There's No 'Hawaiian View' on the Thirty Meter Telescope

Bronson Kaahui

Polynesians were among the world’s greatest explorers, mastering the science of celestial navigation, which allowed them to explore and colonize the world’s largest ocean at a time when most European vessels dared not venture beyond sight of land.

This is an extraordinary achievement that cemented Polynesian culture’s place in world history, beyond all comparison to any contributions made by its religious/superstitious beliefs.

Ancient Hawaiian religious beliefs were not as impressive from a historical viewpoint as our ancestors’ real-world application of the science of astronomy — not by a long shot. Every culture has superstitious beliefs, but not every culture discovered America and brought back sweet potatoes in the first millennium. Not every culture conquered the vast Pacific Ocean.

It was science, not the irrational fear of pagan deities and inanimate objects, that brought Polynesians to Hawaii.

The kapu system represented the absolute authority the ali‘i had over the people, including the power over life and death. Using this religion as a form of mind control, the ali‘i and the priestly class were able to trick the commoners into accepting their rule as legitimate, since “mana” granted semi-divine status to mere mortals.

Of course, the ali‘i used this system to their own personal benefit, and this absolute political power was rife with routine abuse. Revolts were extremely uncommon, and when they did occur, the old ali‘i simply was replaced by a new one.

Their brutal treatment of maka‘ainana under this system is well documented, and like the class systems of other cultures, was used as a form of control to ensure power always remained with the inbred noble caste. The ali‘i continued their endless feudal wars for centuries until one man — Kamehameha The Great — finally won this “Game of Thrones” by quickly adopting the science and technology of gunpowder.

Readily accepting the rapid changes being made to Hawaiian society by Western contact, Kamehameha gladly used Western technology to his benefit while simultaneously refusing to abolish the class system that granted him legitimacy and brought him to power in the first place.

Today, we have a new generation of Hawaiians who insist on resurrecting the old gods and superstitious beliefs that were used by the elites of Hawaiian society to oppress and subjugate the common people.

They claim to represent the wishes of our ancestors, but for whom exactly are they speaking?

There is no evidence, historical or otherwise, to suggest our ancestors would have opposed the construction of a device that would have allowed them to see stars that they have never seen before.

Indeed, there is no historical evidence to suggest our ancestors were opposed to any new technology of any kind.

I’ve scoured the historical record and I have been unable to find any instances where Hawaiians were against science and technology en masse. This new movement appears to be an entirely novel concept, but where is it coming from?

Neo-Luddism and New Age spiritualism, imported directly from California and the mainland, have combined with certain aspects of Hawaiian culture to form a new religion/culture. This new anti-science movement is opposed to all kinds of beneficial technologies, from telescopes, to genetic engineering, and even vaccines.

Many Hawaiians, economically disadvantaged and lacking a proper education, fall victim to these kinds of ideologies because they offer the promise of “ancient knowledge” as a solution to modern problems.

This highly idealized version of history is extremely popular with many Hawaiians. But this neo-Luddite view is ahistorical and ignores what life really was like before contemporary history, and what life really was like under the kapu system for the vast majority of kanaka maoli.

Hawaiians, like all people, are a diverse group of individuals. There is no “Hawaiian view” on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) any more than there is a “haole view” on the issue or a “Maui view.” The protesters atop Mauna Kea represent one particular aspect of Hawaiian culture while entirely ignoring the rich tradition of scientific exploration that brought Polynesians here in the first place.

There are some Hawaiians, such as myself, who identify more with the scientific heritage of our culture rather than the religious/superstitious aspect, but our views are often shouted down by the extremely vocal protesters.

It is for this reason I feel compelled to speak up in defiance of the threats of social isolation leveled at me by the protesters.

Some have claimed I am not Hawaiian because I do not support their ahistorical, ad hoc interpretations of Hawaiian culture.

Some have even threatened me with death for daring to speak out against their religion — in true kapu fashion. Others claim I am “out of touch” with Hawaiian culture, and should “consult my kupuna.”

I have, and my kupuna taught me to think independently, logically and never to blindly follow the crowd. Therefore, I categorically reject the assertion that our ancestors would be opposed to the construction of the TMT.

I believe our ancestors welcomed change and an end to the superstitious beliefs of the kapu system that kept them subjugated and oppressed for centuries.

Bronson Kaahui is a Maui blogger who describes himself as “a libertarian activist, science advocate, and skeptical believer (the irony!).” His blog can be found at BronsonKaahui.com. This column was republished with his permission.

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