My Turn: Maunakea can be beacon for us, other countries

While TMT has earned the legal right to proceed with its construction on Maunakea, we would all be wise to respect the mana and sentiments of the people who have assembled en masse to block TMT from moving forward. This spiritual force of Native Hawaiian unity for ancestral teachings, cultural respect, social justice and to permanently halt the TMT project is a peaceful and well-executed plan.

The mission-messaging from the protectors to the general public is clear, concise, consistent and awesome. Essentially, the law and order upon which our civil society is reliant has been supplanted, for now, by a socio-cultural phenomenon and vision of Hawaii’s future – a future where we as Native Hawaiians assert the inherent right to self-determination.


This political force is resounding on Maunakea and throughout the state, thus producing the current quandary that must be resolved for the well-being of Native Hawaiians and for Hawaii as a whole.

Consider the power that Maunakea has demonstrated in convening one of the largest sustained gatherings of Native Hawaiians in generations. Consider also the majesty of Maunakea that has convened the nations of the world at the summit. At this time, I would encourage the dedicated array of leaders in Native Hawaiian nation-building to assess the presence today of research institutions, philanthropic organizations and sovereign governments from these nations: Canada, France, United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Japan, China, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan and India.

While some Native Hawaiian leaders are intent on eradicating all modern astronomy and telescopes from Maunakea, I now call upon other leaders to imagine and examine alternative scenarios to innovate the future. Imagine a Native Hawaiian nation-state as the host-convener of this international assembly, that as an institutional body, would be educated in Hawaiian cultural protocol, cross-cultural protocols and ethical research.

The assembly would be comprised of all 14 nations, each with representatives from the fields of indigenous knowledge, traditional practices, place-based education, comparative religion, the humanities and the arts, astronomy, physics, and policymaking. Properly designed and implemented, this united assembly of nations could provide a transformative forum at global scale for a unified Native Hawaiian leadership collective, as well as a platform to resume the international diplomacy once practiced by the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Kamehameha the Great is a major inspiration on many fronts, to include, the application of advanced technologies. Upon witnessing the function and effectiveness of the cannon for the first time – we can imagine with a high level of certainty that Kamehameha did not turn to his ranking chiefs and say, “We need more wooden spears!”

To the contrary, he immediately integrated this new weapon’s technology to fortify his mission of unifying our islands. Personally, I believe that if Kamehameha was with us today, he would recognize that modern astronomy could be catalytic in the revival of a Hawaiian leadership tradition and mindset; thus, calling for better land stewardship practices and a smart growth plan for the Science Reserve on Maunakea.

Kamehameha’s grasp of Maunakea being the pre-eminent center of astronomy in the world would undoubtedly translate into geopolitical and economic development strategies through a masterful deployment of “soft power” diplomacy.

Living in Kona as a Native Hawaiian whose ancestral lineage is of Hawaii Island, I understand as many others do that Maunakea has profound mana. Maunakea has the spiritual authority and geophysical capability to dismiss astronomy at anytime, by self-generating seismic activity that would shatter the existing telescopes.

Instead, over the past 50 years, Maunakea has embraced this scientific research of the cosmos. The Science Reserve near its summit has emerged as the world’s pre-eminent center for astronomy and the discovery of new knowledge for the benefit of humankind. As keiki o ka aina (child of the land), I value the protection of the natural environment, Hawaiian cultural sites and the perpetuation of traditional practices and principles related to Maunakea, the piko of Hawaii Island and child of Papa (Earth Mother) and Wakea (Sky Father).

My fervent interest in perpetuating modern astronomy’s presence on Maunakea is rooted directly to my Hawaiian ancestral teachings and to the sacredness of our mountain. Maunakea reminds me of my late grandmother, who was hanai’d upon her birth in Kona.

In the Hawaiian cultural tradition of child adoption, or hanai, the ohana expands to include all the participant-parents, as opposed to the child becoming wholly separated from their birth parents. Later in grandma’s life, she and grandpa hanai’d a haole (Caucasian) couple from the mainland, who eventually relocated to Kona. The endearing Hawaiian term for grandmother is tutu and moopuna refers to a grandchild.

Respectfully, I’ll utilize this ohana context and imagery in sharing my closing observations and gut-feeling about Maunakea. Over the past 50 years, Tutu Maunakea has hanai’d 13 moopuna haole — 13 telescopes. There is historical knowledge of how Tutu Maunakea has raised and nurtured these moopuna by providing the finest conditions for their upbringing and existence.

Consider Tutu’s spiritual strength and the geophysical stature of her elevation, her slopes and contours that shape the flow of winds and the formations of clouds that, at times, enhances the darkness of the night sky, while inviting moisture in all forms from the heavens for the well-being of flora, fauna and human beings, alike. Three of the moopuna will be leaving Tutu’s house soon, while moopuna No. 14 (TMT) is struggling to make the climb — in a humbling ascent toward community-wide acceptance and a meaningful understanding of place, culture, sacredness and self-awareness.


Long before modern astronomy arrived in Hawaii, Maunakea embodied the spirit, language and traditions of a people whose origins are genealogically traced to the cosmos. Long after technological advancements render Earth-based telescopes obsolete, the spirit, language and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people will still be alive and flourishing on our sacred mountain. Malama pono.

John DeFreis is a resident of Kailua-Kona.