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Stop Addressing Science and Culture as if They Are Separate Concepts

By Keahi Warfield, President of Perpetuating Unique Educational Opportunities, Inc. (PUEO) and Richard Ha, PUEO Board Member (orginally published in Star-Advertiser under title “Mauna Kea’s Future” June 28, 2017 with additions from Dan Ahuna)

We were all so moved to watch the Polynesian Voyaging Society canoe Hōkūle‘a sail home from its amazing, three-year, educational Mālama Honua trip around the world. But that’s not the end, not of their journeys nor of other explorations and discoveries.

There is so much more to learn, including from atop Maunakea, above the cloud line, where everything down below – Hilo, Kona, Waimea – falls away and you can peer into the universe. The telescopes are of great value. Through them, we look back in time just as the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation chant) takes us back to darkness.

Instead of the telescopes being Maunakea’s focal point, though, let’s create a cultural center there above the clouds – a center truly devoted to Hawaiians and our culture, one with Hawaiian architecture, values and tradition built into the design by cultural practitioners. It will honor the vastness of the Hawaiian culture in a way we aren’t currently doing.

Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim calls this idea of a “World Park” upon Maunakea a “living museum of the people of the First Nation of Hawai‘i” and “an opportunity for Hawai‘i to be the center of discovery of mankind and of the universe.” Governor David Ige also supports this idea.

The number of visitors to Maunakea keeps increasing each year, and by not providing a place that truly respects and shares our indigenous knowledge to educate, we are marginalizing our very own Hawaiian culture.

Today, visitors heading up the mountain stop at the Visitor Information Station at Hale Pōhaku to learn what they can about Maunakea. But Hale Pōhaku was designed as a place for astronomers to eat and sleep, and its tourist offerings are only an afterthought. Because of this, it doesn’t offer as much as it could for visitors, and not nearly enough that is relevant to Hawaiian culture. Why?

It seems that a shift in perspective and mindset is taking place for the future of science and culture upon Maunakea. We need to stop addressing science and culture as if they are separate concepts. This idea is foreign to our Hawaiian ancestors as they were holistic in their understandings, a value that is definitely something to revitalize.

Some people say we should create nothing more and leave the mountain alone. But that isn’t tradition on Maunakea. In addition to using the mountain for astronomy, during the warmer months, Hawaiian workers traveled up to and perhaps stayed at the adze quarry, between 8,600 and 13,000 feet, where they obtained and manufactured basalt for tools. On the lower elevations, bird-catchers, canoe carvers, warriors, and other practices and specialties flourished, as they do today, in their own ways and usage of the environment.

Astronomy is just one part of the mountain and our culture; it’s not the entire story. Just imagine a cultural center, providing education and employment opportunities for native Hawaiians as cultural consultants. As for the Hawaiian language and culture specialists that fill our talented local college campuses, what other options do they have to choose from? How can they share the important picture of Hawaiʻi so visitors and the general public alike understand why Maunakea is so important to us? The next generation of ʻōiwi leaders and educators are the navigators. The indigenous people of these islands shall not be forgotten.

A Hawaiian cultural center above the clouds on Maunakea would be a place to represent our Hawaiian culture in a way we are not even close to doing now.

PUEO is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing educational opportunities for Hawai‘i’s youth and their communities.