Accessing the Summit of Mauna Kea Follow Up

Yesterday’s post stirred a blaze of comments over on Facebook, there are 50 shares and climbing fast. While there were those who took both sides of the sign, the majority seem to agree with the opinion I put forth in yesterday’s post. Most agree that the sign is inappropriate and quite possibly counterproductive.

Paul Hirst That sign annoys me, I think it’s ineffective at best, and very probably counterproductive. I too have hiked up there many times, but not since the sign appeared. Though to be honest and having given it more thought now, I don’t think the sign would stop me if I wanted to go again, though it may have dissuaded me in the past at times when I might otherwise have gone.

Summit Access
The sign asking for people to not hike to the true summit of Mauna Kea
The fundamental problem I have with it is that it’s completely un-enforceable, so it has the effect where now the people who do go are the ones who ignored the sign and thus perhaps less likely to respect other things like not disturbing things or leaving litter. Essentially, it reduces the number of people who go to the true summit and take care to have minimal impact on the land, and it has no impact on the number of people who will go up there and don’t care so much. So it just alienates the people who they ought to be befriending as allies in caring for the mountain.

Lynn Paul Richardson I respect cultural sites and always remain within designated walkways. This sign rings hollow to many people who would normally pause at that point.

A fair point was raised in considering the impact that foot traffic has on the summit… Erosion of the area could be an issue. Though I believe this could be mitigated with proper trail maintenance.

Matthew J D’Avella In my opinion people should stay off the true peak for several reasons. Erosion being my number one reason.

Quite a few have suggested that the sign be replaced with something that educates visitors to the importance of the site, request that the be respectful, and stay on the marked trail to minimize the impact to the area.

Chris Runnells Yeah I’m not sure I agree with that. The mountain is sacred to many people regardless of whether or not you’re of Hawaiian ancestry. It’s possible to go to the summit and be respectful without having Hawaiian blood. I think this sign should be replaced with a message to tread with care, pack out what you pack in, etc. I doubt it’s going to actually stop anyone.

I fully agree with different, better signage. This is an idea I should have thought of when writing yesterday’s post, my thanks to those who suggested it. I will probably compile the comments into a letter to Stuart at OMKM, maybe we can get the sign changed. My thanks to the many who commented on this, a productive discussion!

The kerfuffle has served to illustrate the issues that access to Mauna Kea exemplifies. This is a public land access issue. Do you set aside areas as off-limits to the public to appease a specific cultural group. Or should public land be open to everyone, the people of the State of Hawaii? Having had Hawaiian protesters yell at me “Get off our mountain!”, I have to push back. Mauna Kea belongs to all of us, we should care for it, but we can not close access to anyone like this.

Three Facets of the Sacred

Regular readers may have noted that I have recently published three articles exploring the subject of the sacred mountain. Each article may have had a different subject, but all overlapped and intertwined. All three articles end with the same paragraph.

Ancient and Modern
A radio telescope of the Very Long Baseline Array stands in the background of an ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
All were started at the same time, I just kept having different lines of though while exploring the subject. I could not weave the result into a single article. In the end I separated the three posts into a trilogy…

Respecting the Sacred
Conflict of the Sacred
Using the Sacred

Mauna Kea is sacred to some, who believe that this place is pivotal, the piko of creation. Others believe that the telescopes are sacred, a testament to the finest aspirations of mankind, to learn and explore, to answer the great questions. It is a mistake, made by many in this controversy, to deny either of these views.

Using the Sacred

Much of the controversy that surrounds our mountain revolves around a few simple questions… Who defines what sacred means? What sacred means to me and what sacred means to you is often very different. Even within a group of adherents to a single faith the answer will often vary greatly. What can you and can you not do on a sacred site? Some believe that a sacred site should not be touched, or even entered. Others build great temples or shines over the site to which thousands or millions of people make a pilgrimage to visit.

Ancient and Modern
A radio telescope of the Very Long Baseline Array stands in the background of an ancient ahu atop Mauna Kea
In this controversy many have insisted that the mountain is sacred, thus any use is desecration. Yet the ancient Hawaiians did use this place. They built ahu, they mined for the hard stone prized for making adzes, tools that built the great ocean going waʻa. Is the top five hundred feet of the mountain sacred, or all of it? Are all of the homes and farms that dot the flanks of Mauna Kea a desecration? There is no simple answer here. Anyone who claims otherwise is not being truthful.

The Temple of Mauna Kea differs from other temples because it was not created by man. Akua built it for man, to bring the heavens to man. – Kealoha Pisciotta

“To bring the heavens to man”, is this not what the great telescopes do? Are these great instruments of science an appropriate use for this place? This would not be a question if there were other places where the view of the universe as clear as Mauna Kea. But such places are rare, and none quite so good as this mountain. This one place is unique, particularly suited for studying the heavens. Thus the clash of culture and science has been defined upon this mountain.

Yes, Mauna Kea is sacred. It is sacred for the honor and opportunity it provides us. Yes, Mauna Kea warrants the highest level of cultural sensitivity, but it should be a cultural sensitivity that respects and celebrates exploration of the universe and that is totally consistent with the historical record of Hawaiians and their search for knowledge. – Peter Apo

Continue reading “Using the Sacred”

Respecting the Sacred

I read every comment posted to DV, partly to moderate them. On a rare occasion I need to delete something that violates the rules. I also read them seriously, sometimes they contain something to think about, or even write about…

Mauna Kea Shadow
The shadow of Mauna Kea appears through the mist and haze at sunset

“People do not belong on the mountain if they don’t care about it’s sacredness.” – Anonymous comment on DarkerView

I will give whomever wrote this comment credit, he only asks that we care about the belief of others, not necessarily share them. This is an important distinction and a wise one. I have seen social media comments that take this much further, that claim an ownership of Mauna Kea and express the opinion that “haoles” should be excluded totally from the summit of Mauna Kea.

Personally, I think that anyone should be able to visit Mauna Kea, that no test for their personal beliefs should be necessary. The mountain does not belong to anyone one, or any specific group. It is a special place that belongs to all. It is important that we should care about the beliefs of others, to have some respect for those about us. But we need not share that belief.

Continue reading “Respecting the Sacred”

What about the ahu?

Ancient ahu dot the summit slopes of Mauna Kea. These stone shrines or altars are primarily found on the southern plateau near the adze quarry. There are dozens of sites scattered across the slopes, usually atop prominent rock outcroppings. The most typical structure is a stone pile or platform with a large upright stone at the center. A few sites have multiple uprights. The uprights are clearly carefully chosen, usually a long narrow pohaku.

An ancient ahu (shrine) atop Mauna Kea with Mauna Loa in the background
These ancient ahu are usually modest constructions, none exhibiting the fine stonework visible in the heiau and other religious sites across the islands. The harsh weather of Mauna Kea has taken its toll, often the stones are scattered, the upright has fallen.

There is one modern ahu that has been around for a while, sometimes. At the very summit of the mountain an ahu can usually be found. Apparently there is some disagreement about the presence of this ahu. I have seen the stones scattered, I have seen the ahu reappear. When I first began working on Mauna Kea the summit this ahu had a lele, a simple wooden platform built over the ahu.

The current attention focused on Mauna Kea has seen a resurgence in the building of ahu as an act of protest. At least five have been built that I am aware of. Two at the TMT site, two in the middle of the gravel portion of the summit road, one alongside the summit road about halfway up the switchbacks.

These are typically much more substantial structures than the ancient sites. Actually quite well built, sometimes with local rock, at least one is built with rounded stream boulders brought from far below the summit. Unlike the ancient sites these new ahu are fairly standardized, a rock platform around 10-20 square feet in size with a single large upright at the center.

Ahu in the Road
An ahu built in the downhill lane of the Mauna Kea summit access road
What is the status of these sites? What about an ahu built in the middle of a road?

I think it is pretty clear that an ahu erected with ill intent is not sacred. The entire question of sacred or not sacred is a question of intent. Setting an ahu in the middle of the road is simply not pono. Whatever motive the builder may have, creation of such a structure it is still a malicious act, a serious risk to any who use the road. The builders knew this as they stacked the stones. An ahu like this should be removed, preferably by those who erected it.

The two ahu have been removed from the summit road. A third still exists, the one built on a level area beside one of the switchbacks above Hale Pohaku, not in the road. As far as I am aware the two built on the TMT site still exist, both in the roadway. Whether they are dismantled or allowed to remain is still an open question.