[Editor’s note: This article was submitted by E. Kalani Flores, Associate Professor at Hawai‘i Community College, on behalf of the Flores- Case ‘Ohana, one of six petitioners in the upcoming TMT contested case hearing. ]
By E. Kalani Flores
Mauna a Wākea (Mountain of Wākea) is the name reverberated by the ancestors and spirits connected to this mountain due to its summit standing majestically above the cloud stratum in the heavenly realms of Wākea (Sky Father) who is personified in the atmosphere that envelops Papahānaumoku (Mother Earth). It is this sacred mountain, also known as Mauna a Kea or Mauna Kea, who is being threatened today with further desecration on a colossal scale with the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project to construct another observatory on this summit.
If the TMT is constructed on this mountain, it will be the TALLEST building on this island. Are the people of Hawai‘i in agreement to have such a structure at the height of 18 stories, twice as high as the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel in Hilo and three times higher than the King Kamehameha Hotel in Kona, sitting on this sacred summit? At over 180 feet, the TMT would considerably surpass the maximum height limits of 90 feet (120 feet for Hilo) for any commercial or resort buildings on this island. Why would we have Hawai‘i County zoning codes to restrict the height of buildings to protect the cherished view planes within our island landscape, yet shrewdly disregard them when building on this mountain? In addition, the observatory’s footprint, support building, parking lot, and area disturbed during construction will adversely impact roughly five acres on this summit.
In the pursuit of scientific exploration, the proposed TMT project will contribute to the cumulative desecration and destruction of one the most sacred sites on this Earth. In the desire to discover the potential for life in other parts of this universe, some have forgotten the sacredness for all aspects of life on this planet. We are in the time when the understanding of the spiritual universe extends beyond the physical universe.
There are many people who have forgotten or lost their connection to the importance of mountains as such due to the influences of introduced social, educational, and religious systems. From the modern mindset, most people can recognize the significance of a church building, appreciate the majestic and sacred architecture of a cathedral or synagogue, or be in awe of ancient pyramids and temple structures. Unlike our ancestors, it seems that many have forgotten that significant places in nature such as forests, volcanoes, or mountains that bear no special markings or buildings are the most sacred monuments of all.
Mauna a Wākea is one of those distinguished mountains around the world as is Mount Shasta in California, Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount Kailash in Tibet, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or Mount Sagarmāthā (Everest) in Nepal. Their sacredness has resonated with native cultures past and present. Because our ancestors considered the summit kapu (sacred), they never built any heiau (temples) or structures in this particular realm. This is the reason that archaeological surveys have not found any evidence or remnants of man-made structures there.
It is important to remember that many peoples, including Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians), have a reverential relationship with the living Earth. The cultural perspective of aloha ‘āina, to have sincere love and respect for the land and nature, is at the heart of Hawaiian traditions. For those who are listening, what is our ‘āina trying to tell us during these times of change? Mauna a Wākea is still sacred.