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Making Mauna Kea Sacred
While the mountain ought to be preserved, the state ought not to confer special privileges based on religious beliefs that Mauna Kea is sacred. The state must remain secular.

About the Author

  • Jerry Smith
    Smith is a 1960 graduate of the University of Southern California with a masters in electrical engineering. He was employed for 34 years at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and has been a retired resident of North Kohala on the Big Island since 1989. As a child in Kalihi, Smith witnessed 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

I recently read a viewpoint article in “West Hawaii Today” titled “Sacred Mauna Kea Must be Saved,” and it seemed to make the motivation of TMT protestors and Hawaiian separatists very clear: They want to bring back ancient Hawaiian religious practices and camouflage them under the vague term of “culture.” Claiming a sacred status for Mauna Kea is their method of demanding control for Native Hawaiians based on ancient religious history.

Hawaiian culture is used to cover many things. Today’s Hawaiian culture bears very little resemblance to the ancient culture that existed prior to European contact in the 18th century. We all love most of the modern Hawaiian culture that has come down through recent history, including music, dance, food and language. That is why many of us live here and what brings tourists to Hawaii, along with the climate and the beauty.

Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope

An artist’s concept of the Thirty Meter Telescope observatory on Mauna Kea.

Courtesy TMT International Observatory

But why should we encourage or even respect the protesters’ claim of a cultural right to bring back ancient religious practices based on primitive idolatry and mythical gods? These pagan religious practices were rejected by the ancestors of today’s Hawaiian protestors when they became Christians almost 200 years ago. The ancient religion is very interesting historically but has no significant meaning to most people today.

Mauna Kea is a majestic and beautiful place, and it should be preserved. While it was mystical to the early Hawaiians who developed the mythology of Mauna Kea, we know that it is a natural part of the formation of the earth and has no supernatural powers. This is the 21st century, not the 12th century, and we use science now to explain previously unknown phenomena. Telescopes are one of the scientific tools used to help understand our universe. They do not desecrate or destroy Mauna Kea.

Native Hawaiians or anyone else can designate a place or thing sacred, as long as it is their property and the public is not adversely impacted. They can worship whoever or
whatever they wish but they have no right to claim privileges from the state to do this. The state must always remain secular and represent all of the people in Hawaii equally.

There is nothing to restrict native Hawaiians who wish to conduct religious activities on Mauna Kea as long as they do not interfere with others. The infrastructure built for astronomy has made this access possible for recreational activities as well. If you think the telescopes spoil the view, you should choose another location. There are plenty of beautiful,  unobstructed views from the summit of Mauna Kea. But if you wish to build stone monuments near the summit, you must get a permit from the State of Hawaii, just as the observatories did.

It should be obvious that the protesters’ problem is not suppression of Hawaiian culture or too many telescopes. It is that those who wish to practice antique Hawaiian religion to claim ownership and determine the fate of Mauna Kea are not allowed to do so.

The State of Hawaii is in charge, not the dissidents, and the state must enforce the law eventually.