What about offerings?

I walk a short distance from the road looking for a vantage point to set up a camera and note three different offerings within a minute, you can do this at any random spot with a good view along the summit road. They are everywhere, old leis pinned underneath rocks, the remains of little bags filled with shells and coral, ti leave bundles bleached nearly white by the weather.

An old offering
An old offering of shells and coral in a cloth bag left atop Mauna Kea
Out of respect I leave them alone, as does most everyone who spends time on the mountain. They are never in my way, I just note them and move on. But what can you do about these offerings when they begin to be an issue for the environment?

Previously the rate of offerings was fairly sedate, their appearance uncommon but steady. At the summit, at Lake Waiau, at out of the way ahu that few ever notice. Since the TMT controversy started the rate of offerings appearing on the mountain has multiplied tremendously.

In the lowlands, the forest, the seashores, offerings like these would quickly return to the earth from which they were created. The natural process of decay ensuring that the materials are cycled back into nature. The summit of Mauna Kea is different, the very dry environment preserving plant materials for years or decades. Other offerings include materials that do not break down so readily, shell, coral and cloth can persist for a very long time.

Is there a correct way for a cultural practitioner to remove offerings from an area? Is there someone who can be tasked to do this? Many other religions include rules for handling offerings left at shrines or altars, if only to make way for further offerings to be left. Is there no choice but to leave them in place?

An Offering

An Offering at Keck
A plumeria lei left outside Keck Observatory
A common sight atop Mauna Kea… An offering to the gods or spirits believed to reside on the summit of this incomparable mountain. A lei of flowers or a package wrapped in ti leaves, often placed on one of the ahu that are to be found in the summit region. We leave these offerings alone out of respect for those who continue to worship on Mauna Kea.

Early this week we were surprised to find a set of plumeria lei on one of the pillars in front of our building. Bright white and yellow, the scent of the flowers hanging heavy around the loading dock door. Quite a contrast in a world of dark red cinder and cold, a bit of the tropics that lie far below the summit.

Why would someone leave the lei at our door? A thank-you for what we do? A gentle protest at our presence on the mountain? I wonder as we drive down, lost in thought.