Water Cremation Is A Culturally Appropriate Way To Leave This Planet - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Mililani Trask

Mililani Trask is a Native Hawaiian attorney and creator-owner of the Native to Native Business model designed to help native businesses create services that meet the needs of the indigenous people they serve.


Death is writ large over the landscape of our minds and hearts these past two years as we have had to grapple with the hundreds of thousands of deaths from Covid-19. Loss of life has also marked the long and painful history of these islands since colonization and the illegal overthrow.

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The Navy’s current intransigence and disrespect for the people of Hawaii in refusing to shut down Red Hill even as families see and smell poisoned water coming out of their faucets is just the latest chapter in the disgraceful history of the militarization of these islands.

Hawaiians have dealt with the burden of what has been done to us in large part by drawing on the strength of our cultural traditions. Yet the very protocols around death that have sustained Hawaiians in their times of loss have not been available to us.

The law says the observance of Hawaiian customs is protected. However, the practices of 150 years ago have run up against contemporary health and environmental regulations.

So, for many years now Hawaiians have not been able to bury their loved ones and preserve the iwi in accordance with ancient practices. We have had only two options: the full body burial preferred by Christians, or flame cremation, preferred especially by Asian Buddhists.

These options do not give Hawaiians the desired outcome: clean, sterilized long bones that can be placed with reverence in a land crypt or burial cave.

Water cremation is sterile, clean and green. Kevin Knodell/Civil Beat/2021

The old way of steaming the dead body in an imu (earth oven) yielded this outcome. Not so flame cremation, where bits of sinew and flesh might still be attached to the bones, causing it to smell and attract rodents.

But today we have the technology to allow for the practice of traditional rites and it is called alkaline hydrolysis — or, as it is commonly referred to, water cremation. The technology is already in use in Hawaii by veterinarians and at the University of Hawaii Research Lab at Manoa.

Water cremation has been legalized in 21 states in this country and is in use in other developed countries. The reason is as simple as its urgent and profound: It is sterile, clean and green.

Alkaline hydrolysis does not discharge toxic elements into the atmosphere. So, unlike the flame crematoriums, operators do not need to install a filter to capture air-borne toxic elements.

As we wring our hands over the climate crisis and the build-up of carbon emissions that is hurtling the planet to disaster, there is real value in the fact that water cremation offers a 75% reduction in the carbon footprint compared to the flame process and uses a fraction — literally one-eighth — of the energy of a typical crematorium.

Pacemakers and implants do not have to be removed prior to water cremation. They are left behind and can be recycled. Mercury from dental fillings is not vaporized and released into the atmosphere: It is contained and recycled. These are real gifts to the environment.

Bereaved families that choose water cremation can take comfort in the fact that they are helping to malama aina by saving land and avoiding the cost of funeral plots or crypts and other burial accessories that have sprung up around the funeral industry over time.

Alkaline hydrolysis does not discharge toxic elements into the atmosphere.

The final remains the family receives are free of pathogens and disease — something that is especially important as we live through this pandemic and think about others yet to come.

This green approach to disposition of the body is far preferable to the groundwater and atmospheric contamination that happens, but is not often talked about, with embalming or flame cremation.

It’s time for Hawaii to make alkaline hydrolysis/water cremation an option for everyone wishing to ensure a green and culturally appropriate exit from our beleaguered planet for themselves or for their loved ones. The bill to make water cremation available in Hawaii will be introduced again in the legislative session in 2022.

There is absolutely no reason why it should not pass and be enacted into law. We deserve to have it as an option for how we leave this Earth.

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About the Author

Mililani Trask

Mililani Trask is a Native Hawaiian attorney and creator-owner of the Native to Native Business model designed to help native businesses create services that meet the needs of the indigenous people they serve.


Latest Comments (0)

We, Fireless Cremation, are eager to support the bill to make alkaline hydrolysis legal in HI. Our system does not discharge the body into the sewer. The body's essence is beneficially retuned to the land or sea. Let me know how we can help bring our new alkaline hydrolysis 2.0 process to the islands.

Firelesscremation · 3 weeks ago

I learned much more from this article than I expected, and now I am curious why Hawaii does not allow water cremation. Thank you for this great article.

Jay · 3 weeks ago

Mahalo for this article!I saw the link to the bill. What groups are supporting the bill, that i can join/align with to help its passage?Yes!  We need other ways to return earthly remains of our bodies and other large critter to our aina, without further polluting our lands and sea, and consuming valuable real estate!Also check out human composting (legal in  WA, CO , that i know of), and mushroom shrouds.  

katisha · 3 weeks ago

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