Huaka‘i no Mauna Kea: Interview with Ku Ching
Ku Ching (pictured on the right with Paul Neves on the left) is a retired chemical engineer, attorney, and former OHA trustee
Ten years ago, Uncle Ku Ching began plans for a unique huaka‘i from sea level up to the summit of Mauna Kea. It would become a journey that changed the next decade of his life.
Hatched between Kawaipuna Sharp and myself, the idea for the 2002 huaka‘i was for us to follow the old paths, the old trails and the old roads. We were to walk in the path of the ancestors. The entire journey was to be genuinely cultural, including studying the plants and animals of the island.
It took quite a bit of planning and studying. In some places, there are no longer any trails. At low altitudes, we were hiking through pastures. In other places, like up on the slopes of Mauna Kea, it’s very sandy, so the trails and footsteps are hard to find. Near Pohakuloa (PTA), the trail is actually a road, but a military road that is basically off-limits to the public. We were culturally accessing places where people don’t usually go.
Up on Mauna Kea when you’re at 13,000 feet, after a whole day of slog-ging it out (starting out at 10,000 feet), you can take maybe twenty steps, then have to rest for five minutes. Thank goodness, you’re only a few hundred yards to the end of the day’s hike as it takes everything you have. You’re totally exhausted. But you’re all exhausted together, and there’s a lot of aloha. It changes you.
We have done huaka‘i almost every year since, and it has been life changing. Kaho‘ola Ching wrote recently about how important the huaka‘i have been to him. All of us who have been doing it, are not the same, as when we started out.
Among other things, he said: “Huaka‘i has been one of the best things that has happened in my life. Also some of the worst times in my life--burning lava fields of Kona in the blazing sumer sun on an endless walk through uncharted ‘a‘a. Some of the most profound and supernatural things have happened to all of us, that took some of us years to realize. You lead even to the very gates of the ‘a‘a fields of Kona, as close to Hades as I have ever experienced on this honua, and I will follow.” High places are always sacred to people, especially to the “indigenous” people. A lot of our myths, religious stories, and legends include stories about the mountains. Thisis true for many other summits too, of course. But for us, Mauna Kea is that very special place.
Many of us do things on the mountain that are very sacred, like taking piko up to lake Waiau. People do many dif-ferent practices all over the mountain. Many of us have connections to the island, and to the mountain. So it is a natural thing to want to protect it.
As leasee on the mountain, since 1968, the University of Hawai‘i has acted as “king” of the mountain, but has not properly cared for our mauna.
For example, when they built the Keck observatories, they knocked 38 feet offof Pu‘u Kūkahau‘ula, to get enough level land on which to build the foundations. Knocking offthe top of pu‘u (cinder cones) and digging into them disturb many of us who are cultural and religious practitioners of the mountain.
The key thing, is, if UH is going to be on the mountain, they are going to have to follow the rules. And the rules are going to have to be pono. We will do what we have to do to keep the whole thing pono. This means: to be in tune with the environment and ecosystems of the place, culture of the place, and the gods and goddesses.
The mountain itself is awesome. Hiking over it, hiking up and down, being up there, the snow, the rocks, the glacial sand--the experience of going up the mountain is very precious, it gets into one’s soul. I suppose this is why I do what I do, to mālama Mauna Kea.