Mauna Kea : Caring for the ‘Aina

Mauna Kea Kia'i Supporters


Since July 15, there are Native Hawaiians and Hawaiians (people who live in Hawaii) sitting, standing and be-ing in protest on the top of Mauna Kea, the highest peak in Hawaii and one of its most Sacred Sites.      By doing so, they are caring for the ‘Aina.   Mauna Kea : Caring for the ‘Aina.    They are Kia’i (Protectors).     It is important to understand the difference between Protector and Protestor.   A Protector is caring for the ‘Aina which the Hawaiian People believe is their sacred kuleana (responsibility).    Caring for the ‘Aina means caring for the land with respect and all beings who live and walk across that land.    That means people, children, animals, plants, everything.     Perhaps the Kia’i are also protesting, but it’s crucial to understand that their position comes from a place of Spiritual Kuleana:  Mauna Kea :  Caring for the ‘Aina.

Mauna Kea Telescopes

Mauna Kea showing telescopes already there

Many visitors to the islands come because they love the beauty but also because they feel the “aloha spirit”.     There’s just something in the air… even if they can’t quite put their finger on what that is.    That Aloha Spirit or “Mana” comes not just from the people today, it is something so integral to the Hawaiian People and is ingrained in their being; it comes from their Ancestors, from the land, from the very ground where they stand and live.    It’s hard to put into words but I go into that more here.         A very deep part of that is the respect, kindness and love of the land, Hawaiian Sacred Sites & Respect for the ‘Aina

Hawaiians regard their Sacred Sites the same way a Christian would do a Church or a Jewish person views a synagogue or a Moslem views a Mosque.    If anyone went into these places and put a 30 meter telescope plus offices and more, it would be regarded as sacrilegious.    Just because the Hawaiian Sacred Sites do not have buildings does not make them any less Sacred.    It is disrespectful.

Since living on Kauai, I have been a member of a Hula Halau, “House of Hula”.   Hula is not just dance, it is an integral part of Hawaiian Spirituality which I will address in a later post.  My Kumu Hula (Teacher, who carries a lineage going back thousands of years) always says : The Ancient Hawaiian people never did anything without Manao (Intention).   I would add to that by saying that it is intention that is spiritually based, coming from a place of having the spiritual intention to make the best decision in any given situation and do what is best and right for the ‘Aina, the people, the animals and plants.


This is not just about a telescope.   If this project moves forward, there will be an 18 storey office complex and space to live and a restaurant.     It’s hard for Westerners to understand how offensive this is to the Hawaiian people and how against their way of being.   Not only that, but the 13 telescopes that already exist have had issues with sanitation over the years.    This means that contamination leaks into the Sacred “Wai” – Water – the life giving water that is symbolic of Life to all people and the source for the water from Mauna Kea for the island.    That can’t be good can it?

Hula to Support Mauna Kea

Hula Practitioners dance & chant in support of the Kia’i, Mauna Kea Protectors ~ Photo courtesy of Danny Hashimoto

The words  Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu Maunakea   means “a place of refuge”  which is the camp at the base of Mauna Kea where the protectors are gathered.    Many non Hawaiians who have visited the Big Island are familiar with the tradition of the places of refuge in the Hawaiian culture.   The gathering of the Kia’i (Guardians or Protectors) is a place of refuge.

Kauai Marches in Solidarity with Mauna Kea Kia’i

On Kauai, people marched  in Lihue to join in solidarity with those who want to prevent the building of a 30 meter telescope on top of the Sacred Mountain.    People also marched on Maui, and Oahu in solidarity with those at Mauna Kea.

On Kauai, as in the rest of the islands, caring for the Aina means taking responsibility for the land, ocean, people, plants and animals, caring for all life where they reside.    All indigenous peoples, from the Lakota of South Dakota to the Aboriginals to the Maoris have the same belief and way of living.    Mauna Kea :  Caring for the ‘Aina.


Mauna Kea Kia'i Supporters

Mauna Kea Kia’i Supporters Marching on Kauai July 28 ~ photo credit Danny Hashimoto


Kupuna (Elders) Arrested & Why they are at Mauna Kea

Why is this so important?   Why are the Kahunas (Spiritual Leaders & Teachers) of the Big Island and Hawaiian people opposed to the telescope?  Why are the Kia’i (Protectors) making this stand?

My thanks go to Trisha Kehaulani Watson, J.D., Ph.D., or her article in Vox online;   Trisha was born and raised in Mānoa, Hawaiʻi. and has worked in the field of environmental consulting for many years.   I have found this to be the best overall account which explains what is going on and why,  as well as being quite beautifully written.    Thank you Trisha for this poignant account of what happened at Mauna Kea when the Elders were arrested on July 16th in Vox .    

As she writes (quoted  from her article with permission) .

“On the morning of July 15 — the day Hawaii Gov. David Ige said construction would begin for the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project on the Big Island — a line of elders, known as kūpuna, positioned themselves in the roadway leading up to the summit of Maunakea. Each elder was assigned a caretaker to tend to their health and nutritional needs while they awaited and blocked access to the construction trucks. Farther up the road, a group of seven Native Hawaiian protectors chained themselves to a cattle guard as a second line of defense in case law enforcement arrested the kūpuna.

The group’s first and second days on Mauna kea, among the most sacred sites in Hawaiian cosmology, ended without incident. But arrests began on the morning of July 17. Despite pleas from younger activists to protect the kūpuna, the elders insisted on remaining on the front line and being the first arrested, asking the younger protectors to stand down and remain silent while they were taken.

Some elders forced officers to physically remove them, and they were picked up and carried down the road. Some were wheeled off in their wheelchairs. Others walked, sometimes with the help of walkers, if they could. Many of the 35 arrested were in their 70s or 80s.

The younger protectors openly wept and prayed as the kūpuna were taken in custody. Law enforcement, most of them Hawaiians themselves, moved slowly and respectfully, looking pained and conflicted as they arrested the kūpuna. The interaction remained peaceful, but the heartbreak was palpable.

“This is all we have left, so we aren’t going to move,” said veteran activist Walter Ritte, who was one of the kūpuna arrested. “They’re going to have to keep arresting us — and we’ll keep coming right back. The mountain represents us, all Hawaiians, so we’re not going to let them take our mountain. … We aren’t going to leave her.” “

Hula in Lihue f July 28 2019

Hula being performed in support Mauna Kea ~ photo courtesy of Danny Hashimoto

The bolded  paragraph had we weeping openly.    What a wonderful peaceful action of love & dedication  to protect the ‘Aina.     This is Mauna Kea :  Caring for the ‘Aina.   You can read Trisha’s full article here.   I highly recommend.

Celebrity Visits

Jason Momoa at Mauna Kea Protectors

Jason Momoa offering Ho’okupu to Kupunas at Mauna Kea

Over a week ago,  the situation and protest surrounding this issue was given a huge PR boost by the arrival of “The Rock”, Dwayne Johnson, who traveled to Mauna Kea in support of the Native peoples and in opposition to the building of TMT.     Dwayne is of Samoan ancestry, so he understands the importance.     I’m glad he did.

This past week, Hawaiian Native actor Jason Momoa arrived to offer support also.   He carried traditional gifts for the Kupuna and brought his family.

Damian Marley came to support and gave an impromptu concert to which many Kupuna and supporters danced.

I am grateful along with others that these people came to help shine media attention on Mauna Kea : Caring for the ‘Aina.

History of the Issue

Maile Arvin is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar and Assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah.   She published an excellent article which clearly communicates the history and current situation.  As Maile says (quoted directly from her article in Truthout. org with permission)

“This project has been in the works for years, and has drawn opposition from Native Hawaiians who object to the environmental and cultural impact of a massive 18-story, five-acre telescope complex on sacred land. In Hawaiian moʻolelo (stories and traditions), Mauna Kea represents the piko (umbilical cord) and thus birthplace of Hawaiʻi island and the Hawaiian people. The summit is associated with a number of important akua (gods and goddesses), and is the site of numerous burials, altars and other spiritually powerful sites.”

The opposition to telescope construction on Mauna Kea has a long history, dating to 1968, when the first telescope was built on the mountain. There are currently 13 telescopes already on the summit, several of which are no longer even in use. Many of these were built without proper permits and over community protests and lawsuits expressing concerns about environmental impact — Mauna Kea is the primary aquifer and source of freshwater for the island — and protection of significant cultural sites. There is a clear history of mismanagement of the observatories, including problems with waste disposal and spills.

In 2015, Native Hawaiians and allies halted the TMT project by camping out and blocking the road to construction crews for months, until the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court officially stopped construction in December 2015. After working its way through state courts, the TMT project was recently reissued the required building permits. On July 10, Hawaiʻi Gov. David Ige announced that construction would shortly resume. This sparked the call for Native Hawaiian kiaʻi (a Hawaiian language word meaning protectors, which they prefer to being called “protesters”) to return to Mauna Kea, where over the last week and a half they have created a remarkable puʻuhonua (sanctuary). The Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu is an organized society, governed by the principle of kapu aloha, a prohibition against acting without kindness and love towards all. It offers free meals, medical care, and classes on topics related to Hawaiian language, history, environment and more to anyone willing to show up to support the cause.”

Please read the full article here:
Hula in Lihue Kauai

Hula & Ceremony for Mauna Kea ~ photo courtesy of Danny Hashimoto

Leased for $1 a year?

Most people have no idea that Mauna Kea is leased from lands held in public trust for $1 a year.    $1 a year?     Who gave permission for that?    Not the Hawaiian people I think.   Isn’t there something rather not in balance that lands are leased for a year from the people and a corporation is allowed to build a massive complex for profit?   Because yes, over all the talk of the benefit to science and Mauna Kea being the darkest spot on Earth and thus the best place for the massive telescope, there is a lot of profit to be made.  Despite the talk of creating 140 jobs (not many) and bringing in 28 million to the islands….. I’d wager a large bet that none of that profit is going to the Hawaiian people or the islands is it?     Consider the following clear explanation of Mauna Kea Lands by, the Hawaiian Environmental organization:

“Mauna Kea and Haleakalā are crown lands, today part of Hawai’i’s “ceded lands trust,” also known as “public trust lands”–lands of the monarchy prior to 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. These are lands held in trust by the State of Hawai’i, to be managed for the benefit of Native Hawaiians and the public of Hawai’i.

State law requires that fair market rent be charged for any and all leasing of “ceded” crown lands in Hawai’i. (HRS 171)

Mauna Kea Sunrise

Mauna Kea Sacred Mountain

In 40 years of telescopes on the mountain, international astronomy has prospered on our summits. The value of UH-owned patents derived from technology developed just on Mauna Kea was conservatively estimated to be worth $14 million back in 2001. In 2008, a single night of viewing time at the Keck Observatory was valued at $80,000.

In return, the people of Hawai’i receive $1/year in Mauna Kea and $0/year on Haleakalā for this industrial use of this public trust land.”

And there’s the crux:   to the Native Hawaiian people who are living the way of their Ancestors, this is not about money, or science or jobs.    It’s about living in balance with the Earth that nurtures us and having respect for the Aina.    It is something so much a part of the indigenous blood of the Native Hawaiians and other indigenous peoples… there is no question of its integrity.

University of Hawaii  ~ Decisive Player?

The Honolulu Star Advertiser is doing a good job of keeping up to date with what’s happening and also reporting both sides of the story.     Their series of photos of the Protectors is wonderful and their article on the visit of David Lassner, the President of UH (University of Hawaii) is important as it highlights the decisive role the University has in the issue.    The TMT Project sub- leases land on Mauna Kea for the project.    Over 800 students and teachers have signed a petition urging him to rescind this offer or resign.    Of course, the science department at the University are pro TMT.    Lassner was there to meet with the Kupuna (Elders) and apparently said he wanted to “meet them, feel their spirit”.

Native Hawaiian playing Pahu

Kekuhi Kealilikanakaoleohaaillani playing Pahu during Kipaepae at Mauna Kea ~ photo courtesy of The Star Advertiser

The above photo is not just a Native Hawaiian woman playing the Pahu.    It is part of Sacred Ceremony that is conducted with intention on one of the most Sacred Sites in the islands to welcome a visitor and more.

Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu Mauna Kea ~ The “Campsite” Conditions

There is a  “recycling and trash station” at Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu Maunakea  Contrary to what Gov Ige is reported to have said and what other media has said, the Kia’i and other Protectors campsite has been run along the guidelines so important to Hawaiian culture : respect.    Food has been brought daily by people to the campsite, there are many porta potties which are cleaned twice a day and trash and recycling also collected twice a day.   There is no drugs or drinking, not allowed.     The Hawaiian people respect their Aina and most particularly the Sacred Sites.  As CNN reported :   “There are absolutely no signs of drugs or alcohol,” Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi told the station.  “No one is even allowed to smoke here.”

I echo this as my experience with being in the Halau and large gatherings organized on Sacred Sites on Kauai; we always left every space cleaner than when we found it.    All trash was removed, recycling was done; there is always respect for the Aina.

Caring for the Aina for generations to come

Along with the Lakota nations who have been protesting the building of a pipeline which will almost certainly contaminate the water across many lands, the Native Hawaiians are standing up and saying “No” to more development and disrespect for the land.       These peoples are thinking about their children, their children’s children, they consider : what affect will this have on future generations?     The Iroquois, part of the 7 nations of north eastern United States never made a decision without thinking about the effect their decision would have on the 7th Generation to come.    What a wonderful concept.   Imagine what would happen if all corporations did the same.   There would be no contamination of our rivers, oceans and air.
Musicians Protest TMT

Musicians performing in support of the Kia’i Mauna Kea ~ . photo courtesy of Danny Hashimoto

It’s heartwarming to hear that the Lakota Standing Rock Protectors have also been standing in solidarity with the Protectors at Mauna Kea.    People are beginning to realize the world over that the ancient ways of the indigenous peoples of the world are how to live in balance on the Earth… and that’s what we need to do.     We don’t need a telescope on top of Mauna Kea.   Science would like one but it’s not necessary and taking care of the ‘Aina is far more important.
Most importantly, the Kia’i at Mauna Kea and the Lakota Protectors at Standing Rock were and are lead by Kupuna, Elders and they stand in peace, practicing their ancient chants and dance, practicing respect for all beings, including those law enforcement sent to arrest them.    This, then is the way, for they are demonstrating the ultimate Aloha Spirit of compassion and respect for all.   This is what is happening at Mauna Kea : Caring for the ‘Aina.

What can you do?

If you are touched by the people standing up for Mauna Kea, there are a few things you can do to support the movement.      You may be touched because you have seen similar issues in where you live:  big corporations pushing ahead with projects which threaten the land with complete disregard for any Sacred Sites.   Oil pipelines,  corporation that leak contaminants into the rivers affecting the communities for hundreds of miles with ill health with no accountability, corporations that leak contaminants into our air, equally without any accountability.    People are standing up in many parts of the world and it’s a good thing.   As with the Kia’i at Mauna Kea, people are standing up and that is the only thing that will change what happens in the world.

You can keep abreast of what’s happening with the movement here and also the facebook page here.      Supporting is also very helpful.   There are active social media accounts on Instagram & Twitter and Pinterest if you are on social media.   You can buy T-shirts or other merchandise that goes to support the Protectors.   You can donate.    You can sign the petition on and any other petitions you come across and write to Governor Ige and other Hawaii Politicians letting them know how you feel.    Every little bit helps.      Mahalo for your Kokua!  (help) .


Govenor David Ige on July 30th rescinded the emergency proclamation for Mauna Kea, saying there are no immediate plans to move Thirty Meter Telescope construction equipment up the mountain.    So there is a delay or postponement for up to two years.    My sense is that the Kia’i will stay until there is a proclamation that no telescope – or any other building – will be built on the Sacred Mountain.

About the Author

Kauai Advisor ~ Francesca Azuremare ~ has lived on Kauai for 22 years. I feel blessed to live in such a magical, beautiful place. Over the years I have helped thousands of people find the perfect place to stay on Kauai whilst also advising on everything from places to propose to the best Na Pali boat ride. Now I'm sharing that information here. It's the Hawaiian way. Aloha!