Building A Cultural Center Above The Clouds - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Richard Ha

Big Island resident Richard Ha is president of Sustainable Energy Hawaii and author of “What Would Our Kupuna Do?”

I support the good work the Office of Mauna Kea Management has done over the years. However, no matter which entity takes over, the University of Hawaii or a new management authority, it’s time to think past the Hale Pohaku footprint.

Opinion article badge

More and more people are visiting Mauna Kea since Saddle Road was improved, but UH does not control enough land to separate visitor issues from the more hardcore mission of the Maunakea Shared Services.

The people working at Maunakea Shared Services are doing a good job with the resources available to them. But they are expected to fulfill their mission on an inadequate 20 acres of land that must also accommodate growing numbers of visitors. It’s a systemic problem that can only be solved when people recognize it.

We need land where we can build a “cultural center above the clouds.” It would separate cultural needs from the support services mission and also help solve a huge safety issue.

Not, though, if we try to squeeze a culture center onto a too-small property. That’s not how to solve a problem for the next 50 or more years.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources controls an area adjacent to and west of Hale Pohaku that we’ve identified as a site for a significant cultural center above the clouds.

The Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, a part of the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
The Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, a part of the University of Hawaii Hilo. The author is proposing a separate cultural center. Screenshot/2022

It would be a pipeline for the University of Hawaii Hilo’s Hawaiian language school, where its graduates can work, conduct research, create, and sell their crafts and other products to visitors. We’d no longer need to buy non-Hawaiian items from outside the state to resell.

The Visitor Information Station already generates $1 million in sales every year without trying. Imagine if we tried.

We could orient the cultural center so it faces west toward the beautiful sunsets. People have to stop at the 9,000-foot level to acclimate to the altitude anyway.

‘A Significant Facility’

The Imiloa Astronomy Center already knows how to create a cultural center, so we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. This new, significant facility would be Imiloa Mauka and the one in Hilo, Imiloa Makai.

We need a place of pride where our culture-related work is ongoing and will not be forgotten. My grandma was pure Hawaiian, but two generations later, I am one-quarter Hawaiian and no one would point me out as likely to be Hawaiian. What will happen to the 1/64th Hawaiians?

As more and more of our young people speak Hawaiian, pressure will build. Young people need something to look toward to, a place they can be proud of, or there will be constant conflict.

Hawaiians are known for aloha and sustainability.

The problem stems from an inadequate accommodation of our Hawaiian culture. The observatories are like little Western temples. Where is the Hawaiian temple?

Will Hawaiians have a place in the discussion when we’re flying into space soon? Not if we don’t have our own site above the clouds, as the observatories do.

Hawaiians are known for aloha and sustainability, and that’s the moral authority a cultural center above the clouds would represent. Those are the values our world needs more of and which we would share and teach there.

Show respect for our Hawaiian culture by building a Hawaiian-run cultural center above the clouds and everything else will fall into place.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Catherine Toth Fox: Buy More Locally Grown Food. It’s Worth The Extra Cost

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Richard Ha

Big Island resident Richard Ha is president of Sustainable Energy Hawaii and author of “What Would Our Kupuna Do?”

Latest Comments (0)

A CCATC at Halepohaku? Sounds good, though in practice, not so much. Elevation (altitude) can be a problem for some.The environment up there, very dry and desert-like, is fragile. Plants struggle.No water. Itʻll have to be hauled up. Too much required infrastructure.Road steep in sections, unfamiliar malihini might be accident-prone.If anywhere, build it on the Maunaloa flow at the intersection of Saddle. Very accessible, great views, Puuhuluhulu adjacent for plant walks and studies.The "Hawaiian temple" is...The Mauna! Many of the ahu, stone uprights, platforms ma uka of Kalepeamoa and Halepohaku are heiau, shrines, offerings, etc. No need build Western / haole buildings up there. Itʻs a wahi kapu, a place where rules apply; a place to be honored and respected.

Patutoru · 1 year ago


puhi2013 · 1 year ago

What a great idea for sharing the mauna! Science in one area, culture in the other. Room for all?

hhhon · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.