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Mauna Kea = "White Mountain"?

Mauna Kea is often translated literally as "white mountain" because of the snow that covers its summit. But Mauna Kea is a short version of Mauna a Wakea, a name that connects it to the sky father, Wakea.

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This is Mauna a Wakea. The mountain belongs to Wakea. It doesn't belong to you. It doesn't belong to me. It belongs to Wakea.

You and what you want to do with it doesn't matter. Me and what I want to do with it doesn't matter. The mountain is sacred. It is Wakea. It is not Mount Joe. It is not Mount Kilroy. It is Mauna a Wakea.

Pualani Kanahele
Kumu Hula, Educator
testimony at public meeting on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May 1999

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In our story of creation, Wakea is the broad expanse, the sky father, partner to Papahanaumoku, earth mother, who gave birth to the islands. Hawai’i island is their hiapo, or eldest child. And Mauna Kea is that child’s piko, or navel. Because of its place in our genealogies, Mauna Kea is a kupuna, an ancestor.

excerpt from
Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege

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Mauna Kea. It means way more than “white mountain.”
Mauna Akea, Mauna a Wakea, Mauna Kea. There are multiple names.

Mauna a Wakea. Wakea, our Sky Father, the highest point in the Pacific is right here.

And you get that sense of Akea, that expansiveness of a mountain. And in that expansiveness, I believe totally, it educates us. It educates me to think more expansively, to live more expansively. Mauna Akea.

Manu Aluli Meyer
Philosopher of Education

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When I spoke with kupuna about Mauna Kea, some of them believed that the name shouldn't be translated literally "white mountain."

Mauna Kea, not just simply the "white mountain" because it's periodically snow-covered. But that it is Mauna Akea, Ka Piko a Wakea. The summit, the piko that ties this earth to Wakea, the God father who is the sky.

They see it as the piko kaulana o ka ‘aina, the famous peak, summit of the land. But that peak, or piko, is also what we would call navel or belly button. It's that which connects you back to the generations preceding you.

‘Aha ho’owili mo’o, this line, this cord that connects the Hawaiian people from these lands, from these islands, which were the children of the gods or creative forces of nature, back to their cosmic origins.

Not just "white mountain." The mountain of Wakea, the progenitor of the Hawaiian race.

Kepa Maly
Cultural Historian and Resource Specialist
Kumu Pono Associates
testimony to Hawai’i Island Burial Council

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Mauna Kea is known world wide and is regarded by many as the highest island mountain, the highest mountain in the world from below sea level and the best mountain from which outer space can be viewed. To the native Hawaiian Mauna Kea is a Kupuna and an one hanau and therefore is very personal and not just a mountain mass.

The popular interpretation of Mauna Kea is "white mountain."

White mountain is very descriptive and literal translation of the mountain, however the mountain is afforded dignity and a sense of family to be named in honor of Wakea or Sky Father.

Wakea; the original father of all Polynesians, known also as Sky Father, thought to be the god of light, and husband of Papa.

When considering the mountain as a namesake of Wakea it takes on that persona and philosophically it personalizes the mountain giving it deep roots and a genealogy. The genealogy goes back to the "Wakea of time" or the beginning. Therefore "Ka Mauna a Kea" or "Mauna Kea" allows the sacred and common name to assimilate without forgetting one or the other.

A Social Impact Assessment
Indigenous Hawaiian Cultural Values
of the Proposed Saddle Road Alignments
Kanahele, Pualani K. and Edward L.H. Kanahele 1997

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A native account recorded in the early twentieth century by historian Theodore Kelsey (c. 1920) also associates the name of Mauna Kea with the name Wakea -- kea was an abbreviated form of the name Wakea. Citing conversations with Mr. James A. Iokepa, a native of Hilo, Kelsey noted that he believed Mauna Kea commemorated Wakea (Mauna Kea being "Wakea's Mountain"). Genealogically, the height and prominence of Mauna Kea may be interpreted as the mountain being the eldest of the mountain siblings of Hawai'i, and as the eldest, all others look up to it and are subject to the elder's authority. (cf. Malo "Hawaiian Antiquities," p. 243; Kahu T. K. Reinhardt, personal communication, 10/2/96; and Pua Kanaka'ole Kanahele, A Hawaiian Cultural Assessment of the Proposed Saddle Road Alignments, 1997.)

Wakea, also written and pronounced as Akea and Kea, was the god-father of the island of Hawai'i. The island child was born by Papa or Haumea, the goddess who gave birth to islands.

In some genealogical chants, Mauna Kea is referred to as "Ka Mauna a Kea" (Wakea's mountain) and it is likened to the first-born of the island of Hawai‘i (Pukui and Korn 1973). A mele hanau (birth chant) for Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) describes Mauna Kea in this genealogical context:

O hanau ka mauna a Kea
Born of Kea was the mountain

‘Opu’u a’e ka mauna a Kea
The mountain of kea budded forth

‘O Wakea ke kane, ‘o Papa
Wakea was the husband, Papa

‘o Walinu’u ka wahine.
Walinu’u was the wife

Hanau Ho’ohoku he wahine
Born was Ho’ohoku, a daughter

Hanau Haloa he ali’i
Born was Haloa, a chief,

Hanau ka mauna, he keiki mauna na kea
Born was the mountain, a mountain-son of Kea

Many of the traditions of Mauna Kea are directly attributed to the interaction of gods with the land and people. In Hawaiian practice, elders are revered — they are the connection to one's past — and they are looked to for spiritual guidance. Because of its place in the Hawaiian genealogies, Mauna Kea, the landscape itself is a sacred ancestor.

excerpts from
Mauna Kea – Kuahiwi Ku Ha’o i ka Malie
A Report on Archival and Historical Documentary Research
Ahupua’a of Humu’ula, Ka’ohe, districts of Hilo and Hamakua, Island of Hawai’i
By Kepa Maly
©1997 Kepa Maly, Kumu Pono Associates and Native Lands Institute

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‘O Wakea Kahikoluamea ea
Wakea the son of Kahikoluamea

‘O Papa, Papa-nui-hanau-moku ka wahine
Papa, Papa-nui-hanau-moku the wife

Hanau o Kahiki-ku, Kahiki-moe
Kahiki-ku and Kahiki-moe were born

Hanau ke ‘apapanu’u
The upper stratum was born

Hanau ke ‘apapalani
The uppermost stratus was born

Hanau Hawai’i i ka moku makahiapo
Hawai’i was born, the first-born of the islands

Ke keiki makahiapo a laua
The first born child of the two

Wakea laua ‘o Kane
Of Wakea together with Kane

‘O Papa Walinu’u ka wahine
And Papa of Walinu’u was the woman

Tales and Traditions of the People of Old, Na Mo’olelo a ka Po’e Kahiko
Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau


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