Before Hawaii was annexed by the United States and became America's favorite vacation destination, it was a sovereign nation, reigned over by native Hawaiian ali'i (royalty).
Today, more than 120 years since the monarchy was in place, there are still many remnants of the crown throughout the state. Spots like Iolani Palace and Kaniakapupu ruins are well known, but one off-the-beaten path attraction is even more meaningful.
On the island of Oahu, the country's only royal cemetery sits just a short drive from downtown Honolulu, surrounded by palm trees and well-manicured green grass. Known in the Hawaiian language as Mauna 'Ala, meaning "fragrant mountain," the Royal Mausoleum is home to the remains of nearly all the monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii, as well as some of their family members and trusted friends.
The mausoleum might initially appear unassuming and modest -- if you didn't know about it, you may not give it a second glance -- but it's a powerful place and totally unique in both Hawaii and the U.S.
Notably, it is the only place in Hawaii the U.S. still considers sovereign land -- where the flag of the Kingdom of Hawaii flies unaccompanied by the American flag.
The cemetery, which was built between 1863 and 1865, is comprised of a number of burial areas, including the Kalakaua Crypt and the Kamehameha Tomb -- where the royal descendants of King Kamehameha I are buried.
In native Hawaiian culture, iwi (bones) are considered sacred, so the resting place of the ali'i carries an especially significant meaning. It's the perfect opportunity to learn more about native Hawaiian culture and history, an aspect of Hawaii that often gets overshadowed by the obvious natural beauty of the islands and an ever-growing tourism industry.
So next time you need a break from sipping mai tais by the pool, head into Nu’uanu Valley. Mauna 'Ala is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm.
If you can't make it to Hawaii, take a virtual tour of the grounds -- it's not nearly as good as real life, but everyone should have the chance to witness this sacred space:
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