Mauna Kea, Kuahiwi Kūhaʻo i ka Mālie


Mauna Kea, Standing alone in the calm*

The Kumulipo is a song of creation that recounts the birth of Hawaiʻi Nei from the heavenly realms and mountains above, to the expansive beaches, reefs, and depths of the sea below and all life contained therein. From the Kumulipo we learn that before human beings were created, nearly all other life forms were created, giving us an understanding of our place in the world. When creation was complete, the gods, too, were complete and walked the earth with us.

The Kumulipo is a mele aloha sung daily to humanity by the earth herself, ever inviting us to join in the great dance of creation.

Just as hidden meanings are encoded in our language, encoded in the earth’s songs are the teachings of aloha. Her songs are love songs, sung softly, so that only an open heart can hear them and a calm mind can perceive them as they flow and envelop us in the beauty that surrounds us.

The akua are the great composers, for they sang the first songs setting the law of this land, which is aloha, into motion. When we enter the forest or the sea, we sing our own love songs to the akua, not so we can find the best flowers for making leis or to ensure the best catch, but to celebrate and participate in their process of creation and its abundant bounty.

Mauna Kea represents the zenith of our ancestral tie to creation.

What makes a sacred place sacred is that it has certain properties that magnify aloha and cause the life surrounding them to flourish. Mauna Kea is a place where songs of aloha originate, are magnified, and can be heard most clearly.

When we ascend summits or descend into the depths of the sea, we travel back in time towards our beginning – the Pō – and are transformed as the ancient songs resound. Mauna Kea and the other sacred places of Hawaiʻi join ranks with many such places on earth where the different peoples of the world – each with their own language and special love songs – continue to honor creation too.

Mauna Kea is where the life-giving waters of the god, Kāne, originate. These waters belong to the land, to the people, and to the sea creatures that need that them to survive. As above, so below.

It is where plant and animal species found nowhere else on the planet dwell under the persistent threat of extinction. It is where our most revered ancestors are buried, and where our kūpuna learned the ways of the heavens, allowing them to navigate the vast Pacific Ocean for a thousand years before the invention of the GPS. And it is where our kūpuna direct us to go and honor creation.

In this modern age, there are also modern “songs.”

Two centuries ago, the industrial revolution began to produce new songs, amplified into a pounding, grinding, deafening cacophony of machinery and money. These new songs celebrated empire, development, profit and greed.

Produce! Consume! Sings the machine while its operators seek to sever our connections to our ancient songs, our akua, and our very identity. “Do not question progress,” they admonish while they relegate our ancient songs to the past, there to be forgotten and replaced by their new songs.

Deconstructed, their songs do not always tell a story of progress, success, or greatness. Too often, they tell a story of de-creation and humanity’s desired dominion over the earth – inadvertently heralding the destruction of the land, sea, and life itself.

We are told not to question. But we must question. And continue to question.

The alternative is to blindly accept the machine and its modern songs and to accept the claims of those who would rule over us – no matter how outrageous, how counterintuitive. Because in the name of their “freedom” there is oppression. In the name of their “peace” there is violence. In the name of their “progress” there is destruction. The refrain this song is, “my profits, my rights.” Such are their lyrics.

Yet, despite their frequency, intensity and self-perpetuating nature, these brash songs of “progress” cannot drown out the earth’s songs. We are called by our ancestors to remember aloha, to sing along with the songs of creation, and to question whether life is perpetuated and protected with this “progress.”

Is it unreasonably destructive? Are the outcomes just? And who profits?

Our requests to the international astronomy community regarding Mauna Kea have been simple. They were asked not to block public access to Mauna Kea, to respect our burial grounds, to protect the unique endemic life forms that reside on Mauna Kea, to refrain from using hazardous materials over our principal aquifer, to refrain from injecting hundreds of thousands of gallons of human waste per year into the ground.

Ours is a plea that they would recall the songs of aloha and consider restoration in lieu of destruction. We have called on them to partner with us, to sing the songs of life with the people of this land. To be grateful and to mālama this sacred mauna.

The Aloha ʻĀina movement is about keeping the songs of aloha alive. Without these songs, a power vacuum is allowed to take hold – whereby the din of modern machinery overpowers the songs of creation. We cannot be in a state of war and peace at the same time, of simultaneous creation and de-creation. The fracas of modern political machination attempts to attenuate the ancient songs, but it will never replace nor diminish them.

When we sing along with the earth, the ancient songs of creation flow through us and across the land. When aloha prevails over the power of destruction in all forms, we are free. The process of creation continues, and the land is perpetuated in righteousness.

As we navigate the politics surrounding Mauna Kea, we need to make a conscious effort to slow down, to stop, to listen for the songs of aloha that are being sung to us by the ʻāina, and to remember our kuleana to Mauna Kea as the mauna remembers us.

*The title of this article is ʻōlelo noʻeau 2147 found in “ʻŌlelo Noʻeau” by Mary Kawena Pukui.

This article was adapted from an earlier version published in the inaugural issue of “Mauka to Makai” in 2010.