On the Mauna Kea Mountain and Hawaiian Culture

Attendees and Mr. Lanakila Mangauil make a sing of solidarity for Mauna Kea

            On October 10, 2019, Utah Valley University (UVU) and its Multicultural Center’s Pacific Islander Initiative hosted Mr. Lanakila Mangauil, a speaker that instructed us on the situation of Mauna Kea mountain, Hawaiian culture and traditional hula dances.

As the name of the event, Mana’o Maunakea, implies the main focus was on learning more about the situation in Hawaii on the mountain Mauna Kea. This situation has a long history and is not just a recent event. The speaker informed us about the methods by which the United States took over the island nation and how this colonial attitude still pervades in the government today. In past years Hawaiian culture was outlawed and suppressed. This had allowed a colonial approach to the management of Hawaii to grow and become far more prevalent over the years.

Beginning in the 1970’s a movement of those in the younger generation began to push for a return to native Hawaiian culture. Since this movement began, the teaching of Hawaiian culture has increased on the islands and become allowed as opposed to historical restrictions.

The movement became key when construction projects began on the mountain of Mauna Kea. Due to its location, the mountain is a prime spot for astronomical research. Those involved in astronomy sought to construct telescopes on the mountain to aid in their research. The issue here is that the mountain is both a sacred and an ecologically important site for those in the region. This has not stopped many construction projects, in fact there are, as per the speaker, 13 telescopes already were built with a current project as another addition.

The Hawaiian people are already outraged at the existence of the telescopes and have filed legal complaints against further construction. Many of them refer to laws regarding the environment such as preventing permanent damage to vulnerable ecosystems. The telescope projects have violated many of these laws. The Hawaiian government however seem reluctant to move against outside construction and continues to allow any additional request.

Not only are the projects seen as a legal violation, but also as a violation of religious and cultural beliefs. Mauna Kea is a sacred place as it is seen as a connection from the world below to the world of higher gods above. Its name translated as the white mountain, but the word white has the connotation of being so pure that it is bright white. From this purity comes the waters from which the people on the mountain rely. They drink the water and the water feeds the plats from which they eat. The Hawaiian people are a people that live by sustainable living principles. The speaker spoke of fishing by “fours”, three days of feeding the fish and a fourth day catching them. They also clean and help the plant life prior to taking that which they need. If there is not enough for the wildlife to sustain growth, then they do not take. With the telescopes permanently damaging parts of the ecosystem, in a holy place as well, it is no wonder that the local people have been spurred into action.

Performing a native hula dance

            Those attending the event were not only taught about the Mauna Kea mountain, but also relatable elements of culture such as language and dance. The words of the Hawaiian language have deep significance as do the hula dances. These are not simple elements of the tourist economy but mean great and important things to the native peoples. These dances and their words were taught to us in attendance. As a person in the audience, I was able to participate in this native dance ritual with specific connections with Mauna Kea and thus developed a stronger connection and respect for the culture of the Hawaiian people. Afterwards, I was able to speak with the host and thank him for his time. This was a fantastic opportunity for multicultural learning combined with an engaged learning approach, and I thank the UVU faculty and university as a whole for making this possible.

 (R to L) Austin Meline with Mr. Lanakila Mangauil 

                Austin Meline, member of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University