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Reviewed by:
  • Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege
  • Georganne Nordstrom
Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege, 56:40 minutes, VHS and DVD, color, 2004. Produced and Directed by Puhipau and Joan Lander. Distributed by Nā Maka o ka 'Äina. Information on price and ordering is available at <>

"Clashing Cosmologies." Manu Aluli Meyer uses these words to describe the conflict between Western scientists and Hawaiians regarding the use of Mauna Kea, the subject of the documentary Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege. The film articulates the opposing interests of scientists, who have built and wish to continue to build telescopes on the summit for scientific research, and Hawaiians, who want the sacredness of the mountain acknowledged and the abuses resulting from the telescopes and their use to stop. With music performed by Brother Noland and striking footage of the mountain—its majesty juxtaposed against the telescopes— this documentary not only captures the importance of Mauna Kea to the [End Page 207] Hawaiian people, but shows it as a symbol representing the larger controversy stemming from the differing values of the indigenous people of Hawai'i and Western settlers.

The film features many Native Hawaiian scholars and küpuna (elders), including Kealoha Pisciotta, Manu Meyer, Marie Solomon, and representatives from the Royal Order of Kamehameha, all of whom gave testimony about the cultural significance of Mauna Kea. The kūpuna and kumu, or teachers, recount (one of) the Hawaiian tradition(s) affirming that Mauna Kea is the piko (navel) of the first born of Papa and Wākea, and as such is a kupuna to Hawaiians. They clarify how this tradition fits in Native Hawaiian cosmology, explaining that Papa and Wākea are the earth mother and sky father for Hawaiians, and thus, Hawaiians have a familial relationship to the 'āina, or land. It seemed that many of us sitting in the audience the day I viewed the documentary were familiar with this tradition, and therefore, understood its significance. However, because of the lack of respect and understanding many westerners have for oral tradition and the role storytelling has in indigenous people's way of knowing who they are and where they come from, the full meaning of this tradition is often lost on those educated to value technology and scientific exploration above all else.

Yet it is through oral traditions, or mo'olelo, that Hawaiians know and understand Mauna Kea. One mo'olelo shared in the film is the story of Poli'ahu, the snow goddess, and Pele, the goddess of the volcano. The story tells how the two goddesses fought on the summit, with Pele eventually leaving Mauna Kea to Poli'ahu. While the volcano at Mauna Kea has not erupted for over four thousand years, showing that Pele has kept her promise, a specific kind of pōhaku (rock) resulted from the heating and cooling that occurred during battle between these two goddesses. Hawaiians found this pōhaku perfect for making ko'i (adzes). Mauna Kea is home to numerous archeological sites, of which this ancient adze quarry is but one.

Representatives from the Royal Order of Kamehameha also spoke to the cultural importance of the summit—but I question whether the significance of the order is appreciated other than by those who understand the order's legacy. Dressed in their regalia, I wonder if to outsiders they appear to be just another tourist attraction. Since the historical context of this group, its lineage, and its purpose, were not discussed (other than mentioning that the order honored the present-day princess of Japan's grandfather with honorary membership under the reign of King Kalākaua), I imagine the impact of their presence and words was lessened for those unfamiliar with Hawaiian tradition.

Alongside the mo'olelo and Hawaiian tradition, Hawaiian scholars—those educated mostly in Western institutions and who can speak in ways westerners respect, including biologists and entomologists—discuss the desecration of this wahi pana (sacred place), and the negative ecological impact the telescopes have [End Page 208] had on the summit. Numerous plants and animals now sit on the verge of extinction due to deforestation and traffic at the summit. Images of the mountain—some picturing...