Maunakea in Hawaiian Culture

The White Mountain

The snow covered summit area at dusk

Visiting Maunakea is an adventure—one that allows us to step back in time in the realm of the gods of the Hawaiian people. In the stars, astronomers can trace the ancient history of the universe. But we Hawaiians go to Maunakea in search of our mana—divine power—in a quest to understand our ancient spiritual connections. On the mountain we can feel the close relationship between heaven and earth. People of many nations say that it is a sacred place for them also, where they experience awe and reverence as we do.

As a Hawaiian cultural practitioner and caretaker of the mountain, I am often asked how visitors should conduct themselves on Maunakea. I suggest they say a silent prayer, take a gentle moment for greeting the mountain, and then walk with respect on our sacred place of worship. I share how we must malama the aina—take care of the land—take care of our people and preserve the culture.

We Hawaiians are fiercely proud of the accomplishments of our ancestors, who navigated the vast pacific ocean by the stars a thousand years before Galileo first pointed his telescope towards the heavens. Maunakea was a landmark for ancient navigators and is today a center for the evolving science of astronomy as we scope out our place in the universe.

As a ranger on Maunakea, I've enjoyed working with many astronomers, who are generally people of good will and from whom I have learned much about the stars. But despite all of their scientific accomplishments, I do feel that much more needs to be done to bring awareness of and respect for Hawaiian culture on the mountain. Science does play an important role in people's lives, but it is not everything. A spiritual connection is just as important. This is symbolized for modern Hawaiians by the humble stone and wood lele, the altar, at the summit.

I welcome you to Maunakea, also known as Mauna O Wakea—the mountain of the god Wakea, from whom all things in Hawaii are descended. Here you may experience and enjoy beautiful sunrises, sunsets and evening stargazing under the northern and part of the southern sky. But here, too, are preserved many magical wonders of the Hawaiian nation. We all need to continue to perpetuate are protect this land, as well as the legends and mythology passed down through the ages, for our own and future generations. We must all continue to be good stewards of this sacred mountain.

Mahalo nui loa, — James "Kimo" Kealii Pihana
Maunakea Ranger
Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner

James "Kimo" Kealii PihanaJames “Kimo” Kealiʻi Pihana

A traditional structure marks the true summit of MaunakeaA traditional structure marks the true summit of Maunakea