Sorenson danced two hulas to honor those former patients.
Remembrance of those cast aside
A ceremony marks the burial site of former indigent patients
Huddled under two tents, more than 60 people gathered at Hawaiian Memorial Park yesterday to remember hundreds of former indigent Hawaii State Hospital patients once deemed unworthy of even a simple burial.
"I've heard it said, 'They were disrespected when they were alive and then disrespected in death,'" said Kim Noble, chaplain of the Hawaii State Hospital. "This is our way of respecting them."
Attendees said it rained more than usual at yesterday's eighth-annual remembrance ceremony but it didn't dampen the message of the service: Never forget.
From 1930 to 1960, the unclaimed bodies of mentally ill patients who died at the former Territorial Hospital of Hawaii were cremated and their remains stored in the hospital's basement. Over time, ashes spilled from broken urns onto the floor. Labels identifying patients became indiscernible.
When the situation became public, the Legislature allocated funds to finally bury 668 patients at Hawaiian Memorial Park in Kaneohe.
But not all of the patients went unclaimed by relatives.
Ellen Awai, with the state's Adult Mental Health Division, coincidentally saw her grandfather's name among the list of former patients in the Hawaiian Memorial Park cemetery.
"I was kind of shocked," said Awai, who made the discovery during a cleanup project at the headstones.
Her grandfather Untaro Nagata is actually buried on Maui, but because of inadequate records, his name remains at Hawaiian Memorial Park.
Awai has participated in the remembrance ceremony ever since, laying leis and flowers on two headstones bearing her relative's name. She said it is comforting to have a place on Oahu to pay her respects.
In addition to reading the names of patients who were forgotten, the service also included two blessing ceremonies by Rabbi Peter Schaktman and the Rev. Woong-Min Kim.
State Hospital officials hope the ceremony also raises awareness about mental illness.
"It's really important for us to have the community's support and the community to understand what we do," said Bill Elliot, associate administrator with the hospital.
Kumu Halaki Ancheta said she sees the ceremony as a step in erasing the stigma that led to an injustice.
"We believe in recovery. And whenever we dance, we dance to bring down the perceived stereotypes of mental illness," said Ancheta, founder of the Hula Halau Ho'onani 'O Ko'olau.
Ancheta's dancers performed "Beautiful Ilima" yesterday, and she said she hopes to also participate in next year's ceremony. "It's important to remember what has taken place in the past and make sure this never repeats itself," said Ancheta.