Mauna Kea
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Waters of Mauna Kea

It’s referred to up here as an alpine desert. But it’s important to realize there is a lot of water on Mauna Kea. Sometimes when you walk around, there are places where you can hear the water and it’s running. You can hear big drips.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou
excerpt from Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege

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This is where the water is born, up this high. This is where lot of things are born, from here, before it goes into the physical. Here, up here.

D. Wolf Benally
Eastern Dineh / Navajo
December 21, 1999
Summit of Mauna Kea

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A great deal of moisture is thought to be present, particularly in the cinders, at even very shallow depths. The previous studies by Dr. A. S. Furumoto gave evidence of saturation at depths of 200 feet in the cinder cone.

Site Investigation
Planned Stellar and Planetary Observatory

Mauna Kea, Hawaii
for the University of Hawaii
by Dames and Moore
June 1966

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At almost 14,000 feet, the summit of Mauna Kea has its own climate. Even summer months can bring snow, strong winds, storms, thick fog and hail. However, actual precipitation frequently averages less than one inch in every month of the year.

Like the pure water captured in the piko of a taro leaf before it can reach the ground, the waters of Mauna Kea, suspended high above in the realm of the sky father, Wakea, is considered pure and life giving.

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It is so pristine, it is the perfect water. It was the water that was able to bring back life, to resurrect someone who had already passed. That is how sacred the water from Mauna Kea is considered. It is not just water in liquid form, but water as ice, water as snow and also water from Lake Waiau. These are all considered sacred waters, and any water that’s harvested directly from the sky. So sometimes people harvest as the snow is falling. They collect it. Because that really hasn’t touched anything.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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Hawaii island, of all the islands, is very porous. It’s all new lava, relatively new lava. Water goes through it. It doesn’t pool up into rivers. We have the Wailuku River. We have the Wailoa River. But really we don’t have very many rivers. We don’t have any lakes to speak of. And that’s because the water goes down. And Mauna Kea continues to supply that every year. The snow falls, it melts, Wailuku River runs. We get water all over mostly that side of the island. I see Mauna Kea as being a major force on the island.

Keawe Vredenburg

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Our ancestors, knowing of this water captured in the pores of Mauna Kea like water in the nodes of bamboo, named the land division that encompasses Mauna Kea after the Hawaiian word for bamboo, Ka’ohe.

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Mauna Kea was one of the few places in the tropics that was repeatedly covered by glaciers during the ice ages. An ice cap as much as 400 feet thick once covered about 26 square miles of the summit area. The effects of the last ice age are still felt on the mountain. Permafrost, or ground ice, found just a few feet below the surface, is all that is left of a once-giant glacier.

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What I think is very important and fascinating for people to know today is that the glacier is still here. It’s just, just below the surface. It’s the source of our aquifer for Hawai’i island.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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You got a lot of water coming through the mountain and come out in the ocean. Sometime you see in the ocean, get lot of bubbles coming up. That is fresh water that’s coming from the mountain. And even go underneath there, you drink where the water is shooting out, you taste. It’s fresh water. It’s sweet water. And it feed all the people.

Aka Mike`ele Mahi

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When the rain comes in and the clouds come in, it's Mauna Kea who catches them. And so we have water. We have water for our plants that grow down below. We always have water because of Mauna Kea.

Large civilizations have gone dead because they don't have water. We will never have that fear as long as Mauna Kea is here. If Mauna Kea is not here, we're not here. If it lives, we live. And it's as simple as that. So we have a lot of things to be grateful for as we live on this island in the shadow of Mauna Kea. It has saved us for many, many generations.

Pualani Kanahele
kumu hulu (hula master) and educator

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Water deities (kupua) of Mauna Kea

The waters of Mauna Kea are so profound that all the deities of the mountain, semi-divine creatures called kupua, have water forms.

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Poli’ahu, she’s of the snow. Lilinoe is the mist. Waiau of the lake. They’re all water deities. And Kane-ka-wai-ola. Some of the shrines represent the essence of Kane. Kane in the standing stones. So the whole mountain is actually dedicated to the water.

Kealoha Pisciotta

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Poli`ahu - the snow

She’s the woman of the mountain, that’s her place. And when it’s covered with snow, it appears as though she’s lying on a bed of clouds, a ring of clouds. And you can see her very clearly.

Kealoha Pisciotta

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Many travelers in the 1800's reported that Mauna Kea was said to have a year round cap of snow, "perpetual winter looking down upon summer."

The amount of snowfall varies from year to year. Snow often falls first and melts last on the northern slope of the cinder cone Pu‘u Hau Kea. At times it is the only place on the mountain with snow. Translated from the Hawaiian, Pu’u Hau Kea means “hill of white snow.”

Three or four times in the past century there have been major snowfalls that covered the island of Hawai’i's three highest mountains, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, down to the 7,000-foot elevation. The earlier years of the 20th century saw more snow on the mountain than today. It was not unusual for repeated snowfalls to form a thick continuous white cap on the mountain that remained from October to May.

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See also “Tracking climate change on Mauna Kea”

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Lilinoe – the mist

Another deity, or kupua, Lilinoe, is the mist.

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Lilinoe is the kupua of fog and mist. And you can see Lilinoe as she comes down over the mountain sometimes. She flows up and over, very gently, very soft, like very fine kapa, white kapa*.

It’s a remarkable sight and it really makes you very aware of the mist, of how mist flows around. It’s not obtrusive, it doesn’t get in your face. But it’s there and it’s obvious that it’s very, very beautiful.

Keawe Vredenburg

*kapa – traditional Hawaiian bark cloth

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Waiau – the lake

A third kupua is Waiau, a lake perched in a high elevation crater near the summit.

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Waiau is another of the kupua. Waiau is the kupua of the lake, Lake Waiau on top of Mauna Kea.

So Waiau is the keeper of all these hidden waters. Under Mauna Kea, under the lake and all the way through that whole area are large streams of water. And I think they know that. People are digging wells there all the time. It flows over to the Waimea side of Mauna Kea also. And Waiau as the kupua is the keeper of all those springs and hidden reservoirs.

So that’s my view of Waiau, the sacred keeper of all those springs under there, the great water supply of that island.

Keawe Vredenburg

 

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