… So many of the anti-Mauna folks want to educate us about our history and our culture, but they have little to no clue what they are talking about. Kiaʻi mauna are often described as uneducated (google “uneducated” and “tmt” to see what I mean), but the anti-Mauna people have no problem spouting off about Hawaiian culture and history or even dismissing it without bothering to do any sort of research.
A good example of the kinds of stories they try to tell can be seen in how the TMT publicity machine has been trying to co-opt the stories of our own monarchs to use against us. A quote that the anti-Mauna folks keep bringing up is by Liliʻuokalani, our beloved queen, who according to them, said, “The ancient Hawaiians were astronomers.” Period. As if she were making a statement about astronomy. The quote actually comes from her translation of the Kumulipo, our cosmogonic genealogy that traces our relationship through a coral polyp and into the blackness of fertility and creation from which everything came. And it is actually just an introductory clause to a longer sentence, with the preceding sentence having bearing as well:
I have endeavored to give the definition of each name as far as it came within my knowledge of words, but in some cases this could not be done because the true signification has been lost. The ancient Hawaiians were astronomers, and the terms used appertained to the heavens, the stars, terrestrial science, and the gods.
What she was referring to is the fact that there were so many terms throughout the 2,000 line chant specific to certain lineages of knowledge that she didn’t know how to translate them all…
Her brother Kalākaua, who held the throne before her, is also a great favorite of the anti-Mauna people because he was avowedly pro-Western science. And I agree that he was. He seemed to delight in all of the wonders of technology. He visited the Lick Observatory (which was 25ft in diameter and two stories high, if you were wondering), where they set up the telescope for him to look through even though the building wasn’t completed yet. He wanted an observatory for Hawaiʻi (and bought a permanent telescope that was put not on a mountaintop, but at Punahou School in Mānoa Valley). He proposed a trans-Pacific cable. He even built a model of the Nautilus from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. What the TMT people don’t mention, or likely understand, is Kalākaua’s staunch commitment to Hawaiian traditional practices. He was a keen supporter of hula, which was still being touted in his time as one of the reasons for the decline of the Hawaiian population by people like Sereno Bishop. He had traditional mele performed at his coronation, which resulted in a court case overobscenity in the printed program. He granted licenses for traditional healers to practice lāʻau lapaʻau, for which he was also critiqued by the horrified Western medical establishment.
One of the more controversial moves he made was to dare to combine and reconcile Western scientific knowledge and Hawaiian cultural and practical knowledge in the society known as the Hale Nauā. The Constitution of the Hale Nauā, made up of men and women, a rarity at the time, stated that “the object of this society is the revival of Ancient Science of Hawaii in combination with the promotion and advancement of Modern Sciences, Art, Literature, and Philanthropy.” What that meant in practice was that they recorded and tried to revive traditional Hawaiian arts and practices that were disappearing, studied genealogy, and kept up with breakthroughs in Western science and tried to reconcile them with Hawaiian values and beliefs. They put on lectures and exhibits about traditional culture and corresponded with other scientific associations around the world. Most rational people would probably view these acts as that of an educational and beneficent society, yet Kalākaua’s detractors interpreted all of this to mean that the society was “an agency for the revival of heathenism, partly to pander to vice, and indirectly to serve as a political machine. Enough leaked out to intensify the general disgust that was felt at the debasing influence of the palace.”
Hawaiians attempting to revive and practice their own traditions, blending them with what they wanted from Western science and literature was so threatening to the established order, that some even felt the Hale Nauā was one of the reasons for the overthrow in 1893. The criticisms of the Hale Nauā also changed distinctly in characterover time. Before the 1930s, critics only made fun of the society’s aims, but after, they derided the Hale Nauā for its scientific shortcomings in regards to the geologic age of the planet. What strikes me as funny is that, yes, the Hale Nauā miscalculated the age of the Earth in 1886, but Western science hadn’t figured it out either until 1926, and their previously accepted guesses were off by several orders on their own!
Having said all this, I hope it might be a little clearer how egregious an act of appropriation it is for the anti-Mauna people to have bandied back and forth the following quote from Kalākaua for years. You can even see it below on their “informational” website specifically focused on Mauna Kea and the TMT.
What the quote is referring to is Kalākaua’s excitement about the 1874 expedition that had arrived in Hawaiʻi for the transit of Venus. It is meant to show that Kalākaua’s support of the expedition and the telescope that they brought with them would translate today into support for the TMT on Mauna Kea.
If we do even a little research, we can find this picture of the telescope that George Tupman, a Captain in the Royal Marine Artillery and the expedition’s leader, used to observe the transit, and…well…it’s little.
It was set up with all of their other equipment in what was essentially a backyard adjoining a house rented from Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani in ʻĀpua, an area just seaward of Kawaiahaʻo Church, where the shoreline used to be (Chauvin 195). There were also two small supplemental observation stations, one in Waimea, Kauaʻi, and one in Kailua, Kona. The TMT, on the other hand, is proposed to be 184ft tall and is going to cover 1.44 acres just with the buildings, and a 5-acre footprint when completed…
Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada believes in the power and potential of ea, of life, of breath, rising, of sovereignty, because he sees it all around him, embodied in the ʻāina, the kai, his family, his friends, and his beautiful community. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, focusing on translation theory. He is currently editor of the journal Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being, and works as a Hawaiian-language editor and translator.