Mauna Kea – July 2019

Or why this mountain means so much to a daughter of the Hawaiian diaspora.

While my family was camping in the Adirondacks this week, I spent my vacation time weathering the heat wave by sharing the air-conditioned space of my kitchen with our three dogs. I had two goals for my quiet time: finish the 2018 taxes and Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Valiant Ambition – George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution”. I did neither. A quick visit to my Facebook account told me that things were happening on Mauna Kea and it demanded my attention.

For several days my eyes have been glued to the events unfolding on the mauna. Ever since I became aware of the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope) project I’ve kept an eye on postings from various organizations involved with the struggle. I’ve read articles for and against the telescope. I’ve had internal discussions with myself that go something like this:

Deb 1: Kanaka were masters of the seas because of the stars. Why wouldn’t the TMT telescope be good for Hawaiians?

Deb 2: This mountain was sacred to our ancestors.

Deb 1: Yeah, but we’ve never lived there. We live in Yonkers now. We don’t pray to those gods and goddesses any more. 

Deb 2: Even our Christian kupuna regarded this mountain with respect.

Deb 1: But this is an opportunity for Hawaiians to take their place in a world community. It’s hospitality. It’s aloha.

Deb 2: Yeah, we were part of a world community. Our’s was the first monarch to circumnavigate the world. He met heads of state. But when our Queen was overthrown, where was the global community to protect our sovereignty?

Deb 1: This telescope gives educational opportunities to our keiki.

Deb 2: Our keiki were once deprived of the opportunity to learn our language and culture. But now they have learned the knowledge of our ancestors and they are leading the fight for Mauna Kea.

Deb 1: This project will generate revenue.

Deb 2: Maybe for the University of Hawaii, but not for Hawaiians.

Deb 1: Why should we even care about this? When will we ever get a chance to get back to Hawaii.

Deb 2: Because we honor our kupuna and we believe in sacred places and because great-grandmother gave us our name so we would remember where we come from.

That’s just one of the dialogues going through my head. There’s an ecological dialog that often mingles with this one. I had no idea how big this TMT thing is. I heard one of the Royal Order of Kamehameha say it will block out the view of Haleakala from the summit. I guess 18 stories high can do that.

A few years ago, I was privileged to be a part of the planning of the Hokulea visit to NYC during the Malama Honua World Wide Voyage. Malama means “to take care of”. Taking care of community is a shared value of the voyage and efforts of the Protectors on Mauna Kea. I re-read a blog by crew member Jenna Ishii where she tells how the ocean-going canoe was called “the spaceship of our ancestors”. She goes on to retell a story from Pwo Navigator Nainoa Thompson about the Hawaiian astronaut Lacy Veach who carried a stone adze quarried from the slopes of Mauna Kea with him on shuttle flights, making a bridge between the mountain and the heavens. This image had a profound affect on Nainoa and the vision of the late astronaut inspired the world wide voyage. I believe that Hokulea also carried a stone from Mauna Kea on this voyage. I’ve been thinking a lot about Nainoa and Jenna and all of the dedicated crew of Hokulea that I had the joy of meeting.

It must be a hard time for our voyagers. They brought the stars to many of us. I would like to hear their voices right now. They were so vocal about the role they felt Hawaii could play in the work of taking care of island earth.

It must be a hard time for our Native Hawaiian police officers. I’ve heard them speaking Hawaiian to the Protectors. You can’t speak Hawaiian and not understand the meaning of this mountain.

This stress that we are all feeling is because we have to make a decision. And it is a hard one. I remember when my grandmother died. I couldn’t stop crying. How many stories of our ancestors died with her. She was full-blooded Hawaiian. A Hawaiian speaker. Educated by missionaries in North Kohala. She raised me on the East Coast. She never let me forget where I came from. And yet when she died, I let myself think, this is the end of Hawaiians. Mathematically, how many generations until we are gone? Who will tell the stories? Who will malama the ‘aina? And then I learned that something miraculous happened. Hokulea was part of the miracle of the Hawaiian Renaissance and many of the young leaders on Mauna Kea were educated in Olelo Hawaii and they learned the mo’olelo and mele and oli and hula of our ancestors. And that is what I see when I look on this mountain: The keiki are there. The kupuna are there. And every age in between. Native Hawaiians and allies are there. People who long to preserve something sacred, who cherish the land, and who have asked themselves a hard question: Can we give up the heavens to malama the land. Ae. We can.

Mauna Kea, you are my island.

Above the clouds, below the sun, you call my name.

Born of fire, reaching for the heavens,

You touch my heart, you pull my soul out of the deep.

Mahalo ke Akua.



2 thoughts on “Mauna Kea – July 2019

  1. I cried reading this post. I, too, am so torn as to what is happening and I keep searching for answers. My gut feeling is to understand what a huge opportunity this is for the future of Hawai`i and the world. The mauna is big enough to share space with such an endeavor. The other part is how disrespectfully the Hawai`ians are being treated by the folks of TMT. They take no interest in sharing and coming onto this mauna with love and respect. I don’t hear of the other observatories sharing with the people of Hawai`i. I get that security is an issue, but clearance can be given to the select few who must in turn very publicly share their scientific findings. By all means INCLUDE THE PEOPLE OF HAWAI`I and give thanks. The Hawai`ian culture is that of sharing and it needs to be understood. I don’t think all of this huhu would have come about if it started out by first gaining respect and learning from both sides first, before moving forward. It opens up old wounds of just coming in and doing whatever they want that money can buy.


    1. Aloha e Joni. Mahalo for the response. I work in higher education admissions, so initially, I was torn as well. But the deeper I got into the history of the conflict I realized that UH has a lot to answer for in terms of mismanagement of Mauna Kea. Maybe, in the future, a Hawaiian project can evolve out of a process that includes Hawaiian cultural practitioners and Hawaiian astronomers. Something that would grow organically that respects the sacredness of this mauna. You are right, if there had been respect from the beginning we may be having a very different conversation now. Peace to you! Deb


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s