Article in scientific journal lauds UH Hilo astronomy center’s focus on indigenous knowledge

An article recently published in the online journal Nature Astronomy applauds the ability of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center to intersect indigenous knowledge with astronomy.

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center exterior and gardens.
‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

About 100,000 visitors trek to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center each year. The center’s mission of educating the public on parallels between Hawaiian culture and western science is earning international recognition.

An article recently published in Nature Astronomy applauds ‘Imiloa’s ability to intersect indigenous knowledge with astronomy. The journal highlights the need for astronomical institutions to partner with indigenous communities, especially when native lands are involved. It also stresses the need for astronomers and native communities to collaboratively establish communication protocols before scientific facilities are developed.

‘Imiloa Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura co-authored the article and hopes it will drum up more attention to cultural issues mounting within the field. “For this article on indigenous knowledge integration to be published, it raises the level of awareness to the importance of inclusion which hopefully results in greater diversification in scientific research,” she explains. Nature is one of the most recognized science journals in the world.

Ka‘iu sits in the middle of mosaic which depicts voyaging canoes in swirling waves, with stars above.
Ka‘iu Kimura sits in the middle of mosaic at the Imiloa Astronomy Center.

The article spotlights the success of ‘Imiloa’s A Hua He Inoa project, which demonstrates how Hawaiian language or ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i is merging with scientific knowledge. The project gives Hawaiian speaking students an opportunity to name astronomical discoveries made on Maunakea.

“We are perpetuating traditional Hawaiian naming practices to give life and identity to the celestial bodies we count as part of our extended ‘ohana—family,” explains Kimura. “By bringing ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i to the forefront of Maunakea astronomy, we keep the history of the mountain and our culture alive, while also bringing deeper cultural meaning to the scientific progress we have made in recent years. There is so much more to be done.”

Kimura made her voice heard when she addressed 2,000 world-class astronomers in Seattle this past January at the American Astronomical Society conference. She was part of a keynote presentation about telescopes on Haleakalā and Maunakea discovering the first known interstellar object passing through the solar system. The odd object was eventually given the Hawaiian name ‘Oumuamua, which means “first scout or messenger from a distant place.” Kimura’s message earned a standing ovation after she highlighted ‘Imiloa’s mission of merging culture with astronomy to inspire more students to love science.

‘Imiloa plans to host more culturally based scientific summits for both teachers and students. There is also interest in developing curriculum based on discoveries and Hawaiian names.


-Story by Moanikeʻala Nabarro, UH System News.