Ua lehulehu a manomano ka ‘ikena a ka Hawai‘i. Great and numerous is the knowledge of the Hawaiian people.

Millennia ago, Kānaka Maoli (aboriginal Hawaiians) navigated across the vast wilds and uncharted expanses of Moana Nui (the Pacific Ocean) and settled upon one of the most isolated islands groups in all the world. Stories of navigators from a time long before tell tales of weary adventurers welcomed home by the majestic form of Mauna Kea. It was a beacon of hope then, as it is now.

Kānaka Maoli society rapidly progressed toward the very summits of human achievement and understanding in the areas of natural sciences, economics, environmental engineering, law and politics. Our progress was measured in symbiotic mutualism with ‘Āina (the natural world) to whom we belonged – that is – Kānaka Maoli upheld their kuleana, their obligation, to protect ‘Āina, knowing full well that all life was inseparably intertwined. To live in harmony with ‘Āina was to live well.

Mauna Kea telescope

An observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, where the University of Hawai‘i is now constructing a new 30-meter telescope, its largest installation yet on a mountain top native Hawaiians call sacred.

Flickr: vkurland.

A great injustice was committed nearly 122 years ago when the United States overthrew the Hawaiian government, leaving Kānaka Maoli subject to an oppressive regime that did not share the time-proven socio-political-economic-environmental mechanisms that had been maintained by Kānaka Maoli cultures. The loss of Kānaka Maoli agency meant the incapacity of Kānaka Maoli to completely fulfill their kuleana (responsibility) in protecting the Hawaiian Islands.

Since the overthrow, ‘Āina has been subjected to innumerable atrocities to which there is seemingly no end. When ‘Āina hurts, we hurt.

“Progress,” in the Hawaiian Islands today, under the State of Hawai‘i government, seems to be measured in monetary gain. Whereas the capacity to feed people was a paramount value of traditional Kanaka Maoli governance, today, farmlands are being rapidly urbanized for commercial endeavors, such that in a not-so-distant future, self-sufficiency will be nothing more than a myth.

This is part of the reason why Kānaka Maoli frequently protest. The core of our very existence, our identity, – who we are as a people in this universe – is under threat of extinction. This is the reason why we continue to fight, against insurmountable odds. We want the world to know that we still live and so long as we do, we have a responsibility to serve ‘Āina for the betterment of all human kind.

When a loved one is hurt, it is only natural that you would do anything in your power to see that they are given the support they need. We fight to protect our family, and ‘Āina is family.

If ‘Āina is representative of the universe and its dynamic phenomena to whom we have a familial relationship, then Papahānaumoku, who gave birth to the Hawaiian Islands, is our Earth Mother. She feeds us and cares for us as all good mothers do and holds us in her loving embrace when we need her most. Without her example, how can we truly begin to love one another?

A good father is no less nurturing than a good mother and Wākea is our Sky Father. Whether radiating warmth from the brilliant golden sun or precipitating a life-giving deluge, his love for us never diminishes, and we know he’s there, watching over us, protecting us, and teaching us that aloha is as far-reaching as the eternal sky above.

When mother and father embrace, it is there at the summit of Mauna Kea where they are the closest. For that reason alone, it is sacred.

A Symbol of Identity and Strength

Mauna-a-Wākea, Wākea’s Mountain, or Mauna Kea for short, has been under threat for quite some time, but recently, many people – both Kānaka Maoli and non-Kānaka Maoli alike – have rallied together to protect this sacred symbol of our existence.

Under the State of Hawai‘i, Mauna Kea has suffered irreparable harm. Recently, the University of Hawai‘i (UH), a supposed “Hawaiian place of learning,” approved the construction of yet another astronomical observatory – the largest one to date.

It’s not the practice of gazing upon the stars that is a problem for Kānaka Maoli; we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. The problem is the very destructive way in which foreign practice has again collided with Kānaka Maoli culture in order to achieve something that we had been doing for millennia.

When does Kānaka Maoli culture matter?

Countless Kānaka Maoli have placed their piko (umbilical cord) on the summit of Mauna Kea in order to tie themselves to that ‘Āina. What does it say when Kānaka Maoli ties to the Hawaiian Islands – Kānaka Maoli culture – can be so easily dug up and discarded for monetary gain?

UH’s construction of its 30-meter telescope (TMT), despite overwhelming opposition from the Kānaka Maoli community, is just another example of the ongoing struggle between Kānaka Maoli and culturally-destructive government policy.

In a recent enforcement of this policy, 31 Aloha ‘Āina had been arrested on the slopes of Mauna Kea, while peacefully protesting its desecration. These arrests came in the wake of a UH Board of Regents hearing where students had flooded the building with their demands for an immediate stop to the TMT’s construction. UH’s position was quite clear and not supportive of Kānaka Maoli culture.

As I write this article, many still stand, defiantly, on the slopes of sacred Mauna Kea and in the freezing cold – many of them far from their homes and their families – but, they fight on. Standing with them on neighbor islands and across the world are the great many and numerous, ka lehulehu a manomano, who together, form the ever-vigilant protectors of ‘Āina.

Like a beacon of hope for our ancestors, Mauna Kea now stands as a beacon of hope for us. It is a symbol of our identity, our strength, and a rallying cry to protect what matters most to us – life. It is also a symbol that irresponsible, unsustainable, and highly destructive practices must come to an end. Kū Kia‘i Mauna!

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