To the outside world, Mauna Kea may be a famous centre for astronomy. To native Hawaiians, it is a sacred place ancestors visited for centuries in a quest to understand spiritual connections between earth and the heavens.
To this day, a humble stone and wood lele, or altar, overlooks the observatories from the very summit of Mauna Kea. Continued expansion of the mountain's use by astronomers is a subject of controversy.
In Hawaiian culture, Poliahu, the icy goddess of Mauna Kea, is the antithesis of her fiery archrival, Pele, the goddess of volcanoes.
Wakea is the sky father in the Hawaiian creation story, in which the earth mother gives birth to the island of Hawaii, and this volcanic peak is the child's navel. Many say the name Mauna Kea is a shortened version of Mauna a Wakea, meaning "the mountain of Wakea."
To learn more, attend a free presentation at 6 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month, when speakers from the community talk about the mountain from a cultural perspective. It happens at the visitor centre of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (808-961-2180), on the Mauna Kea summit road.