Mauna Kea climbers fight cold to fix altar
The group labored in the oxygen-thin air to replace the rock base and the wooden pole frame over the ahu lele built in 1997
With a snowstorm stinging their faces, 17 people climbed to the summit of Mauna Kea late Tuesday afternoon to repair a native Hawaiian altar that was desecrated earlier this month by unknown vandals.
With winds from the west reaching 35 mph and temperatures dropping below zero, the group labored in the oxygen-thin air to replace the rock base and the wooden pole frame over the ahu lele built in 1997 at the summit of the 13,796-foot mountain sacred to Hawaiians and prized by astronomers.
"This was definitely a desecration," said Alii Aimoku Alii Sir Paul Neves of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, which built the ahu.
"It was planned. They had to take a tool, a machete or a hacksaw, and climb to the summit in bitter cold February weather," said Neves, adding, "It wasn't far from a parking lot, and they had to know when people (workers who attend the site's 13 telescopes) were around."
"It was done very maliciously and this is a crime scene, and someone put thought and effort into this desecration," Neves said.
Last weekend, an ahu on the grounds of Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu was vandalized, with about 20 large rocks scattered throughout the grounds and even lodged in trees. That ahu was started in 1993 on the anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and has since been built upon as people have brought rocks to add to the pile as commemorative offerings.
At Mauna Kea, Neves said that unknown vandals sawed off the four 6-foot-high poles that formed a skeleton frame over the foundation of rocks and various gifts or mementos people have brought to the summit, which is sacred to many native Hawaiians.
He said the poles, personal offerings to ancestors and rocks were scattered or cast over a cliff.
Neves explained that the lele was built on the summit because it is a sacred place where the Hawaiian gods meet, and the Royal Order wanted to establish a place where people could offer prayer and offerings. In the last few years, those offerings have included the military tags of a native Hawaiian who died in combat in Iraq. Over time the Royal Order has allowed anyone to make offerings they feel are sacred or honor ancestors as long as they are not of meat or flesh.
Neves said the decision to build the lele was made "because we felt our sacred things and spiritual places would fall into the wrong hands."
In Hawaiian religion, Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain where Papa Sky met with goddesses and is the source of Hawaiian origin myths, according to Neves and others. Neves said that leaving an offering at the ahu lele gives people a way to connect to a sacred realm that helps believers in their spiritual evolution.
Among native Hawaiians there has been some disagreement over whether the ahu lele is temporary and should be torn down or allowed to grow under the offerings of various pilgrims.
Neves said the order is leaving the investigation to the state, "but we are keeping our eyes open. It is a matter of time before someone says something."