Mauna Kea
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Shrines of Mauna Kea

NARRATOR: A complex of almost a hundred prehistoric shrines encircles the summit plateau. These shrines resemble those found on the older, uninhabited islands in the Hawaiian chain and those of far-away Tahiti. Was an ancient priesthood involved with these shrines, a priesthood whose knowledge was practiced throughout Polynesia?

excerpt
Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege

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The shrines of Mauna Kea, there are about five or six different types of shrines that I’m aware of. Some are definitively for the quarries and those who were taking stone from the sacred landscape.

There are those that mark the trail system. There are some that mark burial. And there are some that demark certain aspects and positioning for the heavens, the stars, the solstice alignments and equinox.

And some I believe demarcate the deities who were up here, like Ku and Hina alignments. And also some I think were meant to inform people of the lewa, or the level of the Wao Akua they were ascending.

I think we have a lot more to learn about what our ancestors knew. What our ancestors knew, we’re still learning today. And so we want these sites to be protected.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou
interview, Jan. 1, 2003

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Because of the profound interest of the Hawaiians in navigation, the stars, the planets, we believe that the discipline of architectural astronomy will reveal the place of astronomy in the ancient value system, the place that astronomy has in the intellectual and cultural organization of the Hawaiian past.

The discipline of architectural astronomy requires the study of the geophysical nature of the land and the heiau complexes, along with the mythology and the chants. It is part of Hawaiian imagination and history. It's this type of thing that needs intensive investigation by our best minds. And in this way we will find the cords that bind.

The heiau complexes complement a celestial plan. Often they are exact reflections on earth of the star constellations. They also are calendars for the seasons. If you orient the western wall of a heiau to 15 degrees east of north, the diagonal will automatically point to the summer solstice.

We feel very positive that the Hawaiians approached all valleys, all mountains and viewed them as a ceremonial landscape, a landscape they enhanced by building structures, a designed ceremonial landscape. That's why we cannot select single shrines or heiau and draw a little circle around them and say "save that." We look to the whole complex of shrines and heiau, because the complex is an integration of a culture and value system that has developed over centuries.

Francis Warther
Interview

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Based on field work undertaken between 1975 and 1997, a total of 93 archaeological sites have been identified in surveys covering approximately 3,000 acres, including the immediate summit ridge areas.

Of the 93 sites, 76 are shrines.

The most common of the archaeological features on Mauna Kea, shrines are characterized by the presence of one or more upright stones.

[Archaeologist Patrick] McCoy speculates that the simple shrines were built and used by small family groups and the larger, more complex structures were built and maintained by a priesthood.

A significant pattern is the virtual absence of archaeological sites at the very top of the mountain. McCoy states that the "top of the mountain was clearly a sacred precinct that must, moreover, have been under a kapu and accessible to only the highest chiefs or priests."

Most of the shrines in the Science Reserve are found on the northern and eastern slopes just above and below the 13,000 foot elevation. This pattern suggests that most of those who journeyed to the summit area came from the Hamakua and Hilo sides of the mountain.

Draft EIS
Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan

Appendix E
Mauna Kea Science Reserve Archaeological Site Inventory:
Formal, Functional, and Spatial Attributes

Patrick McCoy
1999

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A mysterious ring of prehistoric shrines encircles the top of Mauna Kea, suggesting a possible relationship between ritual and astronomy. But no ancient structures are found at the very summit itself. The area was considered kapu, too sacred to approach, used only as the burial grounds for the highest born. The summit of Mauna Kea is the dwelling place of our Gods and ancestors.

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[Archaeologist Ross] Cordy observed

Clearly, the historical and archaeological information indicate that this subregion of Hamakua was used repeatedly — for short periods of time — to extract special high elevation resources, bury the dead, and make offerings at the summit shrines to deities associated with the mountain.

Most striking, archaeologists have found small shrines encircling the summit of the mountain. Without adze material, these shrines seem not to be related to the slightly lower quarries. Rather, they seem connected to other deities associated with the mountain's highest reaches — where snow, storms and elevation sickness are most pronounced and where one can see over vast areas of the island...

This mountain is immense — and at its higher elevations, cold and harsh and awesome. The shrines — to now unknown deities — seem in an appropriate place. The quarriers [and others who visited the mountain heights] must have constantly felt the presence of the gods. [Cordy 1994:102-103]

excerpt 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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The quintessential characteristic of all the remains identified as shrines is the presence of one or more upright stones.

Kenneth Emory, who was the first one to describe the shrines on Mauna Kea and note their East Polynesian affinities, was of the opinion that the uprights represented or symbolized separate gods.

The adze makers, clinging to the ancient form of shrine at which to approach their patron gods, have preserved a most important link with their ancestral home…The Hawaiian dictionary describes ‘eho as "a collection of stone gods" and this is the term which the Tuamotuans, the neighbors of the Tahitians, used to designate the alignment of upright stones on the low and narrow platform at their maraes, or sacred places. (Emory 1938:22)

Sir Peter Buck [referred to] the architecturally simpler and generally smaller structures as shrines (kuahu). Some of the larger, more complex structures McCoy called marae, following Emory, who had used this term to describe structures on the island of Necker that he believed bore close resemblance to the so-called "inland" type of Tahitian marae. Some of the stone remains in the Hawaiian Islands, including those on Necker and Mauna Kea, do in fact appear to more closely resemble some of the simpler forms of marae in Tahiti and the Tuamotus than any known form of Hawaiian heiau.

While a few shrines could date to perhaps as early as AD 700-800, most were probably constructed at a later time, coinciding with the rise in population and intensification of adze manufacture in the adze quarry circa AD 1400-1600.

Mauna Kea Science Reserve Archaeological Site Inventory: Formal, Functional, and Spatial Attributes
Patrick McCoy
1999
DRAFT EIS - Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
Appendix E

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RECOMMENDATIONS
The number and density of archaeological remains on the north slope of Mauna Kea above the 13,000-ft elevation far exceed previous expectations. The results of the present survey form the basis for predicting the existence of other unrecorded sites of the same type in this area.

Excerpt from
Cultural Resources Reconnaissance of the Mauna Kea Summit Region

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Documentation found in native traditions, historic accounts, and oral history interviews...and the presence of cultural features on the ground all speak to the uniqueness of, and significance of Mauna Kea. Yet, while there is much that has been recorded, there is more that remains unanswered. Thus, it is in this light, that wise use of, and care for Mauna Kea takes on a greater urgency in these times of change.

excerpt 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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