Emily Boyd & Corey Ogles
There were two people I knew I wanted to sit down with before I left the island. They had acquired scores of knowledge and experiences since they'd moved there, and they just happened to be the people I'd been living with for the past two weeks.
Emily Boyd and Corey Ogles embody the trademark Hawaiian friendliness that I first encountered while driving to their house for the first time, as people on their street smiled and waved to me, and I, being from New Jersey, wondered what everyone's problem was. It was that first day in their home, when Emily made me tea to help with jet lag, that I began to feel the warmth filling every corner, from the lanai with string lights to the sunlit side room where Emily made jewelry out of seashells and crystals. We fed chickens in their yard while I told them about my journalism studies, to which Corey smiled and replied: "Right on."
I woke up every morning to the smell of Kona coffee beans, and watched as caterpillar cocoons developed in jars on a shelf alongside countless potted plants. I fell asleep every night to the buzz of coqui frogs through the window screen, sometimes with one of their cats snuggling in my bed.
The three of us had lots of long talks during those two weeks, usually while sitting barefoot and cross-legged and occasionally accompanied by a guitar or a visiting friend. We did this one last time on the rug in their living room, where they poured their hearts out on what the Mauna means to them and how they feel about TMT.
One of Corey Ogles’ and Emily Boyd’s favorite spots to visit is Carlsmith Beach Park. But they get upset when they see tourists with cameras, inundating the turtles who inhabit the area.
“Just because the turtles don’t have a human face and they can’t scream, doesn’t mean they’re not anxious and scared,” Ogles said.
Mauna Kea is the same way. Driving down the Access Road the day before, I passed a sign that demanded “Tourists Go Home.”
When Ogles and Boyd first moved to Hawai’i Island, they weren’t aware of Mauna Kea’s significance. But after spending time there and learning from the Native Hawaiians for whom the Mauna is sacred, they began to see the island in a light outside the realm of tourism. Six years, one garden, twenty-eight chickens and countless jars of caterpillars later, they have not only built a home, but also a deep understanding of what it means to build a relationship with the land on which one lives.
Now, every time they go up to Mauna Kea, they go with a mindfulness of the history, culture and spiritual significance of the place.
“It's given me something to pray to and to give thanks to,” Ogles said. “It's helped me to develop my own sense of what it means to be geographically in love with a place, to be deeply in touch with the seasons and the rhythms, and knowing the importance of the shape of the land.”
Boyd, who makes island-inspired jewelry with seashells and crystals, doesn’t think that lots of people outside of Hawai'i experience that same connection to the land. But, she said, when they come here from other places, they get to see the Native Hawaiian people and their authentic love for the land, and this deepens a yearning to find a similar connection.
They do not support the Thirty Meter Telescope because they view it as cosmic voyeurism. They find it unhealthy that the astronomers have no interest in building a relationship with the land, but want to use it for their own personal gain, while on the other hand, Native Hawaiians had knowledge of the stars and skies long before telescopes and they built their lives around these rhythms. To Boyd and Ogles, the Protect Mauna Kea movement is a powerful lesson in respecting a landscape, and said that the movement is teaching lots of people about Hawaii's tumultuous history.
“I didn't know about the Native Hawaiian culture or the history until I moved here,” Boyd said. “I had no idea the land was stolen, that they were forced to not speak their own language, that the Queen was held hostage and they said, ‘We will kill all these people if you don't sign over your country to us.’ Those things are not talked about, and they are very, very traumatizing. Ancestral trauma is a thing and the fact that Native Hawaiians went through that breaks my heart, coming from America."
Learning about the history of colonialism on the island has made it easier for them to recognize the remnants of it still present in today’s capitalist state. Because Hawai'i became a U.S. state through exploitation and force, modern Hawaiian culture has become a “wellspring of knowledge,” as Ogles and Boyd described it, “that has been commodified and dressed up, and people just keep extracting from it.”
As people who came from outside the island, Ogles and Boyd make sure to stay highly conscious of both the culture that surrounds tourism and the culture that is exploited by tourism. Hawaiian stereotypes such as hula and luau are a deep part of the Hawaiian experience, however, they believe that it is wrong for the state to assume that this is all tourists want.
“I think they are aware that people are deeper than that, and they do want something else,” Ogles said. “But they've created these resort areas and tourist trap towns, where it's just little boxes for tourists to spend all their money. And so, there's a larger conversation that a lot of people are having right now. How do we do tourism in a way that is regenerative and respectful to the Hawaiian people and to the aina, to the land?"
The natural world has gone centuries unmoved by the fast, silver current of currency that turns the water wheel in an economic system defined by competitive markets, private property, and overall, consumption. In reflecting on the fight to protect this natural world from the capitalist flood seeping in, Ogles wondered: “What are we outside of that?”
The movement itself, they said, was beautiful and well-organized, and that one of the main organizers, Aunty Pua Case, was coherent in her instructions to be respectful to the mountain.
“You do not bring drugs or alcohol to the sacred space,” Boyd said. “Aunty Pua was very firm and she made sure that everyone who came up there knew how to act."
Despite this understanding, they said that police still brooded over the Access Road, looking to catch people breaking these rules.
“They basically had cops trying to plant drugs on people and trying to sabotage the protesters and provoke them,” Boyd said. “Every time we drove on the road, they would stop us and they would try to find people who were drunk and heading towards a protest.”
Not all police officers behaved with such spite, though. Many police officers, they said, were in tears.
“They didn't want to put their families in jail,” Ogles said. “It was deeply emotional, because they knew the people that they were arresting. There was an image I saw of this police officer forehead to forehead with a kupuna, just tearing up.” The memory of this image elicited a pause as he swallowed. “I’m getting chills just thinking about it.”
Witnessing the kupuna tying themselves to the cattle guard in their protective efforts gave them a respect for the elders so much deeper than they knew was possible to ignite in themselves.
“They were open to giving advice, giving their bodies to protect the mountain,” Ogles said. “It was very moving.”
The couple had the opportunity to watch the Native Hawaiians dance and do hula for their ancestors, rather than for entertainment. Boyd said it brought her to tears to experience this energy of the Native Hawaiians embracing their culture for themselves, entirely untouched by tourism.
“Sovereignty,” she said. “That word keeps growing for me. It keeps developing in more beautiful ways of food sovereignty, land sovereignty, and freedom for ourselves — the true freedom, not the freedom our United States says we have. A true sovereignty outside of the system is what I've learned is needed for all indigenous cultures.”
Out of all the gifts the Mauna has bestowed upon them, Ogles decided that the most fundamental thing it’s given them is an aperture into what a more beautiful society looks like.
“What a more peaceful society looks like, what a more respectful, connected, integrated people looks like,” he said. “We've traded this for smartphones and cars and convenience. But we forget that there are technologies that were developed by our ancestors over thousands of years, to live a good life. And that's what we get to see. And what is continuing to happen is that the more exposure Mauna Kea gets, the more people are seeing what the roots of human culture are — which is connection, compassion, joy, reverence, respect, sovereignty.”
Ogles opened his hand and stretched out his fingers as if he were trying to grasp the very concepts he described. Then he curled his fingers back toward his palm, like a lotus flower closing its petals.
“Sovereignty,” he repeated.