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Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege
A stunning new film of living history
Hawaii Island Journal
By Jack Kelly,June 16-30, 2004

The soon-to-be released film, “Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege,” helps bring the controversies surrounding Mauna Kea into focus and defines the interwoven concerns brought about by the massive development of telescopes and associated infrastructure at the summit of what is, to the kanaka maoli, the most sacred mountain in all Hawai’i.

The image-rich film is the work of Na Maka o ka ‘Aina producers Puhipau and Joan Lander of Na’alehu. In production for the last five years, the seed from which the film grew was planted long before. “It’s the culmination of thirty years of work,” says Puhipau. “That’s how long we’ve been involved in this mission and in filmmaking as well.”

“Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege” definitely comes from the Hawaiian activist perspective and makes no excuses about it.

“Our mission is to create change, to educate. We focus on the schools, on our keiki who are our future. When I was going to school, we were taught to be “white.” Then as an adult I got involved in Hawaiian issues and began to learn about what wasn’t taught to us. I began to learn about land evictions, and the desecration of our culture. I want to show the students of today what the truth is, so they don’t grow up all urbanized and forgetting from where they came.”

Partially funded by Pacific Islanders in Communications, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the one-hour documentary film will be offered to PBS. It will premiere June 20 at the Maui Film Festival. An additional grant came from [Native American Public Telecommunications and] the Hawai’i Community Foundation of Hawai’i Island.

Thirty Years of Strife

The battle for Mauna Kea is ongoing. At present she is being assaulted from several angles. Economic and military interests seem to rule the turf but their dominance is an illusion. There is something else going on here. A spiritual undercurrent that rumbles beneath the surface, rides on the wind, is firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of those warriors whose path is the preservation of cultural practice. Without an intact cultural landscape, the practice is endangered. Here the practice continues.

The film features a number of prominent Hawai’i Island kanaka maoli leaders who have been active in voicing their concerns about the myriad issues on the mountain while tirelessly advocating for their culture.

“Mauna Kea is a perfect example of [clashing] cosmologies,” said cultural practitioner Manu Meyer of Hilo. Two distinctly different mind sets. Hawaiian practitioners and some of the world’s foremost scientists clashing over the use of this sacred mountain.

“Mauna Kea is the first born,” said honored kupuna [Pualani Kanahele]. “It’s where the first sunlight in the morning hits. Because Mauna Kea is the first born, we must malama Mauna Kea.”

The film also explores the concerns of the environmental community, loss of habitat, endangered species and pollution of the aquifer, but it is clear that the presentation of Hawaiian spiritual perspective takes precedence over all others.

The juxtaposition of modern technology and ancient practice is brought to the fore in several scenes as Hawaiians and supporters conduct prayer vigils on the mountain, construct ahu and lele (shrines and altars) and give their ho’okupu (offerings) as the massive overbearing array of concrete domes that house billions of dollars worth of equipment loom in the near distance.


The scientists can’t fathom what the problem is. Their work has massive significance to all of mankind. They don’t understand why everyone can’t just get along. The scientists tell the Hawaiians, Your ancestors were master navigators with extremely high level of knowledge about the stars and heavens. That is the same kind of knowledge we are seeking. Let’s work together.

Hawaiians respond.

“So many of our navigators wished to be buried on Mauna Kea. Pu’u’s were leveled. We have no way of knowing if our burials were preserved.”

“The problem is not astronomy. It’s Mauna Kea. It is sacred.”

In 1968 the State of Hawai’i leased the summit of Mauna Kea to the University of Hawai’i to build an observatory. At that time the request for development was limited to three telescopes that were in place by 1970.

From the beginning, there was opposition from cultural as well as environmental interests. The film explores that opposition as it tells of the various phases of expansion on the mountain.

By the late 90s the summit had become one of the most developed peaks in the world.

Unique Environment, Abode of Poliahu

The high altitude areas above the tree line give the appearance of a barren, desolate landscape. Yet unique life forms abound in every little crack and pool of water.

Of course the most famous casualty is the wekiu bug that exists nowhere else on Earth.

As the film unfolds, featuring clips of contentious public meetings of the past, testimonials of many of the players, and footage of ongoing cultural practice, the viewer gets a sense of the tension that is growing between the parties. The activists continue to increase the level of pressure, while the University, the corporations and government go about their business. But the activists are not desperate. They are focused.

A definitive and captivating work, “Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege” skillfully weaves together its elements with stunning cinematography — gorgeous sunrise ceremonies, sweeping landscapes and close-ups of endangered animal life of the mountain, including palila and ‘i’iwi birds and wekiu bugs. Particularly intriguing are the unique shots of various sacred sites on the mountain that one might never see otherwise.

Na Maka o ka ‘Aina specializes in producing Hawaiian documentary and educational films, and a full catalog of videos can be viewed online at their web site, There are dozens of offerings in a variety of categories, from a new instructional hula video to a one-hour exploration of human rights, land titles and the Hawaiian Kingdom.

More than 80 programs produced by Na Maka o ka ‘Aina have been aired on Hawai’i Public Television, the Public Broadcasting Service, Deep Dish satellite network, Free  Speech TV, and Hawaii’s commercial stations. Their works has also been seen on television in Australia, Canada (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) and Japan.

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