Hawaiian Culture: Mauna Kea Protesters

Stood their ground


When the first protesters blockaded the road leading to the summit of Mauna Kea in an effort to stop construction of a gigantic new Thirty Meter Telescope, many thought they were tilting at windmills. After all, this $1.4 billion international science project had been in the works for years. But over the course of 2015, the blockade became the most galvanizing movement for the Native Hawaiian community since the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana stopped the Navy’s target practice in the 1970s.


Determined Hawaiian cultural practitioners occupied Mauna Kea for months on end, blocking the path of construction vehicles, braving the elements and constantly uploading updates to social media with the hashtag #WeAreMaunaKea. The cause went viral, spreading around the world and then some.


“Honestly, without social media we wouldn’t have this much support, this movement wouldn’t be as big as it is now,” says Mauna Kea Hui core member Ku‘uipo Freitas, who was responsible for documenting and posting from the protectors’ perspective.


For the Hawaiians locking arms on the mountain, the action was under a kapu aloha, an order of restraint to act with only kindness, love and empathy.


Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, one of the leaders of the Mauna Kea Hui, says, “An idea of kapu being the mandate to uphold all of the qualities and understandings of what it is to show aloha … trying to speak eloquently and intelligently. You can be passionate but not be vulgar. Basically acknowledging that we understand that ‘aloha’ means ‘love,’ but going beyond that, we share life with everyone we’re in contact with.”


In early December, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court rescinded the TMT’s building permits, halting all construction and requiring a return to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to seek another permit. No matter what side of this debate you fall on, it’s impossible to deny the ruling was a resounding victory for the protesters.


Mangauil says the fight isn’t over. “We can’t stop, we can’t just go home now and let things just be. We need to bring our cultural practices to the forefront … because it’s unique and very important for the survival of not only our people, but our very Islands as well.”