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Mauna Kea: Not A Sacred Place, But A Precious Resource
The monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii embraced science and technology. So should we.

About the Author

  • Greg Lui-Kwan
    Lui-Kwan is a pro-sovereignty Native Hawaiian who cares about our future.

I am a Native Hawaiian, born and raised in Hilo, with a degrees in Archaeology (Pacific and Asia) and Law (University of Hawaii, ’82) and I have served as a former docent for two years at Iolani Palace. I wholeheartedly support the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Mauna Kea is not a sacred place of  worship. Professor Bill Chang acknowledges the fact that it is not sacred. To him, Mauna Kea is sacred just as “even the family pet is sacred.”  Mauna Kea is precious to me personally, but more as a unique and valuable resource.

I enjoy taking friends and family to the Mauna Kea visitor center, at the 9,200 foot level, so they can learn about how the ancient Hawaiians used astronomy to navigate to and from our island chain and about how we use the observatories to understand the mysteries of the universe.

Supporters of Maunakea stand near a stone altar or 'ahu' along the Maunakea summit access road.  24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Supporters of Mauna Kea stand near a stone altar or “ahu” along the summit access road.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The ancient Hawaiians saw no contradiction in exploiting Mauna Kea for its resources.  They mined and exported the uniquely hardened basalt formed when molten lava erupted on the summit during the last ice age when the mountain was covered with a thick layer of ice. The ancient Hawaiians created observatories on the upper slopes and placed rocks to mark the rise and setting of the constellations so that they could refine their calendars and navigational astronomy.

The monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii embraced science and technology. Kamehameha used western weaponry to conquer the islands, and Kalakaua built the first residence west of the Mississippi powered by electricity.

Our leaders were forward thinkers. Hewahewa and Kaahumanu overthrew the oppressive kapu system that kept women from having meals with men and put to death those who failed to see an alii’s entourage passing by.

Our state and federal constitutions wisely provide for the separation of church and state. The notion that Mauna Kea is “sacred” cannot be used to support or deny a public works project. The Hawaii Supreme Court in its 1992 decision in Pele Defense Fund v. Paty correctly ruled that one person’s religious beliefs cannot be used as a basis for deciding whether the use of land by the State of Hawaii is proper or improper. In other words, the state cannot force on the public as a whole the religious beliefs of small or even a large segment of the population.

Ancient Hawaiians saw no contradiction in exploiting Mauna Kea for its resources or in creating observatories on the upper slopes. They placed rocks to mark the rise and setting of the constellations so that they could refine their calendars and navigational astronomy.

Not that public opinion should dictate the conclusion, but 81 percent of the people who responded to a recent Star Advertiser online survey supported the TMT.

If the protesters wish to worship ancient gods, that is their prerogative. TMT will not obstruct that right. It will, in fact, help keep the road to the summit open so that they may do so.

Mauna Kea does have a role in Hawaiian creation mythology. However, there are also connections between mythology and every other prominent geological feature in Hawaii.  For example:

  • The moo legend of Mokolii island (Chinaman’s hat) off the coast near Kualoa Beach Park, Oahu.
  • The kapo kohe lele legend (the disembodied flying vagina of Hiiaka) forming Koko Crater in East Honolulu.
  • Twin peaked Konahuanui is the tallest mountain in the Koolau range, on the island of Oahu. Konahuanui translates basically to “large testicles” and is part of a Hawaiian legend in which a giant throws his testicles at a woman, and they land and form the two peaks of Konahuanui.

What is most precious is the future of our State. We should choose a future that promotes science and academia and clean, high-tech industries, such as TMT. We should also preserve cultural practices and native belief systems. But we should not allow the road to progress to be blocked by ideologies that are not based on the archaeological record, the rule of law and history of the Hawaiian people.