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Mauna Kea Culture Night - Stories in the Stars

Come up for culture night on Mauna Kea this Saturday, January 18, at 6:00 pm, for an evening of Hawaiian music, chants, stories and science. Then, join the star party at the Onizuka Center lanai for some of the best star gazing in the world, and a guided Star Tour of Hawaiian constellations.

When the Pleiades is high in the night sky, it takes the form of the Canoe Bailer of Makali`i
Leilehua Yuen

All cultures which can see the night sky tell stories of the stars. The Greeks of ancient times peopled the sky with gods and goddesses, archers, serpents, carts, scorpions, dogs, and bears. Distinctive stars and star groups were used to navigate the land and sea.

The Polynesian explorers who navigated the Pacific Ocean also used the stars as navigational aids. Bears were unknown to them, but they knew the wing shapes and habits of birds. The sea, sand, and rugged cliffs were not amenable to the wheel, so the arts of their inventors were used in crafting canoes, not carts. Chairs were unknown, scorpions had not yet found a way to Hawai`i, but fish hooks were cherished and where a man went, his best fish hooks went, too. No cows or goats provided buckets of milk, but fish swam in the ocean. And so, rather than seeing carts, queens on thrones, rampaging bulls, and spills of milk, they saw flying and perching birds, a great fish leaping from the sea, and a giant hook to catch it.

In this age, we tend to think of the stories associated with these celestial images as fables and tales to amuse children. But at one time, they were as important to an adult as a college education is to us today. In an oral tradition, the images spilling across the dome of the night sky illustrated texts on sailing, meteorology, history, agriculture, and aquaculture. The sky was a navigational chart for the sailor, an almanac for the farmer, and a calendar for all.

One feature of Hawaiian astronomy which often drives students to distraction is the many different names for one astronomical body or constellation. Seemingly confusing, this feature actually adds a great deal of precision to the field.

The Pleiades, an open star cluster in the shoulder of the constellation Taurus, is known to the kilo hōkū, the Hawaiian astronomer, by several names: Ka Huihui a Makali`i (The cluster of Makali`i), Huihui kōkō a Makali`i Kau i Luna (The Net Cluster of Makali`i Hung Above), Nā Kā a Makali`i (The Bailer of Makali`i), Nā kōkō a Makali`i (The Net of Makali`i), Nā Wahine a Makali`i (The Wives of Makali`i), Ke Aweawe Makali`i (The Makali`i Stars Stuck Together), Ka Lālani a Makali`i (The Makali`i Line), Huihui (Cluster, Group), and Kūpuku (Clustered). In some traditions, the Pleiades is also called Makali`i, but there are also traditions which give that name to Aldebaran.

Attendees at this weekend's Malalo o ka Po Lani Hawaiian Culture Night Program will hear stories of Makali`i and more. After the 6:00 cultural program, the new artwork for the Ellison Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station will be revealed. The display features Greek constellations, observatory photographys of the constellations, and a new collection of paintings of the Hawaiian constellations. Following the official installation of the new artwork, there will be a guidedstar tour of Hawaiian constellations outside on the VIS lanai.

Some prominent stars and constellations this month are: Huihui Koko a Makali`i Kau i Luna (The Constellation of Makali`i's Net Hanging Above), known in English as the Pleiades; Pūnana (Nest), also known as Hōkū Pa`a (Fixed Star), in English called the North Star; `Iwahine (Lady Frigate Bird), known in English as the Little Dipper; and `Iwa Keli`i, or `Iwalani (Royal Frigate Bird), known in English as Casseopeia.

The program features the storytelling, chanting, and hula of your Examiner, Leilehua Yuen, and the stories, traditional Hawaiian flute music, and guitar music of Manu Josiah.

Each month, a different cultural practitioner shares perspectives on an aspect of Hawaiian culture, history and/or arts relating to the natural history of Mauna Kea.

Those who come to the Maunakea culture night talks should wear layers, including a nice, warm jacket. Socks, shoes, and gloves are recommended. Bring a bottle of water to drink, and a flashlight. Be polite to those who are stargazing and cover the light with a red lens or filter. Tissues for those whose noses run in cold weather are good, as well. Please read this link for more safety information.

For those unfamiliar with the island, there are no streetlights on the road up the mountain. We must preserve our beautiful dark skies! And, Mauna Kea sticks her head up above the clouds, which means you will be driving through them, so plan for at least an hour of travel time from Hilo. Please read this link for driving information.

Hawai`i is now in Ho`oilo, the wet winter season. The Hawaiian month of `Ikuā ended at nightfall on the 14th. A noisy, stormy month, with thunder, wind, and rain in the uplands, Welehu, which began on the 15th is even more so. Those driving up Mauna Kea for the evening program should prepare accordingly.

The "Malalo o ka Po Lani" Hawaiian cultural program is held on the third Saturday of every month in the Ellison Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station's presentation room at the 9,300-foot elevation on Mauna Kea.

For more information on the Malalo i ka Pō Lani culture night programs at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, contact the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Information Station. Phone: (808) 961-2180 Fax: (808) 969-4892.