A buddy of mine forwarded a story by Rachel Crane and Claudia Morales, writing for CNN, entitled “Science and Religion Fight Over Hawaii’s Highest Point.” At issue is whether a huge telescope is going to get built on top of Mauna Kea. Whatever the final outcome for the telescope, some excellent Mauna Kea protest music has been made. See, e.g.:
I became aware of the controversy when we visited Hawaii this past June. Generally speaking, Mauna Kea is up really, really high in an isolated pocket of the Pacific Ocean. Conditions for astronomy are, it’s my understanding, basically unparalleled. The problem is that the same geographic factors that make the mountain ideal for astronomy also, pretty much inevitably, made the mountain sacred to the people who first stumbled upon the Hawaiian Islands.
To native Hawaiians, the dormant volcano is the most sacred land in the entire Pacific. It is the point where the sky and earth meet. They believe it is the site of the genesis of their people, and it is the burial ground for their most revered ancestors. Considered a temple and a house of worship, native Hawaiians believed the gods created Mauna Kea for them to ascend to the heavens.
To scientists, the mountaintop is the best location in the world to observe the stars and study the origins of our universe.
“The summit of Mauna Kea may, in fact, be the darkest site anywhere in the world … which of course means you can see deeper into space,” said Doug Simons, executive director at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. The CFHT sits with 12 other telescopes on top of the mountain.
There are battles afoot, both in the courts of law and of public opinion, to determine whether a new, enormous, 30 meter telescope will be installed. At first blush, to me, it’s a no brainer because – on the one hand – it’s not my religion and not my island, on the other hand, the advancement of scientific knowledge, particularly in the field of astronomy, is awesome. However, beyond my initial, personal priorities, there is more than a whiff of imperialism at work here with Western imperatives at odds with local preferences.