Worshipers at the Temple of Science claim it is anti-constitutional for native people to believe that Mauna Kea is desecrated by building an eighteen-story telescope atop that volcano. This viewpoint shows a lack of understanding of, and respect for, the desperate need of Hawaiian people to preserve their culture and destiny after decades of destruction of Hawaiian lands. It is not an attack on science.
Suppression of the Hawaiian culture began in 1820 when missionaries arrived and decreed that Hawaiian culture and language, the hula, mele, oli, chants, and songs were immoral, lewd, and pagan. They ignored the oral tradition of communicating history and values by stories of daring voyages, brave leaders, the beauty of nature, hula, mele and oli, and communal living. They condemned the story telling and it ended. This suppression continued until the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s.
Key to Hawaiian culture is the fundamental belief that the land is a living thing. It nurtures you, takes care of you, and you must take care of it. It’s part of your ohana, family. Historically, colonizers throughout the world made sure that native people became landless, cutting the connection that indigenous people have with the land and nature. Hawaiians lost their land to the colonizers.
Colonizers also know that suppression of native language is key to subjugating a native people. Look at Hawaii. After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, they banned the use of the Hawaiian language (Act 57, section 30 of the 1896 Laws of the Republic of Hawaii). This law led to the suppression of native newspapers unfavorable to the new government, and the end of teaching Hawaiian language in schools.
Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond in his classic book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, describes how cultures with advanced weaponry and disease immunities easily overcame native peoples. The decline of the Hawaiian society fits the pattern. Guns made King Kalakaua a puppet of the sugar plantation interests. Guns ended the Hawaiian monarchy. Germs reduced a robust society of as many as 600,000 native people to 40,000 by the end of Liliuokalani’s reign.
When annexation and the Organic Act created the Territory, the Hawaiian people received nothing because no government existed to protect them nor categorize them as the indigenous people of the eight islands of the archipelago. Unlike some North American tribes on the continent no treaty was enacted.
As Queen Liliuokalani said: “The people of the islands have no voice in determining their future but are… relegated to the condition of the aborigines of the American continent.” The Hawaiians became a subjugated ethnic group facing extinction. Unable to trust foreigners many withdrew into what academics call ‘cultural safety’ where the value system is ohana, family, kupuna, elders, and the Hawaiian Way.
There are more than 370,000,000 indigenous people on this planet. (Word Health Organization, 2010). Many have suffered loss of their culture and ethnic identity by guns, germs, and steel inflicted on them by colonizers. Humanitarians, concerned about this ethnocide or cultural genocide, sought help from the United Nations to halt this steady dehumanization of native people.
In response, the United Nations issued a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007). The resolution seeks to prohibit states from taking actions that will deprive native people of their identity as distinct people and their cultural values.
In the 1970s dispossessed Hawaiian farmers in the Kalama Valley, Oahu, awakened young people to the loss of their land, culture and language. (Until then the true Hawaiian story had been submerged.) This Hawaiian Renaissance taught that ancestors were not ignorant savages.
At a time when Europeans were barely able to navigate the Mediterranean Sea, Polynesians had crisscrossed the Pacific in small wooden canoes without metal instruments because they understood the skies and ocean. Before Columbus limped across the Atlantic using compass and sextant, Hawaiian way finders had already established a growing society using knowledge of the stars, currents, and other natural guides to travel the Pacific.
These ancestors housed, fed, clothed, and kept healthy, hundreds of thousands of people using wood and stone implements and ingenuity. Following the Hawaiian Renaissance movement other indigenous people sought to protect cultural values and sacred lands. The young Sioux efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing sacred land, for example.
Why should we care about protecting cultural values? Lose your culture, you lose your identity. You dehumanize ethnic people and they have no value. They lose their will to survive.
Recently, a presidential candidate said a key issue for the future is the replacement of the worker by robots and artificial intelligence. The advance of science is so swift that Moore’s law is a reality. Computers last for two years before they become obsolete and are replaced.
On Mauna Kea science wants to build another observatory which will take 10 years. A monster, 18-stories high. Are the other 12 obsolete? If Moore’s law has meaning in the astronomy world, then in two years will another larger and better telescope need to be built on Mauna Kea? Surely science that is advancing so rapidly can find another alternative to study the heavens than building this telescope on Mauna Kea. Perhaps a better Hubbell telescope?
Indigenous people fear loss of identity through loss of culture. Because of the rapid advance of science should all humans fear the same thing? Read the literature. Today the cyborg, half mammal and half machine, is approaching reality. With robots, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, humans are not needed. Scoff! Yes, but consider that could happen. Where do you draw the line between preservation of identity as a human and science?
I believe in the importance of science. It has done wondrous things for humankind. But there is a point where science must find an alternative to striking down the cultural beliefs of native people essential to giving them a sense of well-being and safety. Because Hawaiians have had no avid spokespeople in government nor treaty rights with America, protection of cultural rights must rely on reasonable protest.
The governor’s rush to order troops to quell peaceful protesters was an open adoption of plantation-style control where, in the past, they shot strikers. The protectors of the Mauna are not “lawless, violent, (causing) riots” as the governor claims. They are peacefully protecting their cultural values in the only way available to Hawaiians.
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green got it right when on Mauna Kea he said, “It is time for reconciliation with Hawaii’s host culture.”
I am a believer in science but not a worshiper at its temple. When culture and science meet head on, I choose culture. None of the Hawaiian objectors are saying such a telescope should not be built anywhere. As a half-Hawaiian I might be accused of bias but I also support science.
Destruction of a culture should not be an option for scientists. I hope others will feel the same way. I believe that where science has an alternative to bulldozing a cultural belief, science should choose the alternative: the Canary Islands welcomes the telescope.
Bill Fernandez is a former attorney, judge and mayor, is an author and is a resident of Kapaa.