Thursday, June 25, 2015

Go Tell It On The Mountain...#WeAreMaunaKea

Historically mountains have been a symbol of sacredness to almost all peoples and cultures; A high and holy place that connects the heavens and the earth and a place where communion with deity occurs. Moses received the 10 commandments atop Mt. Sinai, the ancient Greeks believed their gods to live atop Mt. Olympus, Mohammed had his vision atop Mt. Hira, and Hindus believe Shiva lives atop Mt. Kailash. Today one of these sacred places is in danger! Mauna Kea stands approx. 13,800 ft tall and is not only the tallest mountain in the pacific basin, but also the highest island mountain in the world. It is arguably one of the most sacred places to Hawaiians, as a place where ancestors are buried, communion with the gods occurs, and heaven connects with earth! It is not only sacred to Hawaiians, but to all Polynesians interconnected throughout time by trade, travel, culture, and the ocean. 

Mana Magazine's article, "The Sacredness of Mauna Kea Explained" by Christine Hitt explains:

"In Hawaiian traditions of creation, the earth mother Papahānaumoku and the sky father Wākea created the islands, with Hawai‘i Island being the first. 'Mauna Kea is considered to be kupuna (elder), the first born, and is held in high esteem. In native traditions, Mauna Kea is identified as ‘Ka Mauna a Wākea’ (The Mountain of Wākea —traditional god and father of Hawai‘i—who’s name is also written as Kea),' described Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele in a 1999 oral history study by Kumu Pono Associates. Because Mauna Kea was the firstborn child of Papa and Wākea, the mauna is considered the piko (navel) of Hawai‘i Island."

Not only is Mauna Kea sacred because it is the piko of Hawaii but also it is an ancient burial site for ancient Hawaiians, the home to many Hawaiian deities, and the location of Lake Waiau, a sacred water source associated with healing and various religious practices.

Hitt goes on to explain:
"It [Lake Waiau] is associated with the god Kāne, and it’s been documented that its water is used in ongoing practices by native healers. Its water is collected, used for ceremonies and for healing. In 1881, Queen Emma visited Waiau and swam across its waters 'on a journey of spiritual and physical well-being.'  Interviews have also been conducted with residents who reported that it was a practice to take a child’s piko (or umbilical cord) to Waiau."

In addition to being the most sacred space in Hawaii, Mauna Kea is also currently an important site to the scientific community and the home of 13 of the world's most powerful telescopes.  Michael West, in his article in Scientific American Journal states, "Perched in the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Kea's peak rises above the bulk of our planet's dense atmosphere, where conditions allow telescopes to obtain images of unsurpassed clarity. This makes Mauna Kea the premier astronomical site in the Northern Hemisphere, if not the world."

The Institute for Astronomy at the University Hawaii states:

Starting in the 1960s, the UH Institute for Astronomy provided the scientific impetus for the development of Mauna Kea into the world's premier site for ground-based astronomical observatories. More major telescopes are now located on Mauna Kea than on any other single mountain peak, and Mauna Kea is widely recognized as offering better conditions for optical, infrared and millimeter/submillimeter measurements than any other developed site

"Mauna Kea is unique as an astronomical observing site. The atmosphere above the mountain is extremely dry -- which is important in measuring infrared and submillimeter radiation from celestial sources - and cloud-free, so that the proportion of clear nights is among the highest in the world. The exceptional stability of the atmosphere above Mauna Kea permits more detailed studies than are possible elsewhere, while its distance from city lights and a strong island-wide lighting ordinance ensure an extremely dark sky, allowing observation of the faintest galaxies that lie at the very edge of the observable Universe. A tropical inversion cloud layer about 600 meters (2,000 ft) thick, well below the summit, isolates the upper atmosphere from the lower moist maritime air and ensures that the summit skies are pure, dry, and free from atmospheric pollutants."

It was because of these conditions that Hawaii's Land board approved Mauna Kea as the site to construct the world's largest telescope; a Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), or giant observatory, that claims to be able to revolutionize humanity's view of the cosmos.

In addition to the TMT being 18 stories tall, FOX NEWS described construction of the telescope in the following:

"The telescope would be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It should also help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.
Construction costs are expected to top $1 billion.
The telescope's segmented primary mirror, which is nearly 100 feet long, will give it nine times the collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today. Its images will also be three times sharper."
From the very onset of construction in March, Native Hawaiians and their supporters have stood up against the building of the TMT. 

Risking incarceration, fines, and tense interactions with government officials and construction crews, the Native Hawaiians have been dubbed by many as the guardians of the mountain and they continue to rally more to their cause.

These "Ki'ai" or guardians continue to meet opposition with Aloha and peaceful demonstrations. They don't see their actions as protesting but rather protecting a sacred and important part of their culture. 

Thousands of people signed petitions, waved signs, gathered in peaceful demonstrations and posted pictures on social media in support of those taking a stand on the Mauna which caused construction to come to a halt in April.

Since April the numbers on the Mauna have increased as more kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) have made the pilgrimage to Mauna Kea to pay respect, pray, and protect the Mauna.

But despite the increase in opposition to construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea, construction was scheduled to resume on Wednesday, June 24th.

The article "Construction of Giant Telescope Pushes on Despite Protests" By Mike Wall reported in the days proceeding June 24th:

"Our period of inactivity has made us a better organization in the long run," Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board, said in the statement. "We are now comfortable that we can be better stewards and better neighbors during our temporary and limited use of this precious land, which will allow us to explore the heavens and broaden the boundaries of science in the interest of humanity."

"By proceeding with the project, the TMT officials neglect to acknowledge and act on the concerns of citizens of Hawai'i who have voiced their strong disapproval of the project. This action further demonstrates the lack of respect that the State of Hawai'i and project officials have for Native Hawaiians and their culture, in addition to the health and well-being of the people and the environment," members of the group Idle No More Mauna Kea wrote in a Facebook post Sunday (June 21).

"Members of the global Mauna Kea 'Ohana [family] are asked to lift prayers, songs and chants for our mauna [mountain] and those who will be standing physically on the mauna," they added. "Those who are on island and plan to be on the mauna Wednesday morning are asked to bring their highest selves to protect the mauna and stand with compassion, patience, love and forgiveness in their hearts. Bring digital cameras, phones and video cameras to the mauna to document the day as it unfolds."

On June 24th the Guardians on the Mountain again took a stand. This time in numbers of more than 700. Some arrests were made and as the people were forced off the road up the mountain construction crews and police found stone alters, walls, and place holders blocking the road in the stead of the people. 

Construction was again haulted! 

Those supporting the construction of the TMT don't understand all the reasons protecting the Mauna is so important.  Michael Westdirector of Nantucket's Maria Mitchell Observatory and author of A Sky Wonderful with Stars: 50 Years of Modern Astronomy on Maunakea, to be published this month by the University of Hawaii Press states:

"'The ancient Hawaiians were astronomers,' wrote Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last reigning monarch, in 1897. Kilo hōkū, or 'star watchers,' were among the most esteemed members of Hawaiian society. Sadly, all is not well with astronomy in Hawaii today."

He goes on to say that a "small, but vocal minority" stands in opposition to the building of TMT and that, "Science has a cultural history, too, with roots going back to the dawn of civilization. The same curiosity to find what lies beyond the horizon that first brought early Polynesians to Hawaii's shores inspires astronomers today to explore the heavens. Calls to dismantle all telescopes on Mauna Kea or to ban future development there ignore the reality that astronomy and Hawaiian culture both seek to answer big questions about who we are, where we come from and where we are going."

"The TMT represents the continuation of a journey begun long ago. Astronomy is not just the study of distant planets, stars and galaxies. It is also the study of something much closer to home—us. One of astronomy's most profound discoveries is that we are made from the ashes of stars that burned out long ago. Perhaps that is why we explore the starry skies, as if answering a primal calling to know ourselves and our true ancestral homes."

But what West and many others fail to recognize is that these "Esteemed Star Watchers" of the past existed inside the overarching context of Hawaiian Culture. They already understood the importance of the Mauna and had a spiritual connection to it which trumps any attempts made by those who exist outside of Hawaiian Culture to satisfy cultural protocols while maintaining their own agendas. An outsider coming in and building a massive observatory on sacred space is not the same thing as a Kilo Hoku of past and even if the building of a the TMT is in line with a natural evolution of star watching techniques, it is presumptuous and flawed logic to think that a Kilo Hoku would build the TMT or treat the Mauna the same way as outsiders.

Will Falk wrote about the methods of building and scientific advancement that have already been used atop Mauna Kea by these outsiders as acts of violence.

"This is violence....the violence already done to Mauna Kea to build and maintain the 13 telescopes that already exist on the summit. These 13 telescopes required their own dynamite and 38 feet have been cut from the height of Mauna Kea’s summit already. There have been 7 reported mercury spills on the mountain that contains Hawai’i Island’s largest freshwater aquifer." 

"Plants, animals, and insects that live on Mauna Kea are murdered by this mercury and its more than likely that humans – especially children and the elderly – are harmed by this mercury, too."

"Kanaka Maoli are genealogically related to Mauna Kea – it is literally a family member – so to do this kind of violence to the Mauna is to attack an older sibling."

Protecting Mauna Kea: This Is a War by Source on June 23, 2015

West continues by saying, "Some blame for the current controversy belongs to astronomers. In their eagerness to build bigger telescopes, they forgot that science is not the only way of understanding the world. They did not always prioritize the protection of Mauna Kea's fragile ecosystems or its sanctity to the islands' inhabitants. Hawaiian culture is not a relic of the past; it is a living culture undergoing a renaissance today."

He then concludes, "In the spirit of compromise, the astronomy community is changing its use of Mauna Kea. The TMT site was chosen to minimize the telescope's visibility around the island and to avoid archaeological and environmental impact, and the TMT will pay $1 million annually (in addition to the STEM funding mentioned earlier) to lease the land on which it resides, with 80 percent of those funds going to stewardship of the mountain. To limit the number of telescopes on Mauna Kea, old ones will be removed at the end of their lifetimes and their sites returned to a natural state."

But in reality, any compromise that West or any others come up with does the same thing as scientists of old by treating Hawaiian Culture as a relic of the past. 

Building the TMT is just the most recent invasion in a long line of violent invasions and cultural concessions the Hawaiian People have endured. The reason only a "small but vocal" population is opposed to the TMT is because the once thriving and indelendent nation of Native Hawaiians has been marginalized to a mere 25% of the 1.42 million people living in Hawaii today. 

What was once an independent nation, a self-sufficient and ecologically light footed population existing in harmony with nature and happy to share their culture and island with other peoples, has been illegal annexed by the United States, had their rights stripped, and the importance of their culture, language and customs minimized.

Any attempt at compromise that is not generated from the Kanaka Maoli is patronizing at best and imperialistic at worst! If the scientific community wants to use the top of the sacred mountain, I suggest they first obtain permission from the people the mountain really belong to, not the pretended political organizations and institutions that are currently set up! 

Kū Ki'ai Mauna! 

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