Mauna A Kea
Seeing each other’s points of views …
The Rev. John A.H. Tomoso†
In the Acts of the Apostles, we read in Chapter 4, verse 32: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” This citation from Holy Scripture of the New Testament is one that I have been pondering and praying about as I try to understand the current situation on Mauna Kea. As a native Hawaiian, I understand what Na Kia‘i, the Protectors are voicing, with their actions of civil disobedience, with daily spiritual exercises and cultural protocol. A friend and colleague engaged me of what I thought about all that’s happening up there on the Mauna. I told him that I see what is happening “up on the Mauna,” as something that is not just about the TMT telescope controversy. I told him it is more than symbolic of a larger issue, one with political, economic, cultural and spiritual significance. He then asked me to look at the Acts of the Apostles. So, I’ve read Acts in its entirety twice in the last two weeks.
Mauna Kea (Mauna a Kea) is a significant landmark, around which an issue is growing. Mauna Kea is a part of the ‘aina that is “held in common” for all of us. It is held in great esteem and reverence, as are all geographical landmarks on Maui and throughout Hawai‘i Nei. Yet, the issue is controversial because the people of the State of Hawai‘i are not of “one heart and soul” about it. Even among the Native Hawaiian community, there is no unity of thought and response. There are both “anti” and “pro” TMT folk, with each side defining a specific course of action and way forward. In all of this, I believe there is an understanding that “no one (can claim) private ownership” of such a majestic mountain. So, herein lies a challenge for all of us. Perhaps understanding, from the native and indigenous perspective, what the Mauna really means for Native Hawaiians, will be good for the readers of this great and ethnic publication.
Kanaka Maoli, na Oiwi, or Native Hawaiians are the Indigenous people of Ka Pae Aina (the Hawaiian Archipelago), Hawai‘i Nei. For many Kanaka Maoli, Mauna Kea represents a oneness and connection to the natural and spiritual worlds—a sacred place and the zenith of ancestral ties to creation. The upper regions or Wao Akua, are the realms of Ke Akua (creator) and the summit is a “Temple of the Supreme Being” in not only Hawaiian spirituality and culture but also in many histories and Polynesians throughout Polynesia. It is the home of Na Akua (divine deities) and Na‘Aumakua (divine ancestors), as well as the meeting place of Wakea, the Sky Father and Papahanaumoku, the Earth Mother—progenitors of the Hawaiian people. It is also both a burial ground and the embodiment of ancestors that include Ali‘i and Kahuna (high ranking chiefs and priests). Modern Native Hawaiians continue to regard Mauna Kea, indeed all Mauna (Mountaintops) throughout Hawai‘i, with reverence and many cultural and religious practices are still performed there. In addition to sacred importance, the summit of Mauna Kea is home to nearly a hundred archaeological sites.
From what is written in the newspapers, by online posts, and in the broadcast media, most of us Kababayan are aware that there’s significant controversy surrounding the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. This controversy highlights the struggle of an Indigenous People (Hawaiians) to preserve their sacred sites from desecration and ensure their participation in current land use issues.
The leaders of Na Kia‘i, the Protectors, and those who oppose TMT construction emphasize that they are not anti-science. Rather, they claim that Native Hawaiians were insufficiently consulted before Mauna Kea was chosen as the TMT site. Actually, this controversy goes back to the construction on Mauna Kea, of the first telescope in 1968. Further, current leaders and voices of Na Kia‘i, the Protectors, emphasize that the building of TMT on Mauna Kea comes with serious environmental risks. They cite the cumulative impact of the TMT together with the 13 other telescopes already on Mauna Kea cause a “profoundly negative impact” on the geology and animal inhabitants of the area. From a sociological standpoint, the current controversy surrounding Mauna Kea and the TMT raise, as pointed out by several Native Hawaiian scholars, critical and perhaps painful issues of systemic dispossession, inter-generational marginalization, and discrimination.
At the end of Acts, Chapter 28, verses 25–28, the apostle Paul states to the believers gathered around him, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Go to this people and say, you will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn … that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.’” So, in July of this year, 34 Kupuna (Elders) were arrested for peaceful obstruction of the government road leading to the site of TMT construction. Younger Na Kia‘i, Protectors chanted and cried as Kupuna were carried or taken away in wheelchairs. I believe these arrests underscored the power of the state government to enforce western property rights while at the same time disrespecting Elders, who are the traditional “wisdom keepers” of Kanaka Maoli.
To those protecting Mauna Kea, these encounters confirmed that social justice issues cannot be resolved by majority laws and rules but rather require community advocates and purposeful, non-violent civil disobedience. To those who are pro-TMT, these encounters challenge their sensibilities that nothing should impede what the courts and governmental actions have already should be the way to proceed. Thus, there is a chronic strain on our cultural and civic realities. It is, as Paul states in Acts 28:25–27,a reality where “the Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Go to this people and say, you will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn … ” Turning to Mauna Kea, and gazing upon her looming presence in our horizon, I pray that both sides, indeed all sides, look and listen and hear and come together, to wisely understand that there is a way out of this stress and strain.
Rev. John A. Hau‘oli Tomoso† is a Social Worker and Episcopal Priest. He is a Priest Associate at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Wailuku and an on-call Chaplain at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Tomoso was graduated from St. Anthony Jr./Sr. High School, the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology) and Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (Masters of Social Work). In 2008, he retired from the civil service as the Maui County Executive on Aging. In March 2019, Tomoso retired as the Executive Director of the non-profit Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., after a social work career that spanned 43 years of practice. His wife Susan recently retired as a 7th grade Language Arts Teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate School.