As a Hawaiian Buddhist, I would like to first off say thank you to Kealoha Pisciotta, KAHEA, the Sierra Club, our kūpuna and other pūʻali koa arrested at Mauna Kea. I would also like to express my appreciation to Jason Momoa who has helped to raise this issue globally. They have reminded Kanaka Maoli and non-Kanaka Maoli alike everywhere the true meaning of Kaulana Nā Pua andaloha ʻāina.
Recently, a Kanaka Maoli person brought to the attention several points — nearly all of them inaccurate or an unfair generalizations — to support the Thirty Meter Telescope by using a limited framework of Hawaiian culture. I will not pretend pre-Western contact Hawaii was perfect — no society is historically and up to the present is perfect in fact.
But it was a society that operated under a different set of values and a different world-view. Within this worldview, there was a diversity of beliefs. For example, we had the aiā who did not believe in the gods nor in the kapu system. Some equate them with being atheists. There were also those who held beliefs similar to pantheism, polytheism, omnnism or henotheism.
Personally, I believe that the orature surrounding Māui are older than the orature of Papa and Wākea and I believe that Kū and Hina were the earliest of the venerated akua. These narrations, counter-narrations and different kumulipo all existed and sometimes competed in Hawaiian religious and spiritual thought.
What the general Kanaka Maoli population did believe in were in concepts of pono, mana, wahi pana and ‘aumākua. These concepts are still largely held by Kanaka Maoli today whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, or from the Fire Clan of Pele.
These concepts also regulated not just the common people, but the ali’i. An ali’i who did not keep his obligations to the akua of the land was not pono. The people had an obligation to remove a chief who was not pono. If they did not, they, too were not pono. A chief that took care of those under him or her had more mana.
There are countless stories about chiefs being removed from power because they were greedy or were generally unsuitable to lead. There are even hula about this.
Kanaka Maoli did not passively obey their ali’i. That is a myth invented by Western observers who tried to fit Hawaiian society into a feudal setting like Europe or Japan.
But the reality is that Hawaiian society was a hierarchical society with mutual obligations and expectations going up and down. The common people were also not serfs in the European sense and had freedom of movement. They could ally themselves under a chief of their own accord. The kahuna or professional class often challenged the authority of the ali’i particularly during the Makahiki. Chiefs also could change allegiances with each other at any time. Despite the political situation, the values remained the same.
Wahi pana is in itself a value that is integral to Hawaiian beliefs. It is noted in every major work written by Hawaiian cultural experts for the last 200 years. This has also been noted in a number of courtroom cases and in health reports that link a loss of a sense of place as a factor to Native Hawaiian health issues.
There is a proverb that states that “Kō luna pōhaku no ke ka’a i lalo, ‘a’ole hiki i kō lalo pōhaku ke ka’a. (The highest rock (a great chief) may fall, but the land and its people remain). One does not have to believe in Poli’ahu or Wākea to understand and feel that Mauna Kea is sacred. It has a sense of place to many — historically and up until the present. One just needs to accept that it is a wahi pana in the same way that one does not need believe in Jehovah, G-d, Allah, Adonai to know that a church, mosque or synagogue are also wahi pana.
They hold a sense of place that reaches beyond time. This concept is not grounded in “New Age” practice. It is grounded in Hawaiian traditions as well as many Asian, African, and indigenous traditions around the world. This concept is also recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in various Hawaiian Kingdom and State laws and educational materials.
What the protectors of Mauna Kea are asserting is the idea of wahi pana — a sense of place, a sacred space long held by Kanaka Maoli over the centuries. They are also asserting a wahi pana to the endangered species and historical sites on Mauna Kea.
The fact is that the issues over Mauna Kea have been ongoing for more than a decade and it not about science. There is no conflict between Hawaiian culture and science in general. The Kumulipo itself might be seen as evolutionary and various Hawaiian mo’olelo are supportive of the scientific method and astrology.
The Protectors of Mauna Kea are not modern-day incarnations of Padre Tomas Torquemada. The conflict is about land use-age that is tied with the dysfunctional and patronizing relationship the State of Hawai’i and the University of Hawaii has with the Native Hawaiian community — and I dare say with the local community at large — that stretches all the way back to the foundations of the State itself.
It’s about wahi pana. It is about preserving a sense of a sacred place in our daily lives and for generations to come. It is about people who are fed up with the way the State and county governments over-develop, concrete, and sell out our lands. People who want Hawaii to look like Hawaii, not like an appendage of California or New York with luxury condo high raises, light rails, and mega-malls.
In a way this is like Kaho’olawe, but in in another way, ti has move beyond it to become an e-ku’e, a viral protest cutting across generations, races, and even countries. It also has become the first real protest that is largely decentralized and democratic and has moved away from the original leaders at Mauna Kea into a global audience. In that sense, it is a 21st century movement that breathes new life into the ancient concept of wahi pana.
As far as the State is concerned, however:
I accuse the Department of Land and Natural Resources for failing to uphold State laws on historical sites including Chapter 6E of the Hawai’i Revised Statues;
I accuse the Hawai’i Democratic Party of violating its own convention platform which called for the protection of the environment;
I accuse the Office of Hawaiian Affairs of going against the wishes of their own constituency and not adequately representing Hawaiians on Mauna Kea;
I accuse the University of Hawaii of violating its obligations to the public interest by not finding alternative solutions, alternative sites and compromises;
I accuse the University of Hawaii of creating this mess by ignoring the concerns about Mauna Kea given by environmentalists, Hilo residents, and Kanaka Maoli since 1995;
I accuse the University of Hawaii of failing to maintain the sacred and historical sites as they were obligated to under their lease agreements and by various court orders;
I accuse the University of Hawaii for failing to adequately pay the proper rental fees and taxation on these “ceded lands”;
I accuse the University of Hawaii of purposely misleading the general public on the issue and not adequately allowing Hawaii citizens an informed choice;
I accuse the University of Hawaii by not resolving this issue sooner, of allowing Native Hawaiians to be race-baited online and in other forums;
I accuse Governor Ige of violating his campaign promise, “Honoring the past, charting a new future” ;
I accuse Governor Ige, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and Mayor Kenoi of being zealously pro-over development and not taking into consideration environmental, cultural, and economic concerns of Mauna Kea;
I accuse Governor Ige, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii and members of the State Legislature of violating its ceded trust obligations as outlined in the State Constitution mainly outlined in Article 12;
I accuse Governor Ige, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii, the County of Hawaii, and members of the State Legislature of violating its obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, HRS Sections 6E, 16 U.S.C Section 470, and the Hawaii State Constitution.
I believe that the words of Queen Lili’uokalani bares a need to be repeated to those I accused:
There may be in your consciences a warrant for your action … the offence of breaking and setting aside for a specific purpose the laws of your own nation, and disregarding all justice and fairness, may be to them and to you the source of an unhappy and much to be regretted legacy.
We are Mauna Kea.
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