Water cremation is a culturally appropriate way to leave this planet


Death has been etched in the landscape of our minds and hearts for the past two years as we have had to grapple with the hundreds of thousands of deaths from Covid-19. The loss of human life has also marked the long and painful history of these islands since colonization and illegal overthrow.

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 the poisonous water coming out of their taps is just the latest chapter in the shameful story of the militarization of these islands.

Hawaiians have overcome 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 sustained Hawaiians in their times of loss were not available to us.

The law says that respect for Hawaiian customs is protected. Yet the practices of 150 years ago have clashed with contemporary health and environmental regulations.

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

These options don’t give Hawaiians the desired result: clean, sterilized long bones that can be reverently placed in an earthly crypt or burial cave.

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

The old way of steaming the corpse in an imu (earthen oven) gave this result. Not so flame cremation, where pieces of tendon and flesh can still be attached to bones, making them smell and attract rodents.

But today we have the technology to enable the practice of traditional rites and this is called alkaline hydrolysis – or, as it is commonly called, the cremation of water. 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 used in other developed countries. The reason is as simple as its urgency and depth: it is sterile, clean and green.

Alkaline hydrolysis does not release toxic elements into the atmosphere. Thus, unlike flame crematoriums, operators do not need to install a filter to capture toxic elements suspended in the air.

As we wring our hands on the climate crisis and the build-up of carbon emissions that are precipitating the planet into disaster, there is real value in the fact that water cremation offers a 75% reduction in carbon footprint in relation to the flame process and uses a fraction – literally an eighth – of the energy of a typical crematorium.

Pacemakers and implants do not need to be removed prior to water cremation. They are left behind and can be recycled. The mercury in dental fillings is not vaporized and released into the atmosphere: it is contained and recycled. These are real gifts for the environment.

Bereaved families who choose water cremation can take comfort in the fact that they are helping Malama Aina by saving land and avoiding the cost of burial grounds or cremates and other burial accessories that have emerged in the country. funeral industry over time.

Alkaline hydrolysis does not release toxic elements into the atmosphere.

The last remains the family receives are free of pathogens and disease – something that is especially important as we live through this pandemic – and with more to come.

This environmentally friendly approach to body disposal is far preferable to the groundwater and atmospheric contamination that occurs, but is not often talked about, with embalming or flame cremation.

It’s time for Hawaii to do alkaline hydrolysis / water cremation an option for all those who wish to ensure a green and culturally appropriate exit from our besieged planet for themselves or for their loved ones. The invoice to make water cremation available in Hawaii will be introduced again in the 2022 legislative session.

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


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