A collective protest began at 8 a.m. on Aug. 26 with University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa students, faculty and staff starting off the first day back to school rallying once again against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea.

Participants were advised to wear their “Mauna gear,” according to a social media post that started the event, and flooded Bachman lawn with Hawaiian flags and red shirts reading “Ku Kiaʻi Mauna,” or “guardians of the mountain.” Sign waving marked the start of the event in the morning, with a ceremony taking place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. consisting of chant and hula.

This event began with the setting up of 38 ʻohe (Hawaiian bamboo) structures on the lawn, reading the names of each of the 38 people arrested on Maunakea this summer. 

“Setting up those 38 ʻohe structures was really to honor and pay homage to the kupuna who are willing to sacrifice themselves and stand on the frontlines,” UH Mānoa ethnic studies junior ʻIhilani Lasconia said. 

According to Lasconia, these kupuna did this “so we can be here today at the university trying to obtain an education in a quote unquote ‘Hawaiian place of learning’ which has been so hostile and violent towards Hawaiians trying to stand up for what they believe in.”

Kiaʻi ke Kahaukani

Lasconia is a member of Kiaʻi ke Kahaukani, a UH Mānoa subset of the Maunakea movement founded in Fall 2018, and one of the main organizers of the event. 

“We’re largely students but also faculty and staff who are Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian allies, who are standing in kapu aloha against the Thirty Meter Telescope being built on Maunakea,” she said. 

‘Kapu aloha’ was a phrase repeated throughout the rally, defined by Lasconia as an act of nonviolent protest. 

“But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to be able to be pushed aside because we’re peaceful,” she said. “It means standing firm and standing strong for our kupuna and what our lāhui believes in.”

The name “Kiaʻi ke Kahaukani” consists of “Kiaʻi”, or to protect, and “Kahaukani” which refers to the wind in Mānoa valley. So, according to Hawaiian theater master's student and member Kaipu Baker, calling the coalition by this name is a statement that “via the wind, we carry out our protective duties and send them over to Maunakea.”

Baker was one of the main speakers at the event, chanting and speaking almost exclusively in Hawaiian with others stepping in to occasionally translate in English. He felt this was the proper way to conduct such a ceremony intended to protect the land, because “the voice of this land is Hawaiian.”

Despite the many protests taking place in the name of resisting the “desecration” of Maunakea, Kiaʻi ke Kahaukani took part in putting the event together not only for the sake of protesting, but also to celebrate Hawaiian culture at this tumultuous time. 

“It’s been a little bit of a traumatic summer for a lot of kanaka because of all the arrests and what’s going down on the mauna,” Baker said. “We’re focused on Maunakea, but we also know that fighting for Maunakea is being on campus, and is ... learning so that we can better serve our lāhui in a greater capacity somewhere down the road.”

Other Participants

College students were not the youngest in the crowd preparing for future civic engagement. Ninth- to twelfth-graders from Hālau Kū Māna Public Charter School were also present, led by their teacher Imai Winchester, who was one of the protesters who had strapped themselves to the cattle-guard on Maunakea. 

“The intention for bringing in our high school today to participate and to engage and to learn from university faculty and students was about civic engagement, was about empowerment, specifically how students and indigenous communities in larger institutions can exercise their voice,” Winchester said.

One of the charter school students fainted from heat-related issues, and the ceremony continued after an ambulance was called.

“It’s very important that we continue the pedagogy of resistance ... the cultural practice of politics and civic engagement, social justice,” Winchester said. “These are important lessons that we underlie with culture, hula, Hawaiian language, Hawaiian chant.”

Winchester emphasized the handing down of cultural practice and expression to the younger generation, especially in the face of issues such as the TMT construction. 

“We as a people are not relics of the past,” he said. “We continue to live and as such our culture, our traditions, our customs also live through us.”

A university spokesperson said that UH "is committed to the open exchange of ideas and affirms the rights of all individuals to engage in free speech. UH is proud to be a vibrant hub of disparate opinions, including those that oppose specific actions of the university."