Kapu Aloha march displays ‘power of a unified people’

More than 5,000 people participate in Kahului demonstration, program

A sea of Hawaiian flags wave in the breeze as a crowd estimated between 5,000 and 7,000 in size marches down Kaahumanu Avenue from War Memorial Stadium to the University of Hawaii Maui College campus during Saturday morning’s Kapu Aloha Unity March. The march was held as a demonstration of solidarity with those opposing the construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — Marchers by the thousands descended Saturday morning on Central Maui to exercise “kapu aloha,” what Native Hawaiians say is their greatest weapon in a battle where much is at stake.

The peaceful demonstration and march down Kaahumanu Avenue, one based on kapu aloha’s restraint, love and respect, brought chills to onlookers on one of the hotter days this month. It was driven in part by the attempt to block construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea that many Native Hawaiians consider sacred and the galvanizing movement of thousands it has sparked on the mountain and across the state and world.

This kapu aloha code of conduct, historically a part of Native Hawaiian practices, is regaining modern-day momentum, march speakers said Saturday.

“We’re seeing the power of a unified people,” said Kaho’okahi Kanuha of Hawaii island, who has led the resistance efforts atop Mauna Kea.

To that effect, the bigger battle of mobilizing a peace-focused group of people, from all ages, ethnic backgrounds and walks of life, has been already won, speakers at the Kapu Aloha Unity March event said.

The Kapu Aloha Unity March was held as a demonstration of solidarity with those opposing the construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“We have won in so many ways,” said Kahele Dukelow. “The biggest way to me . . . is building upon all the struggles and work of the generations before us, we have finally figured out in our generation how to stand, how to muster up that courage and that aloha and that ike, that knowledge, and how to use that, for the betterment of not me, not you, not one person, but of us all.”

Hawaiian flags, signs and red Mauna Kea clothing decorated what may have been the largest demonstration of its kind on Maui, estimated between 5,000 and 7,000, organizers said. Planned by Mahina Martin, Luana Kawa’a, Koa Hewahewa and Torie Ho’opi’i, the event invited participants to walk in a show of solidarity for kia’i, or protectors, of Mauna Kea.

Martin said that Kapu Aloha Unity March organizers worked hard to coordinate with Maui Police Department, state Department of Transportation, University of Hawaii Maui College and county Department of Parks and Recreation to plan an “unprecedented” march of this size through Kaahumanu Avenue.

Akina’s Transportation offered free shuttle service to the staging area where pule and oli began the procession. Then, conch shells, chants and cheering wove through the march from War Memorial Stadium Complex fields to the college lawn. A lineup of Mauna Kea speakers, highlighted by Kanuha, along with entertainment, educational booths and food, were offered in the daylong event.

“I’m so glad I’m still alive to see this,” said Aina Kailiehu, a marcher and Kahakuloa resident, whose daughter, Haley, has been at Mauna Kea. “This is the first time I’m seeing Hawaiians and people who love the island coming together. In numbers, we have strength. This is history.”

Mauna Kea protest leader Kaho’okahi Kanuha explains how he hopes the TMT struggle shapes a new future for Hawaii and Hawaiians. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Her husband, Alfred Kailiehu, said the march represents all of Hawaii’s people, not just Hawaiians. “We all live here,” he said.

Kula resident Shelley Maddigan, who joined the march, said she is “thrilled to see the solidarity of the Hawaiian people” being demonstrated in “respect and appreciation.”

“I have lived in Hawaii for 40 years,” she said. “I don’t speak the language but I support the culture.”

Native Hawaiian demonstrators began blocking the road to the summit of Mauna Kea on July 15 to stop the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. They fear the telescope will further harm a summit they consider sacred. Hundreds of people have gathered daily to protest the TMT, which is being built by universities from the U.S, Canada, China, India and Japan.

More than 30 kupuna were arrested last month during a sit-in on the Mauna Kea Access Road.

“We are not looking to have any physical altercation at all against the police forces or the security forces even private forces,” said speaker Kaleikoa Ka’eo, a Hawaiian studies professor at UH-Maui College. “What we need are the numbers first of all, peacefully gathered, committed and determined to nonviolent action. Using aloha as the tool to not just demonstrate, a tool so we can engage . . .  This is just chapter one. We are going to get bigger and stronger.”

Meanwhile, rallies have been held statewide for and against the telescope.

TMT supporters, such as those at a much smaller demonstration in Wailuku on Friday, say the telescope would support Hawaii’s economy, science and education.

While talks are ongoing currently, neither side is relenting, and there appears to be no resolution in sight in the near term.

Speakers on Saturday echoed the importance of protecting sacred land.

“They recognize, as we’ve said all along, this is not a stance against science, against education or even a telescope, it’s about protecting sacred land,” said Kanuha. “It’s about having the right to determine for ourselves as a real people how our sacred places should be protected, how they should be managed.”

With the kapu aloha balance of peace and purpose, speakers said there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

“This is what our kupuna want us to do. This is the greatest weapon we have,” said Tiare Lawrence. “If we can galvanize around kapu aloha, we will win and we will win big.”

The Mauna Kea effort does not just resonate with one ethnic group or one location, it’s a reminder of what’s right for all people, Kanuha said.

“Mauna Kea is a pae aina issue, it’s a lahui issue, it’s a human issue. And so we need everybody’s kakoo.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

• Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.