Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is known as the tallest mountain in the world standing at over 10,000 meters in height. It last erupted in the year 2460 BC, and it is favored by scientists for astronomical observation due to the high elevation and dry climate. While astronomers value Mauna Kea for utilizing its elevation, it is more than just a volcano to Native Hawaiians.
Plans to build a huge telescope called “Thirty Meter Telescope” or “TMT” on Mauna Kea’s summit were approved by Hawaii’s Supreme Court in August of 2018, although native Hawaiians fought back for their land for nearly a decade. The construction was set to start in July of 2019, but protesters blocked off the road to the summit on the first day of construction. kupuna, or Hawaiian elders, camped out night and day protecting the Mauna. Nine of those kupuna who were peacefully protesting the TMT were arrested in July from the protesting site and pleaded not guilty in court at Hilo on Friday, August 25th.
Mauna Kea is also known as Mauna a Wakea to Native Hawaiians, which translates to “Sky Father.” In Hawaiian culture, they believe that the native people are directly descended from the Mauna and they consider Mauna Kea to be their ancestor. Although there are already thirteen observatories on the mountain, the colossal $1.4 billion telescope was taking it too far. On Mauna Kea, one will find many altars, burial sites, and history descending from King Kamehameha I, and today sacred Hawaiian ceremonies are still performed at the Mauna. Ancient Hawaiians were forbidden from visiting the summit because it was considered as a place for gods, and only the highest chiefs, queens, and kings could visit the Mauna.
Today, thousands visit the summit at the observatory and don’t realize the importance of the mountain . Many, if not all Hawaiians feel that their land was taken from them by Americans, and having their Mauna desecrated only adds fuel to the fire.
Since the protests have begun, celebrities have furthered the movement to stop the TMT from proceeding construction. Jason Mamoa, Jhene Aiko, and Nicole Scherzinger have used their social media platforms to protest the TMT with the phrase “We Are Mauna Kea.” Peaceful protests and gatherings are still continuing up to date on Hawaii, Kauai, Oahu, and Maui, and locals plan to protect their ‘aina’ (land) until the TMT is cancelled.
America has disregarded the religions of indigenous people many times, such as the Native Americans. Hawaii has turned from a sacred chain of islands to tourist spot and space observatory since the United States overthrew Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. Gaining knowledge about astronomy is important, but respecting people and the land that they are indigenous to is just as important.