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According to state officials, a crew needing access to materials for grading the roads on Mauna Kea removed last week one of three stone altars built by the protesters to the Thirty Meter Telescope.
The altar known as an ahu (AH’-hoo) was built June 24, the day hundreds of protesters prevented construction crews from reaching the telescope site on Mauna Kea (mow-NAH’ kay-AH’). “About a hundred people or so contributed to this ahu I would guess,” Lakea Trask, one of the protester leaders, said Tuesday in describing how stones were passed person-to-person to erect the 4-foot-high structure at an elevation of 11,000 feet. “Basically, it’s a religious altar or shrine. It’s not just a stack of rocks. It’s the focus of the energies of our pule — our prayers — our spiritual connection to the land,” Trask said. “It’s like a hate crime to us.”
The group of people who have been camping regularly on the mountain to prevent crews from returning hadn’t checked on the ahu for a while, Trask said. Every second Sunday or so, some of them visit the altar to give offerings, usually water or bundles of leaves from the Hawaiian ti plant, he said. On Sunday, “when they went up there to check on it, there was no ahu,” Trask said. “And in its place there was a bulldozer.”
Forgive me if I express extreme skepticism about the religious nature of these stone structures. If they are so significant, why were none built before the protests? And why, before the protests, did we hear so little of people going up to the top of Mauna Kea to pray? When I was there in 2003, I saw zero evidence of religious pilgrims or sites. The mountaintop was then open to visitation by all, and the only people I saw visiting it were astronomers, telescope engineers, road crews, amateur astronomers, and tourists.
These structures are purely political, built to put a wedge between the mountain and the astronomers. I am certain that the instant these protesters get their way, shutting down TMT and possibly gaining some financial reward from the state, these so-called Sunday prayer visits will stop.