The demonstration on Maunakea against the Thirty Meter Telescope presents only one side of the story. It also only tells one side of the cultural issues that are involved. Please allow me to tell the other side.
I start with my qualifications to expound on this subject. I am half Russian and half Hawaiian.
My Russian father ran from Russia and legally entered the United States, became a citizen, then came to Hawaii to work on Parker Ranch. My mother was born at home in the pasture halfway between Kahua Ranch and Kawaihae. Her maiden name was Awaa, a name given to her father’s family because of their physical ability as reflected in their stature. Hawaiians in those days were called according to the character they displayed or some other physical attribute. The term Awaa described their physique as being muscular. It has been said in family circles that the name was earned from being the lead paddlers on voyaging canoes.
Due to conflict with the ranch bosses, my father was fired, so the family moved to Ka‘u where I was born the fourth of five boys in Nov. 1938. In school, we Hawaiians kids were the brunt of many negative jokes by white teachers, causing some to rebel and others to try twice as hard to prove equality, or in some cases, superiority. After high school, I chose to attend college in California before returning to live in Waimea.
Early Hawaiian explorers were not pagans. Our family history through kupuna stories tell of the ancient Hawaiians arriving at South Point. Their goal was achieved by following the stars, the mano (shark) and the honu (turtle). Hawaiians refer to these creatures as aumakua, or guides. On the practical side, these creatures feed close to shore and, in the case of the turtle, it eats seaweed that grow on the shoreline. Therefore, following one of these creatures in the high seas will likely lead you to shallow waters where they feed. They were “guides to land” is a practical concept.
Arriving at South Point, the first Hawaiians built a small heiau into which they placed two large boulders. Later, Hawaiians and others claimed that these boulders were worshiped as the gods who brought them from Kahiki (a far off land) to Hawaii. This was a false conclusion. For clarification, these boulders originally were placed in this enclosure and named Hina and Ku. They depicted two outstanding characteristics of the god that brought the first Hawaiians to Hawaii. Hina refers to white hair or being old, ancient. Ku refers to being foundational, as in immovable, steadfast, “the same yesterday, today and forever,” unchanging.
Sometime in the 1950s, one of the rocks was stolen, and as time went by, the enclosure became an outhouse for the fishermen who frequented the area. I grew up in Ka‘u and witnessed the frustration and anger expressed by the old Hawaiian community over this desecration.
Further proof that the early Hawaiians were not pagans or idol worshipers is the fact that they eventually built a heiau, the City of Refuge, in Kona. The protocol involving the City of Refuge in Kona is the same as the City of Refuge recorded in the Bible. Besides that, the early Hawaiians believed that Jesus would someday return in the clouds of glory. When Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii with his sailing ship in full sail, they believed this was He. They treated him as a god until he got injured and bled as humans do. Being fooled for his benefit angered the Hawaiians, so they killed him.
In dealing with this issue, it is important to realize that not all Hawaiians are descendants of the early explorers, nor do they share the same spiritual beliefs. There were other Polynesians who came to Hawaii, shaped a piece of rock, or carved a piece of wood into some form then worship it as a god.
The Hawaiians, like every other nationality, have members in the community who will strive day and night, from sun up to sun down, to get ahead and better themselves. Others in that same community will just sit back and exist. Aloha allows us all to coexist irregardless of our differences.
The question in debate: Is Maunakea sacred? Many of us believe it is but for a different reason then those who are now demonstrating against the construction of the TMT.
Maunakea is the only peak anchored in the Pacific Ocean that provides for the excellent conditions to explore the heavens. The Bible verse in Psalms 19; 1 says that “the heavens declare the Glory of God.” There are those of us who would like to see what TMT will reveal about the glory of the God that brought the first Hawaiians to Hawaii.
We feel that Maunakea is a sacred gift from the creator God, planned from the foundation of the world to confirm the “intelligent design” of this massive universe. There are those who believe that to utilize this gift to explore the heavens is to desecrate the very mountain given to us for that purpose.
Leningrad Elarionoff is a former County Council member who lives in Waimea.