Samuel Wilder King II is a native Hawaiian attorney with deep roots in Hawai’i. Although not a scientist, he has a keen interest in astronomy, and he has been a mobilizing force behind the development of two organizations — ‘Ohana Kilo Hōkū and Imua TMT — to increase awareness of space science and astronomy in the local community.
Sam’s ancestors cover the spectrum of Hawaiian life. One of his ancestors was an O‘ahu high chief, Kalaniho`oulumokuikekai, who was driven to his death off a cliff following Kamehameha I’s successful invasion of the island. Afterward, one of his daughters, Mahi, became a lady in Kamehameha’s court and was married to an American, Oliver Holmes, one of the first foreigners to live in Hawai‘i, who had arrived in 1793. Holmes had earned the king’s favor, to the extent of being appointed governor of O‘ahu. “There are some conflicting accounts as to how whether Mahi married Holmes or was given to him by Kamehameha, but either way that was just how things happened,” says King. His great-great-grandfather, James Anderson King, was the Minister of Interior of the Republic of Hawaii after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. King’s great-great-grandmother was Charlotte Holmes Davis, granddaughter of Holmes and Mahi. Their son, Samuel Wilder King, married King’s great-grandmother Pauline Nawahineokalai Evans in 1912, who had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Lili‘uokalani.
Born and raised on O‘ahu, Sam became an attorney like his parents. But before law school, he went to school on the mainland at Georgetown, studied abroad in Egypt, worked in D.C., worked abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan, and volunteered in India, Zambia, and Thailand. He started law school after coming back to O‘ahu, and during that schooling, his wife, who knew how much Sam appreciated astronomy, gave him the birthday gift of a tour on Mauna Kea to see the telescopes. “We saw the sunset at the summit. We came down to Hale Pōhaku for star gazing. It was so awesome! I thought, ‘This is so cool! We’ve got the telescopes and hot chocolate, and this is amazing!’”
Concerns about Resistance
His reaction to demonstrations against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea, and against astronomy on the mountain in general, has ranged from being unconcerned to being flabbergasted. On one hand, polls have shown that a majority of Hawai‘i residents, and native Hawaiians, support the telescope and astronomy, and, in Sam’s view, “It’s clearly consistent with native Hawaiian culture, stargazing, celestial navigation, there’s no question.” On the other, he’s been stunned by the outlandish claims amplified through social media — such as that the TMT would be powered by nuclear energy, that the TMT would dump its waste (nuclear or otherwise) into the ground, that the telescope would pollute the island’s aquifer, and that, like a menacing presence, it would lurch across and dominate the entirety of Mauna Kea’s summit. More worrying were the cyberbullying and threats to the safety of astronomy supporters, including death threats.
Sam rejects the idea of any unified Native Hawaiian view on sacredness, in itself and regarding Mauna Kea. The enormity of Mauna Kea’s adze quarry testifies to the summit area’s suitableness for practical use in the days before European contact. Long before contact, Hawaiians have not all held to the same views of sacredness and the kapu system over time. And even after 18th century contact with Europeans, the kapu system was rejected after the death of Kamehameha I by Hawaiians themselves. Sam is clear: “We destroyed the kapu system. The native Hawaiians obliterated it. It wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t an accident, it didn’t disappear over time because we turned into Christians. We had a civil war in the kingdom to obliterate that religious order. And that’s what sacredness in ancient Hawaiian times as a native Hawaiians-only political/religious order was based on. And when we destroyed it, that was no more sacredness. Never again could a native Hawaiian impose sacredness on another Hawaiian. We were free to believe whatever we want.”
Building Imua TMT
Sam sought out other TMT supporters online, and on Facebook he found a group called “Imua TMT,” started by Malia Martin. Sam and Malia got together over a plate lunch to sketch a framework to transform the small Facebook group into a larger organization. They were able to raise money, connect with the community more effectively, create a website, and plan and present panels to discuss Hawaiian history, sacredness, past practical uses of Mauna Kea by native Hawaiians, and the place of astronomy on it today. Imua TMT also was instrumental in organizing public demonstrations in support of the TMT, to help make the presence of its supporters more apparent.
He’s surprised that Imua TMT is still going. “Imua TMT was created to last for six months, three months; we did not expect it to keep going. We were just trying to get the voice out there, trying to get everyone’s attention, make sure that we had a voice. But then it just kept going, and kept going, and then the pandemic happened and we’re like, ‘Are you kidding me? We’re sitting for two years now?’” Imua TMT is currently being restructured, with considerations of how it might move in the future as a channel of political information.
Embracing Science and Culture with ‘Ohana Kilo Hōkū
In the meantime, Sam, Mailani Neal, and Kālepa Babayan started a new nonprofit with the purpose of creating opportunities for all the people of Hawai‘i, especially the state’s youth, to connect with programs supporting space programs and astronomy. ‘Ohana Kilo Hōkū (Stargazing Family, OKH) is “a native Hawaiian organization, meaning more than 50% of its board of directors are native Hawaiians, being descendants of people living here prior to 1778 as shown by an OHA [Office of Hawaiian Affairs] card or a birth certificate, and we are supporting astronomy and space-based programs in Hawaii and abroad,” Sam says, describing federal definitions of being native Hawaiian.
Together with professionals in the science fields, OKH organizes stargazing events, with talk story sessions about both traditional Hawaiian understandings of the sky (such as the star compass and constellations) and modern scientific understandings (such as astronomers with their portable telescopes who are ready to explain how the tools work, and what they reveal about objects in the sky). The organization also serves to connect interested students with mentors and academic opportunities, skilled adults with professional opportunities, educators with STEM resources, and more.
“With ‘Ohana Kilo Hōkū, we’re working hard to make clear how important astronomy and space science is to Hawai‘i, in its past and for its future. We want to create a safe space where everyone with the interest can participate and engage with scientists, engineers, Hawaiian cultural practitioners and aim along with us for a future where all these endeavors are honored. And we want to have fun doing it!” says King.
You can find out more about OKH at OhanaKiloHoku.org. You can sign up for their email list on the website as well to get information about OKH’s upcoming ‘Ohana Stargazing events.
“Supervisor Robert King Has Historical Ancestral Background in Island.” Honolulu Advertiser October 14, 1928, p. 3
“First Ladies of Hawaii”: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/First_Ladies_of_Hawaii
David Malo (1898) Hawaiian Antiquities (Moolelo Hawaii), translated from the Hawaiian by Dr. Nathaniel B. Emerson. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 2 (second edition), Honolulu, HI.
“Changes after the Death of Kamehameha: Overthrow of the Kapu System,” from Overview of Hawaiian History, by Diane Lee Rhodes (with some additions by Linda Wedel Greene) https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/kona/history5a.htm
Links to more sources (letters, articles, videos) of native Hawaiians supporting astronomy and the TMT on Mauna Kea: https://www.imuatmt.org/resources/
To view a record of anti-TMT cyber-bullying and threats, check this Instagram account.
“Gov. Ige Condemns Hateful Rhetoric Surrounding TMT” Pacific Business News https://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/news/2019/09/13/gov-ige-condemns-hateful-rhetoric-threats.html