Cemetery of the Week #106: Keawala’i Churchyard

Keawala'i Congregational Church

Keawala’i Congregational Church

Keawala’i Congregational Church
5300 Makena Road
Makena, Maui, Hawaii 96753
Telephone: 808-879-5557
Founded: 1832
Size: small
Number of interments: 100?
Church office hours: Wednesday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

South of the Wailea Shopping Village, as you head toward Big Beach with its view of Molokini across the water, Makena Road narrows and draws closer to the ocean. Between the blacktop and the water stands a low wall of rough black lava stones, which surrounds Keawala’i Churchyard.

Grave of Elisa and Susie

Grave of Elisa and Susie

Keawala’i Church is one of a dozen missionary churches remaining on Maui from the mid-1800s. The churches ringed the island, each a full day’s horse-ride from the next. Itinerant preachers traveled the circuit, visiting each church in turn to bring the gospel to the Hawaiians. When the Keawala’i congregation was founded in 1832, they built their original church of pili grass. The current building dates from 1855, making it the oldest surviving church on Maui according to some sources.

Keawala’i Church was built in a low New England style with a wood-shingled steeple rising from its peaked roof. Hawaiians fashioned the church out of lava rock mortared together with white coral and faced inside with native koa wood. Its walls are three feet thick.

When Architects Maui, a preservationist outfit, replaced the original 84-year-old floor, they discovered “sensitive cultural remnants” beneath it. In order to protect the “historic materials below,” they built a new floor of native ohia hardwood four inches above where the old one had rested. The church asks that you remove your shoes before entering.

Keawala’i Church appears in guidebooks mostly in connection with wedding planning. Its Congregationalist minister will perform ceremonies—partially in Hawaiian—after he meets any bride and groom. One of the wedding planners set me off when she directed, “Don’t let the cemetery intimidate you, as most churches have them on their sites.”

Rhoads_Keawalai_guitarWaymarking.com says that the cemetery has graves dating back to the founding of the church. The palm tree-shaded little graveyard felt very peaceful to me. A lava stone breakwater shields it on the ocean side, but the surf made a low, sweet accompaniment as I walked amongst the tombstones. Most monuments are simple upright blocks on a granite riser or two, surrounded by a cement curb. Many of the stones have ceramic portraits attached to their faces. One of my favorites was David Kimohewa’s, in which he propped a guitar on his knee. He looked like a very genial man.

On the very edge of the land cluster small plaques set flush with the ground. These plaques remember people lost at sea: fishermen, divers, surfers, children, old men, people for whom the families had no bodies to bury.

The congregation welcomes visitors to their churchyard, but they ask visitors to respect their ancestors and refrain from stepping or sitting on the graves. It’s a lovely little place that gives a taste of what life in the islands is really like.

Some useful links:

The church’s homepage

Driving directions

GPS coordinates

Information on the floor restoration

Other Hawaiian cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Seamen’s Cemetery in Lahaina, Maui

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Kawaiaha’o Churchyard, Honolulu, Oahu

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

3 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #106: Keawala’i Churchyard

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

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