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Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 13: A Corner for Mankind (Fall 2019)
A Corner for Mankind was designed and edited by Tammy Nguyen and produced by Téa Chai Beer with assistance from Katrina Fuller.
About the contributors:
Nodumo Ncomanzi is a radical African with albinism. They love snakes, and are tired of being excluded in crucial spaces, such as governance.
John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States of America.
William Safire was an author, columnist, lexicographer, journalist, political speechwriter.
Last July, a protest about a telescope to be built on the big island of Hawaii went viral on my social media. The protesters opposed the construction of an enormous observatory, called the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), to be built on the volcano Mauna Kea. The TMT proposes the most grandiose technologies that can “capture images ‘that look back to the beginning of the universe.’”(1) The protesters argue that the construction of this observatory will continue to devastate Mauna Kea, which is already home to many telescopes. Many of the protestors are scientists who have already been working on the volcano and Native Hawaiians who consider themselves kia‘i, or protectors.
Tensions on Mauna Kea date back to 1893, when the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown and Hawaiians lost their land and their culture. Mauna Kea is a particularly contentious site because it is sacred to Hawaiians and is known as the home to Wakea, the sky god. On the other hand, Mauna Kea is an idyllic place for astronomical observations and research because the summit is so high that the air is arid, dry, and free of atmospheric pollution. Development for astronomical research has been active, even encouraged, on Mauna Kea since the 1960s. Today there are 13 observational facilities funded by as many as 11 countries.
There are many points of tension in this conflict; one concerns the controversy surrounding the TMT and is about which “Others” deserve respect, attention, and protection. Do we honor the Hawaiians and their faith? Or, do we honor science and its enormous curiosity for the extraterrestrial? The Hawaiians are “Others” to corporations and governments that do not recognize their culture as significant enough to supercede their investing in knowing another “Other” which they believe could advance their idea of humanity.
And so, this issue of Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 13, Fall 2019, A Corner for Mankind, brings together disparate subjects that aim to stretch our imagination from humans to the moon and back.
The centerfold of this zine presents a pop-up volcano graced by illustrations of the Wekiu bug, an insect that thrives on Mauna Kea. Despite the extreme temperatures that can fluctuate between 108F and 25F and there is virtually no plant life, the Wekiu bug has found a way to thrive: by feeding off the insects that are carried by the wind to the mountain top to die.
When you look inside the volcano, it turns into a sort of telescope wherein you can see an illuminated map of the stars from the planet’s Southern Hemisphere that blankets many of humanity’s “Others”, including those on the continent of Africa. In one of the signatures is a short story by Albinism awareness activist Nodumo Ncomanzi, who pens a futurist fiction where people with albinism have taken over governmental reins across Africa. The protestors that flood Harare’s Airport Road in her narrative are remembered in the pop-up volcano: a distorted image of the modern road is centered inside of the volcano, making this particular model of Mauna Kea, a mountain of the mind, occupied by the conscience of the “Other” from within.
In the other signature is another futurist fiction by a man who held the government reins of America for a short time. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University wherein he rallied America to be excited about putting a man on the moon, a race between American and the Soviet Union. In his famous speech he sermonized:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
And as truthful as fate could ever be to a choice, America landed two men on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 under President Nixon, who on the phone said to astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin that “the heavens have become a part of man’s world”. An “Other” had been obtained by the landing of a few earthlings seeking out a national cause.
One thing that disturbs me when I think about space exploration and Native Hawaiians protesting the TMT is that NASA was very thorough in its research of Mauna Kea. In a 660 page document from 2005 entitled Final Environmental Impact Statement For the Outrigger Telescopes Project, NASA documents numerous accounts of concern for the building of the TMT, a very detailed report on the significance of Mauna Kea to the Native Hawaiians, and even a Wekiu bug mitigation plan. Despite all of this, construction was supposed to commence in 2018 until protests broke out and became viral.
It seems that it is someone’s choice to select the Native Hawaiians as “Other”, but unlike the “Other” of space, the “Othering” of humans is a decision made by the “non-Other” that some people’s customs and ways of living are not as important as their own. In another way, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s humanity was turned into a proxy for America: they were two earthlings who became representative of a whole nation. Had they not made it, America knew it had to keep their memory as human and not a national mission.
On the sides of this zine is a back-up speech prepared by William Safire, who was President Nixon’s speechwriter. In case of a “Moon Disaster”, Safire penned:
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
In death, but with ease, the moon is man. It is one of us, but never will the Hawaiians, or those of us with albinism, or the Wekiu bug be a man like the moon.
– Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief