This is a beautiful hip hop dancer from Hawaii named Kalia. We were super lucky to have met her and her family at Ko'olina in August when our family travelled for our Hip Hop Luau Lifestyle shoots. Both her and her family were incredibly warm, kind and full of wisdom. What was supposed to be a meet up for a quick photoshoot ended up in a meaningful connection with the kids playing for hours and me, getting an authentic Hawaiian perspective on Indigenous life in Hawaii.
As a lover of Hawaii, when I designed Hip Hop Luau I was mindful of maintaining cultural respect with my graphics, but I never expected the reaction I received to this tee, in fact I had an element of anxiety surrounding what reactions local people may have.
Kalia's mother Shauna saw the t-shirt I had brought for Kalia to wear (which was merely called "volcano dancer" in the interim) and had an immediate emotional response.
When she said "It is Mauna Kea" I could hear her voice quiver. I could tell she was connected to my drawing but I didn't yet know why.
She was full of emotion and I could see that. I could also see the pain in her eyes, but emerging from my western bubble, what she was about to share with me I was not expecting.
This T-shirt reminded them of Mauna Kea.
Mauna Kea is not just culturally significant, but it is the most sacred place to the Hawaiian people. Think Mecca to the Islamic people, Bethlehem to the Christians and Jerusalem to the Jewish people. Mauna Kea is a place of religious traditions - current and ancient, and understandably the Hawaiian people are hurting as they once again are fighting to keep what belongs to them.
Shauna's mother in law, a former nurse is currently actively protecting Mauna Kea and is at present on the mountain as a medic as the people protest against a giant 30 meter telescope being placed upon their most sacred site. This is a place where ancient burial grounds and places of religious practice exist.
Shauna's pain now made total sense. We wouldn't dream of building a telescope on better known religious sites. As Australians we have apologised to our Indigenous communities and are aware of the cultural damage of taking their land. Similarly the USA apologised to the Hawaiians about the overthrow of their Kingdom in 1993.
It is disheartening to me that humans repeat such damaging mistakes and for days I couldn't comprehend it. To me it was an honour to spark such emotion in someone on something so incredibly significant with something I created from my quirky brain. And with that I felt a level of responsibility to say something, especially because I love Hawaii. I don't want these people to hurt. I want them to have what is rightfully theirs. I want Kalia and her siblings to continue to uphold their customs, traditions and beliefs without having to fight for it.
Nobody is arguing that science isn't important, just that there are alternatives.
One powerful sentence highlights the protective measures for their culture, beliefs and traditions rather than a bloodbath over land
"we believe that we come from here (the land) and they want to use Mauna Kea to see where we came from"
This tee represents #ProtectMaunaKea and cultural respect.
And this is an honour.
Read more about Mauna Kea here