On the island of Hawaiʻi, Mauna Kea stretches from the ocean floor towards the sky, the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak. Standing over 13,000 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea, or Mauna a Wakea, is quite literally linked in name to the god Wakea (sky father) who along with Papahanaumoku, birthed the Hawaiian islands. As noted by Kumu Hula Pualani Kanahele, the mountain is Wakea. The summit of the mountain, known as the wao akua or realm of the gods, is also home to Hawaiian deities including Poliahu—the snow goddess of Mauna Kea. Hawaiians thus share a connection to Mauna Kea that is both sacred and genealogically tied to the land. And it is because of this connection that they and others feel a sense of kuleana (responsibility) to mālama (care for) and protect Mauna Kea through repeated desecration and encroachment by the settler state.
The history of U.S. settler colonialism in Hawai’i includes battles over what is sacred and who gets to decide what is sacred. One iteration of this struggle can be found in the ways that knowledge, progress, and value are often wrapped up into a specific understanding and veneration of science. Proponents of a Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to be built on Mauna Kea argue that because of its height and distance from sources of light pollution, the mountain is uniquely suited to house astronomers and their research projects as they gather data about solar systems and galaxies. The TMT website notes that the “TMT will also play a very important role in advancing our knowledge of the physical processes that lead to star and planet formation.” Hawaiians and their allies, however, have resisted the construction of TMT and other telescopes on Mauna Kea for decades. On July 17, 2019, thirty-four kiaʻi mauna (protectors/caretakers of Mauna Kea) were arrested atop Mauna Kea while standing in resistance to the TMT, scheduled to begin construction earlier in the summer. In conjunction with these arrests, Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige issued a state of emergency authorizing the use of National Guard troops against kiaʻi in addition to mobilizing local police forces on the neighbor islands. Those arrested plead not guilty, and their individual cases are currently ongoing through the court system.
Resistance to the construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea is only the latest in a long history of violence and dispossession at the hands of the settler state. Traditional Hawaiian religious systems have been challenged since the arrival of the first haole (white/foreigner) missionaries to Hawaiʻi in the mid-1800s. Given the looming presence of the settler state and the continued resilience and resurgence of kiaʻi atop Mauna Kea, this piece explores how sacredness is defined by and perpetuated through relationships: Who has them, who claims them, and which kinds of relationships the state supports. Ultimately, places like Mauna Kea are worth fighting for because of the relationships to land and one another that they make possible.
This episode shares knowledge and stories by Dr. Noenoe Wong-Wilson, Mauna kupuna, Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, kākoʻo, and Professor of Political Science and Indigenous Politics at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Pualani Case, Mauna kupuna and kia‘i, Lanakila Mangauil, kia‘i and candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Amy Kalili, Hawaiian language scholar-activist and practitioner. Interviews were conducted from December 2019 through early January 2020 on the slopes of Mauna Kea at Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and the American Astronomical Society Conference at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center. Although the gathering at Puʻuhuluhulu o Puʻuhonua has downsized in the wake of the stand down between TMT officials and kiaʻi between December 2019 and February 2020, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, kiaʻi and their supporters continue to stand for Mauna Kea through ceremony, activism, and social media.
Beamer, Kamanamaikalani. “Tūtū’s Aloha ʻāina Grace,” 2014.
Casumbal-Salazar, Iokepa. “A Fictive Kinship: Making ‘Modernity,’ ‘Ancient Hawaiians,’ and the Telescopes on Mauna Kea.” Native American and Indigenous Studies 4, no. 2 (2017): 1–30. https://doi.org/10.5749/natiindistudj.4.2.0001.
Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Noelani. “Protectors of the Future, Not Protestors of the Past: Indigenous Pacific Activism and Mauna a Wākea.” South Atlantic Quarterly 116, no. 1 (2017): 184–94.
Kuwada, Bryan Kamaoli. “We Live in the Future. Come Join Us.” Ke Ka ‘upu Hehi ‘Ale, Hehiale. WordPress. Com. This Is a Collective Blog of Hawai ‘i-Based Writers, Artists, and Scholars Dedicated to a Poetics of Decolonial Critique, 2015.
Maile, David Uahikeaikalei ‘ohu. “Resurgent Refusals: Protecting Mauna a Wākea and Kanaka Maoli Decolonization,” 2019.
We would like to express our deep gratitude to Dr. Noenoe Wong-Wilson, Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Pualani Case, Lanakila Mangauil, Amy Kalili, and Bobby Camara for their time and energy, and for allowing us and others to learn from their examples of aloha ‘āina, kuleana, and pilina. Thank you to Professor Rose Buckelew at the University of Virginia for encouragement towards this project and to Professors Camilla Fojas at the University of Virginia and Candice Fujikane at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for their support and feedback. We are very grateful to the University of Virginia’s Religion, Race & Democracy Lab for providing the knowledge and resources to produce this piece and most especially to Emily Gadek and Kelly Jones for their guidance and care throughout the process.
Music for this project was resourced from Blue Dot Sessions (https://www.sessions.blue/) including the tracks “Milkwood,” “All-American Canal,” “Celestial Navigation,” “Derailed,” “Diagram K,” and “Waterbourne.”
(Top photo) weltreisendertj © 123RF.com
Learn about forthcoming podcast episodes, newly published projects, research opportunities, public events, and more.Potential Students