Chanting the mountains. Craig Santos-Perez

Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru poet from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is the author of five books of poetry, co-editor of five anthologies, and professor at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. 


Poet’s Statement: 

“I wrote this poem for International Mountain Day to raise awareness about the ecological and cultural value of mountains in Pacific islands and cultures, especially since the Pacific is not often imagined as a mountainous region. The poem also responds to historical and ongoing threats to mountains in the Pacific, including mining, deforestation, urbanism, militarism, and tourism. Specific to Hawai’i, I also wrote this poem in solidarity with native Hawaiians who are protecting their sacred mountain, Mauna Kea, from development and desecration by the colonial astronomy industry, who is planning to build the largest telescope in the world atop Mauna Kea. Hawaiians have established an encampment at the access road to the mountain to stop construction, and they have even created a free school there with daily classes, events, dancing, chanting, and other rituals. My wife, who’s Hawaiian, and our family went to the base of Mauna Kea last summer to perform our poetry and show solidarity. I performed “Chanting the Mountains” for the first time there. The pictures depict our experience.”

-for International Mountain Day, December 11th

Chanting the Mountains

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because mountains are born from contracting tectonic plates––  

because mountains live on a quarter of the planet’s surface––

because mountains shape local and global climates

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because mountains nourish trees, animals and food crops––

because mountains house native peoples, minorities, and refugees––

because mountains create corridors for migrating species––

because my family lives on a submerged mountain–– 

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because mountains capture moisture from the atmosphere–– 

because mountains filter aquifers and source rivers––

because mountains provide freshwater for half of humanity

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because what else do you call places that are always being desecrated 

by corporations, armies, and nations––

who clearcut, detonate, drill, mine, extract, and pollute––

who violently remove mountaintops––

who violently remove entire mountains 

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we say stop! 

this is our center of creation–––stop! 

this is where we bury and honor our dead––stop! 

this is where we pilgrimage, worship, and make offerings––stop! 

you are hurting our mountain elders

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because there once was a mountain here––

because this deep opened wound was once home

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 

because what else do you call places that are always being endangered: 

melting glaciers and ice caps, severe erosion and floods, 

eruptions and earthquakes, diminishing crop yields, water flow, and biodiversity, 

scorched earth wars and border conflicts

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because my daughter loves playing at Mānoa Valley park, 

surrounded by the Koʻolau mountains––

because one day she’ll ask us “What is the tallest mountain in the world?”––

we’ll tell her, Mauna Kea stands more than 30,000 feet above the ocean floor, 

home of Papa and Wakea, Earth Mother and Sky Father, 

the birthplace of your Hawaiian ancestors” 

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we’ll have to tell her about the violent construction 

of massive observatories atop Mauna Kea––

we’ll have to explain why scientists yearn to see 

billions of light years into space yet refuse to see 

the sacredness of this place

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we’ll also tell her about the aloha ʻāina protectors––

who stopped the groundbreaking of a Thirty Meter Telescope––

who bravely stood on the access road, held hands, and chanted: 

“ku kiaʻi mauna”––

Say: “Mountains are sacred” 


We are Mauna Kea 

we are Lamlam 

We are Nakauvadra 

We are Popomanaseu 

We are Taranaki 

We are Uluru 

We are Lata 

We are Silisili 

We are Panié 

We are Orohena 

We are Nemangkawi 

We are Terevaka 

We are Tabwemasana 

We are Kao 

We are Enduwa Kombuglu  

We are Ngga Pulu 

We are Giluwe 

We are Haleakala

Say: “Mountains are sacred”

because we’ll teach our children: 

when you feel threatened, 

hold your palms out, touch 

your thumbs and pointers together 

to form a triangle, 

       like this–– 

and remember : when we stand 

to defend the sacred, we will be 

as strong as mountains–– 

remember : when we stand 

to protect the sacred, 

our voices will rise 

to the summit 

of the sky––

For more about Craig Santos-Perez

“Praise Song For Oceania,” poem by Craig Santos Perez, film by Justyn Ah Chong
YES! Media: “The Pacific Written Tradition,” poem by Craig Santos Perez

For more about Mauna Kea and the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope)

“Protect Mauna Kea”, Damian Jr. Gong Marley

Multimedia: “Reclaiming History”

Article: “The Fight for Mauna Kea Is a Fight Against Colonial Science,” Keolu Fox and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein