We are going there to listen.

Posted by miwa@kahea.org at Apr 06, 2011 12:45 PM |
Journalist Tiffany Hervey reflects on her journey to the summit of Mauna Kea for winter solstice ceremonies.
We are going there to listen.

Ke Ala Polohiwa a Kanaloa ma Mauna Kea

Journalist Tiffany Hervey reflects on her  journey to the summit of Mauna Kea for the winter solstice:

“Remember the mood tonight is aloha. The prayer tonight is ssssshhhh… listen. We are not going to the summit to speak. We are going there to listen.”

Uncle Paul addresses the people who have gathered at his home in Hilo on this night, December 21, 2010, for the winter solstice. Uncle Paul Neves, former ali‘i ‘aimoku, high chief of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I and Kumu Hula, speaks about the protocol for the evening’s ascent to the summit of Mauna Kea and winter solstice ceremony. His words really serve as etiquette for everyday life.

“It’s about raising the standards of aloha always,” he says. “It’s about how we love this land and how it responds. It’s about love always, because if cannot, what else are we doing here? This is about a personal commitment to a common goal.”

Mauna Kea is known as “the mountain of Wākea” and is identified as a child born of Wākea in the haku mele, “Hanau A Hua Ka Lani.” It is a sacred and respected ancestor of the Hawaiian people. The summit is the highest point among all the islands of Polynesia and is known as a Wao Akua, sacred realm of the gods. Mauna Kea has more than 90 shrines and burial sites. Areas where spirits live have always been respectfully kapu. Building on this sacred space is desecration of cultural and spiritual land.

After everyone had gathered all the ho'okupu, a beautiful hula performance and a prayer in Uncle Paul’s front yard surrounding his ahu were offered, and then we piled into vans. We stopped at many ahu on the way to the summit. First was Puhi Bay, then Naha stone, Pu'uhuluhulu, the lele at the visitor's center, Kealoha's family shrine, and finally Kukahau'ula, the summit of Mauna Kea.

As the sapphire shadows under this full moon, we stood, a group of priests, lawyers, cultural practitioners, students, organizers and activists who came to connect with Mauna Kea. It was only 30 years ago that Hawaiians were not allowed to speak their native language in schools. Building on this sacred land began when the collective voice of Native Hawaiians was silenced. This winter solstice is just part of the movement toward reviving a culture whose tongue was cut, whose lands were taken, and whose opposition was systematically oppressed by any means necessary.

Mauna Kea is not only the center of Hawaiian spirituality; it is the center of ceded lands—1.8 million acres—crown lands of the Hawaiian monarchy. The current fight against further construction of telescopes on Mauna Kea is a fight for physical, cultural, and political survival. At some point in the night, Uncle Paul asks, “What is the difference between a soldier and a warrior? A soldier follows orders and fights when told to. A warrior fights when it is pono to do so.”

At the visitor’s center, we pray, offer our ho'okupu surrounded by silverswords and shooting stars, and talk about astronomy. Hawaiian activist Kealoha Pisciotta, who once worked here as a telescope technician, reminded us why and how we keep track of our days the way we do. “The roman calendar we currently follow was based on war and bloodshed, not the natural cycles of the earth,” she said.

Only then did it really click that modern astronomy is something completely different than that of native astronomy. Ancient stargazing, lunar cycles, and way-finding are much different ways of understanding our world than the science of 30-meter telescopes and keeping time to a Judeo-Christian calendar from a fallen empire.

“Hawaiians use Mauna Kea's high elevation landscape for ceremonies that contain star and other knowledge essential to modern Hawaiian voyaging, knowledge our ancestors used to discover thousands of tiny islands spread over 10 million square miles of the vast Pacific Ocean, before the time of Christ and millennia before modern astronomy,” Kealoha states. “But the constant building of new telescopes has destroyed critical landmarks and obstructed essential view planes that reveal star paths and astronomical alignments.”

Kealoha, one of the first Hawaiians employed in astronomy on the summit, resigned her job after twelve years, in protest over the desecration she witnessed.

As we reach 13,000 feet and park by the observatories to hike to the top of the summit, recent snowfall glows around us, the ground lights up like cosmic carpet by the moon. Ice crunches underfoot as we all assume a penguin walk to steady our slippery feet and straining lungs. No words exist to describe what happened next. We saw the sun rise as the full moon lingered and the clouds below teased us with glimpses of land and sea. Everyone had a different experience at the summit— they all offered their prayers and listened the way that they knew how.

Strangely, I caught myself thinking about Paha Sapa, the Black Hills of South Dakota. The area was often described as an island of trees in a sea of grass, set off from the main stretch of the Rocky Mountains. This area was sacred land for the Lakota-Sioux Indians, and central to their culture. Today, this sacred mountain attracts millions of people annually as Mount Rushmore, where the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt are carved into the granite. I thought of these faces carved into the sacred mountain in juxtaposition to hearing some Native Hawaiian elders refer to the telescopes on Mauna Kea as “pimples.” Blemishes indeed.

For native peoples everywhere, cultural ecology is bound in the land. So for native peoples everywhere, the battle is infinite to keep culture alive. Our kuleana is to simply love the land the best way we know how each day: protect, fight, learn, conserve and preserve. In the end, it is about love, always. Because like Uncle Paul said: if cannot, then what else are we here for?


See pictures from this journey: http://bit.ly/MK10SolsticeSShow

Mauna A Wakea: http://www.mauna-a-wakea.info/maunakea/index.html

Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege documentary.

McFarling, Usha Lee. “Science, Culture Clash Over Sacred Mountain,” Los Angeles Times, 
March 18, 2001.  http://www.moolelo.com/maunakea-latimes.html

Pisciotta, Kealoha. “Displacing Hawaiians on Mauna Kea,” West Hawaii Today, August 2, 2009. http://www.westhawaiitoday.com/articles/2009/08/02/opinion/letters_-_your_voice/letters01.txt

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