Vimeo Thumbnail Pili Ka Moo

2022 | Film 14 MIN. | English

Pili Ka Moʻo

Justyn Ah Chong with Malia Akutagawa (Kanaka Maoli)

The Fukumitsu ʻOhana (family) of Hakipuʻu are Native Hawaiian taro farmers and keepers of this generational practice. While much of Oʻahu has become urbanized, Hakipuʻu remains a kīpuka (oasis) of traditional knowledge where great chiefs once resided and their bones still remain. The Fukumitsus are tossed into a world of complex real estate and judicial proceedings when nearby Kualoa Ranch, a large settler-owned corporation, destroys their familial burials to make way for continued development plans.

See the making of video here.


Artists' Statement

“It seems that now more than ever, Native Hawaiian burials are being dug up and ancestral remains disturbed for the sake of continued "development," "progress," and economic gain here in the occupied Hawaiian Kingdom. By highlighting the Fukumitsu family and their ongoing struggle to protect their ‘iwi kūpuna (family burials), we hope this film sheds light on the reciprocal relationship Native Hawaiians maintain with their family beyond the veil, and allows others to see why for us, it isn’t simply old bones in the ground, but rather treasures worth protecting at all costs.” - Justyn and Malia

Malia Akutagawa & Justyn Ah Chong

Caring for the Land, Nurturing Ancestral Relationships

While Indigenous cultures worldwide are highly diverse and not monolithic, reciprocity is a common core value that typically constructs relationships of respect between the living and their ancestors. In Kānaka ‘Ōiwi culture, the ancestors whose bones infuse the land are known as iwi kūpuna, and as is common in virtually all cultures around the world, their burials are regarded with deep reverence.

Due to the ongoing relentless development in the islands by powerful foreign interests, the land and its original people are under increasing pressure in a variety of ways. In Pili Ka Mo‘o, we see how protecting ancient Kānaka burials is connected to the integrity of ecosystems, in this case through the farming of taro. In Hawaiian mo‘olelo (stories), taro originates as the stillborn child of Wākea and Ho‘ohōkūkalani, making the fight for Hakipu‘u — a traditional land district that long predates colonization — even more deeply connected to iwi kūpuna. Ninety-five percent (95%) of the Fukumitsu family’s homeland, Hakipu‘u, is owned by foreigners, primarily the Kualoa Ranch, which has recently acquired more land that contains precious family burials down the road from where the family resides.

The origins of this settler colonial conflict has its roots in the 1800s, when descendants of missionary families came to own and control all of the sugar cane production in Hawai‘i. The cultivation of sugar displaced Native Hawaiians from their land, diverted water from naturally flowing streams used for taro cultivation, and brought hundreds of thousands of poorly-paid agricultural laborers from Japan, China, the Philippines, Korea, Portugal, and elsewhere.

Many of these people eventually came to call Hawai‘i home and joined their lives with Native Hawaiians. A unique local culture was birthed out of all of these relationships during the plantation era. Thus, many people in Hawai‘i today are a mixture of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The imposition of western private property regimes onto Hawaiian lands means that property rights take precedence over Kānaka claims to land and their ability to maintain their culture. The colonial structure of the state of Hawai‘i means that traditional Kānaka burials are not accorded the same respect as those of foreign settlers.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Hawaiian burial grounds are treated differently by some people than burials in settler cemeteries?
  • Kōlea and Summer’s child was asked to recite the names of his ancestors in the tradition of chanting (called oli) in the Hawaiian language. How did you feel when the child began to recite the names?
  • What is the significance of Kōlea walking the ‘āina (land) and moving the soil and mud away to free up the spring? Is there a larger meaning here for you and for all of us?
  • In the film, Malia Akutagawa says: "If you cannot protect the land, forget it. And if you cannot protect the ancestors, to help us return to ourselves, then we lose everything. To unearth our kūpuna in the ground, we cannot have our own ancestors rest peacefully." What is your interpretation of Malia’s words?
  • The filmmakers are guided by love and responsibility for their ‘ohana (family) and this extends to their ancestors and the future generations in a reciprocal relationship that crosses generations in the physical and non-physical realms. What comes up for you when you consider this?

Find additional discussion questions in the downloadable learning materials on this page.

Additional Resources

Downloadable Learning Materials

Learning Materials & Poster

Press Kit & Transcript

News & Press Links

Behind the scenes

Four people stand on a hillside looking outward over threes and water

Fukumitsu ‘ohana overlook the land

A man stands in looking up towards a mountain in the fog

Kalo farmer Kolea Fukumitsu works the loʻi on generational family land.

A cameraman records a man folding a large leaf into a package

Kolea Fukumitsu prepares a Hoʻokupu (gift offering) on camera

A man and women smile at camera while outside making a the Mahalo hand gesture

Portrait of Native Hawaiian Reciprocity Project collaborators Malia Akutagawa and Justyn Ah Chong at Hakipuʻu, Oʻahu

A cameraman films a man showing a plant root standing in knee deep water

Kolea Fukumitsu shows a harvested kalo to the camera.

A man in black shirt holds plants and flowers, wrapped in a large leaf

A Hoʻokupu (gift offering) beautifully prepared with intention and prayer

hand drawn waves texture

News & Press

Pili Ka Mo'o in the News

November 23, 2022

The Takeaway - WYNC Studios

Why We Should Listen to Indigenous Voices About the Climate Crisis

Read article

August 3, 2022


Documentaries About Remembrance and Cultural Celebration in the 2022 BlackStar Film Festival

Read article

November 18, 2022

The Curb

Environmental Film Festival Australia Celebrates Indigenous Perspectives with Sovereign Cinema

Read article

Critical acclaim for this film

Official Hawaii 2021 Film festival laurel
Official Big Sky 2022 film festival laurel
Offical Skabmagovat 2022 film festival laurel
Official Durango Independent  2022 Film Festival Laurel
Official Cartagena International Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official 2022 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital Laurel
Official Selection Seattle International Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Riverside International Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Independent Film Festival Boston 2022 Laurel
Official Selection Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2022 Laurel
Official Selection CAAMfest 2022
Official Selection Mountainfilm 2022 Laurel
Official Selection 2022 NW Folklife Film Forum
Wairoa Māori Film Festival
Official Selection deadCenter film festival 2022
Durban IFF 2022
Māoriland Film Festival Official Selection 2022
2022 Official Selection Blackstar Film Festival
DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival
Official Selection, 45th Asian American International Film Festival, New York 2022
Official Selection Asinabka Film & Media Festival 2022
Official Selection 2022 Regina International Film Festival & Awards
Official Selection 307 International Film Festival 2022
2022 Jackson Wild
Official Selection, Edmonton International Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Nuuk International Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Local Sightings Film Festival 2022
Woodstock Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival 2022
2022 image NATIVE Official Selection
PAAFF Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival Official Selection 2022
Winner Best Documentary Short Fayetteville Film Fest 2022
Official Selection Cucalorus Film Festival 2022
Official Selection Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival 2022 web
Official Selection Birrarangga Film Festival 2023
2023 Official Selection Capital City Film Festival

“To unearth our kupuna in the ground is like the final eviction,” a quote from the film, lingers in my mind as a fellow Native Hawaiian. It is a reminder that the spiritual war featured in PILI KA MO`O clearly ties back to the Colonization of Hawai’i and the dark side of Capitalism.

– Ciara Lacy