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  • Kevin Hara

The Mighty Maunakea

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

The moon moves around her when she sleeps

The clouds stand beside her when she weeps

And I could be forgotten and a thousand miles away

And still I would recall the beauty of Mauna Kea

The Beauty of Mauna Kea

Keola Beamer


I grew up in Hilo, under the canopy of Maunakea. Maunakea means White Mountain. The arrival of its snowy cover signaled the upcoming Christmas season for us. I also reminisce over the golden panoramas that were produced as the sun set over its horizon. And, I cherish the camping trips on its slopes and the visits with the Nene geese.

Maunakea is considered the tallest structure on Earth. From sea level, it rises 13,796 feet. However, from sea level, it descends another 19,700 feet to the ocean floor, producing a total of 33,496 feet. This makes it taller than Mount Everest at 29,029 feet.


Maunakea is named after Wākea, the Hawaiian god of the sky. The legend is that Wakea married Papahānaumoku, the goddess of the earth. Maunakea was their first born, a reaching to the sky from the waters. Mauna Kea is therefore considered the Piko or the place of the origin of life. This is the basis for the Hawaiian practice of bringing a childʻs piko, or unmbilcal cord, to Maunakea. Wākea and Papa had a daughter, Poliʻahu, the goddess of snow and ice.

There is currently political controversy occurring on Maunakea. Because of its height, low air turbulence, low humidity, and absence of light pollution, it is considered an ideal spot for astronomical viewing. Construction of giant telescopes are therefore sought for on its summit. But, the mountain is considered sacred producing a conflict between cultural beliefs and values, and scientific advancement.

Maunakea is considered a shield volcano. Shield volcanos are formed from the accumulation of fluid lava flow which produces a gentle sloping profile. This resembles a warrior’s shield laying flat. Maunakea is a therefore a shield. It is a defender and protector.

A battle between land and sky occurred in 2018 when Hurricane Hector encountered the actively erupting Kilauea. As Hector approached Hilo, it began to turn to the south and a confrontation was avoided. Is this Maunakea shielding and protecting Hawaiʻiby pushing the storm to the side?

My evidence is limited to anecdotal stories such as these. However, they support the native Hawaiian understanding of the importance of caring for the ʻaina and the ʻaina caring for us. Manunakea is a beautiful mountain. It is also a mighty mountain, not only in stature, but in its sacred power. With our respect, it will continue to look out for us.

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