Opukaha’ia’s Remains Exhumed from Connecticut

Deborah Li’ikapeka Lee is a “sixth-generation cousin” to Opukaha’ia.  She assisted in the exhumation of his remains from Cornwall, Connecticut in 1993 and the transfer of them to the Big Island.  In 2001, I interviewed her by phone  regarding this subject and published the information in the “Waimea Gazette “that same year.  Deborah and I finally met in person in 2003 at the 10-year dedication of Opukaha’ia’s reburial on the grounds of the historic Kahikolu Church.

Photo 1:  Descendants of Opukaha’ia gathered at his gravesite in 2003 to celebrate the 10-year dedication of his reburial.   Pastor Wendell Davis is on the far right and Debbie Li’ikapeka Lee is standing next to him.  (Photo by C.E. Chambers.)

“When Opukaha’ia’s remains were exhumed in July 1993 in preparation for reburial in Hawai’i, it was 175 years after he had passed away and the original wooden coffin had deteriorated.  One section, however, was still intact: a heart-shaped motif made from brass tacks.  In the middle of this motif were the initials H. O. and a Latin inscription designating the assumed age of death.  Another artifact was discovered at Henry’s original gravesite: the coffin’s glass face-plate that had protected mourners from the Hawaiian’s contagious disease, as well as allowed them to view their cherished friend.

Official overseers of the exhumation were Dr. Nicholas F. Bellantoni, Connecticut State Archeologist, and Henry L. Fuqua, Director of Fuqua Funeral Services, Hartford, Connecticut.  Reverend Carmen Wooster from the Connecticut State Conference of the United Church of Christ also attended, as well as others.  It was obvious to everyone present at the elevated, engraved gravesite in Cornwall, Connecticut, that the deceased had been dearly loved.  As Deborah Li’ikapeka Lee, a descendant of Opukaha’ia who was instrumental in bringing his remains home to the Big Island, recently shared: “There was so much aloha for Henry.”

(Written by C.E. Chambers and published August 2001 in the Waimea Gazette as part of “Henry Opukaha’ia: Hawai’i’s Ongoing Legacy” which was renamed “Opukaha’ia: The Catalyst for Christian Missionaries” for this website.)

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