LETTER: A Week in the Life of a Kahuna

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letters to the editor 123

As the Kahuna of the Temple of Lono, I maintain the traditional faith of the Hawaiian people based in our Temple knowledge. The Temples have always been the symbol of our faith. That faith is an integral part of the Hawaiian identity grounded in the Four Gods and the spiritual land base—the Pu‘uhonua O Hale O Keawe at Honaunau at the base of Mauna Kea.

For more than 150 years, there has been a false narrative regarding the origins and nature of this faith. That false narrative is designed to hide the true nature of the faith behind a curtain of “culture.” The purpose is to deny the true faith based in the land and in the garden and allow this faith to fade from memory.

In just one week recently, I received a number of reminders of how deep the oppression goes and how systematic the bigotry continues to be.

As part of emerging from decades of practicing underground to avoid persecution, the Temple stepped into a higher profile.

A year ago, the Temple filed a federal suit challenging the restrictive rules that the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) and the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) issued to severely restrict the Native Hawaiian faith practices on Mauna Kea.


Faced with the Temple’s federal challenge, the OMKM withdrew the unconstitutional rules.

In a separate court action, the judge struck down the BLNR rules.

More recently, the Temple petitioned successfully to be a party to the contested case now underway regarding the application for a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope. The Temple has actively participated in that case, filing numerous motions and responding to motions filed by other parties.

A few days ago, I travelled to Honolulu to sit for an interview with a producer for public access television. His invitation reminded me that the producer would be the first journalist, since the Temple became more public over one year ago, to ask me to share the story of the Kahunas standing up for the Temple and the faith of our people and how the faith relates to Mauna Kea. Stories published about the contested case consistently omitted any mention of the Temple until one story this week.

Returning from Honolulu, I stopped at the Stinger Ray’s restaurant in the airport. The menu included a “Big Kahuna Breakfast.” So there I was confronted with the casual bigotry that hides the true nature of the kahuna kuleana.

Can you imagine a “Pope Breakfast,” or an “Imam Breakfast,” or a “Priest Breakfast” or a “Dalai Lama Breakfast?”


I am fairly certain that the HMSHost Corporation is ignorant about the title Kahuna and its true meaning within the Hawaiian civilization as keepers of the faith. I put this question to all our cultural specialists: Is the ignorance the fault of the HMSHost Corporation or the fault of the false narrative?

As an aside, the Temple did communicate to the HMSHost Corporation that the menu entry was offensive. The corporation responded that they regularly review their menu and will keep our concerns in mind.

Returning to Hawai’i Island, I then attended the next meeting of the contested case parties convened by Riki May Amano, hearing officer. On the agenda of that meeting was a motion the Temple filed requesting permission to file a motion out of time.

That story begins with the Temple filing a motion seeking a judgment that two facts are true:

  1. the summit of Mauna Kea is sacred to the traditional Hawaiian faith and
  2.  that faith is still practiced today.

Responding in opposition to that motion, the University of Hawai’i launched a libelous attack on the Temple. Apparently upset that the Temple will not simply agree to “share” the Mauna Kea summit with the telescope, the university attempted to paint the Temple as an extremist organization.


The university accused the Temple of seeking to “galvanize a religious movement” by pursuing a religious agenda. The University characterized the Temple as “fundamentally adversarial (and ardently absolutist).” The university claimed the Temple is intolerant and unable to compromise.

The university said that when “confronted with a conflict between cooperation and conformity to doctrine,” the Temple “invariably chooses” conformity to doctrine, “regardless of the harm it brings to the society of which it is a part.”

The university characterized the Temple’s objections to the telescope as an effort by the Temple to impose its religion on others “as part of advancing the [Temple’s] fundamentalist agenda.”

We were shocked at this attack, both because there was nothing true about it and because it demonstrated such a phenomenal bigotry on the part of an institution supposedly devoted to higher learning.

The time allotted by the Hearing Officer for the filing of pre-hearing motions had expired before the university attack, so the Temple filed a motion requesting permission to file a late motion to address the attack.

The motion we sought to file argued that the university was now disqualified from pursuing the permit because the libelous attack on the Temple demonstrated a disdain for rights any permit holder would have to protect. Based on that behavior, the Temple motion sought to dismiss the permit application altogether.

The Hawaiian Constitution, Article XII, Section 7 specifically protects Native Hawaiian customary and traditional practices, including religious practices. That means that anyone applying for a permit from the State of Hawai’i must commit to obeying that constitutional mandate. The Temple’s motion argued that having shown such hatred towards and disrespect for the traditional Hawaiian faith, the University could not now pretend a willingness to observe the constitutional mandate to respect the faith.

The university never offered any defense of its attack. Instead, the University simply objected that the Temple motion was untimely, an argument that seemed deliberately blind to the fact the Temple was specifically asking permission to file an untimely motion.

The Temple’s motion to file out of time came before the Hearing Officer at the pre-hearing conference last week. She denied the Temple the right to even file the motion to dismiss. So there will be no discussion of the university’s libel and the implications of that libel for the University’s qualifications to be given a permit.

The hearing officer’s ruling was a powerful reminder that the state is still intent on extinguishing any surviving aspects of the traditional Hawaiian faith, unless those aspects can be reduced to a culture, not a faith- or a land-based issue. Or, as the hearing officer suggested in the last conference, the state will seek to characterize the faith as just an opinion.

Palani Tamehameha Tamealoha Anuumealani Nobriga is the Kahuna of the Temple of Lono.

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