Column: Mauna Kea: Spiritual development deserves same status as economic development
The literature on sacred places shows that they are a cross-cultural universal variously engaging billions of people.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
The literature on sacred places shows that they are a cross-cultural universal variously engaging billions of people. Sacred places may be natural and/or anthropogenic. Individual persons from diverse backgrounds may experience the same place as sacred. The locus of spirituality may be inherent in the place itself in addition to, or instead of, in the individual person (neurotheology). Most humans are in some ways and degrees spiritual, even some atheists (religious naturalism).
Evidence of spirituality extends back 30,000 years ago with Upper Paleolithic cave art, such as in Chauvet Cave in France. Furthermore, archaeologists and others who have had the privilege of visiting Chauvet report spiritual experiences, as illustrated in the film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”
Animism is a generic term for a belief in spiritual forces and beings in nature. It is by far the oldest and most widespread of all religions with a multitude of variants throughout the world. Animism remains a living religion and integral to many cultures as proven, for example, by “The Handbook of Contemporary Animism,” edited by Grahame Harvey. Furthermore, elements of animism are often incorporated into the beliefs of persons who identify mainly with another religion, as documented by Shawn Sanford Beck’s “Christian Animism.”
Many mountains are considered sacred, as illustrated by Edwin Bernbaum’s book. Among them are Ayres Rock (Uluru), Everest, Fuji, Kailash, Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, Olympus, Shasta, Sinai, and Zion. Maunakea is the highest sacred mountain in the world at 32,000 feet from its base on the ocean floor to its summit.
The sacredness of Maunakea has been scientifically demonstrated by archaeologists documenting well over 200 shrines and also many other features around the summit in the science reserve, some dated at more than 500 years ago, others recent.
Ultimately, the controversy over Maunakea may be a matter of a materialistic versus a spiritual worldview with the associated beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors and institutions. Obviously there is a long complex history behind the controversy, including degradation and destruction of many sacred places. Hawaiian religion is not afforded respect and legal protection, unlike Christianity and many other religions.
Some deep thinkers like Joanna Macy consider materialism to be the cause of many problems in the world, and that spirituality can be a major factor contributing to solutions. Some call this the Great Turning, a transition that may be forced on societies by global climate change. The current trajectory is not only unsustainable, but maladaptive, including in Hawaii.
These islands would be extremely different if spiritual development were prioritized over economic development. Money is not the measure of all things; some things are far more valuable in other ways. The values of sacred places cannot be calculated in monetary terms.
Some of the proponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope have tried to dismiss the spirituality of its protectors as pursuing a stone age or false religion. Such derogatory stereotypes only evidence ignorance and prejudice. It should be seriously considered that, if one does not respect the sincerely-held religion of other persons, then one should not expect them to respect his or her own religion.
All life and many extraordinary places deserve to be deeply respected as sacred. Those who are pro-TMT need to better understand the protectors of Maunakea and afford them far more respect. An open mind to learn from them would help. Ignorance can feed prejudice, even ethnocentrism and racism.
So far the protectors have been nonviolent because their behavior is based on cultural concepts of aloha and kindness toward all. There cannot be any rationalization for any kind of violence, or threat of violence, against them.
Leslie E. Sponsel is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.