As the years pass, more and more people are opting for unconventional methods of burial over traditional ones. Water cremation is one such alternative, as shown in the highly publicized burial of human rights activist Desmond Tutu, when it was reported that his body underwent water cremation. But what is water cremation?
Water Cremation: The Process
Water cremation is a new type of cremation that uses water to cremate a person. It is said to be a more environmentally friendly method of dealing with end-of-life remains. Also called “alkaline hydrolysis,” it is considered more eco-conscious because it does not emit any toxic gas or pollutants during the process.
During water cremation, the body is placed inside a pressurized steel chamber that is full of an alkaline solution composed of 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide. The said chamber is then heated up to 177 degrees Celsius, a temperature level much lower than the level of a typical cremation by fire.
People who are not familiar with the process might find it a bit unappealing as it is not something they are used to. But truthfully, nothing could be more natural than water cremation as it is similar to many natural physiological processes in a human body. What the process basically does is that it dissolves the body’s cells and tissues into a simpler solution of micromolecules; what is left is the bone structure of mineral compounds such as phosphates and calcium. As it is not a combustion process, it does not emit harmful gasses or pollutants into the air, making it more friendly to the environment than the typical fire cremation. At the end of the process, the remains are then reduced into powder form and placed into a container that may then be given to the grieving family to be scattered, stored at home, or interred in a burial vault.
The Hawaiian Water Cremation Bill
In the United States, there are 21 states where water cremation is legal, and in at least 8 of those states, there are practitioners of alkaline hydrolysis. The death care industry is a particularly competitive one, and funeral homes are coming up with ways to provide more options to people. Nowadays, more and more people are turning away from traditional burial and fire cremation and looking for other alternatives. Some of those people are particularly bothered by the environmental effects of fire cremation, and thus they have turned to alkaline hydrolysis as a better option.
In Hawaii, there is a bill making its way through the House of Representatives that aims to make water cremation legal in the said state. HB 1894 received a unanimous recommendation for passage by the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness. The bill has been lauded by its many advocates as a pathway to restoring Native Hawaiian funeral and burial traditions.
Hawaiian Religious Beliefs
Religion is a dominant factor of Hawaiian everyday life, permeating all aspects of people’s social affairs. Ancient Native Hawaiians worshiped a great number of deities, which were representative of nature’s elements as well as ancestral gods. As centuries passed and upon contact with other races and cultures, Hawaiian religion and culture evolved with each generation.
One important aspect of Hawaiian religion and culture has to do with death and traditional burial practices. In Native Hawaiian culture, burial practices revolved around the protection and preservation of iwi, or bones. Upon a person’s death, their iwi was considered sacred as it contained the person’s mana, or spiritual essence.
All throughout a person’s life, their mana is greatly valued, and they could spend their whole life looking after their mana and ensuring its wellbeing. Upon their death, much attention is accorded to their iwi, and such bones were guarded and venerated.
How the Water Cremation Bill Bolsters Native Hawaiian Burial Traditions
For many years, Hawaiians have not been able to preserve their iwi and practice their ancient burial traditions. They have had only two choices when a loved one dies—the traditional full body burial in accordance with Christian belief, and fire cremation as preferred by Asian Buddhists. But these options are not really in line with Hawaiian ancient burial traditions.
Water cremation is able to give the outcome that the previously mentioned burial methods are not able to give—that of clean, sterilized bones that can be placed with utmost reverence in a burial cave or land crypt.
It is time for Hawai‘i to go back to its cultural roots by making sure that the water cremation bill is passed and enacted into law. As people, we deserve to have alkaline hydrolysis as an option for how we or our loved ones leave this planet. We should be able to ensure an environment-friendly and culturally appropriate exit from this world.