On a landlubber’s fascination with Polynesian seafaring

April Fools’ has passed, and that April deadline with the IRS approaches, yet once again I push my date to finalize 2015’s TurboTaxes forward. I feel inspired to write of connecting with voyagers, experienced and novice, here, on island.

While scanning TGI over breakfast one recent morning, the photo of the Hikianalia afloat led me to read “Sailing in Nawiliwili.” I learned that this sister canoe to the Hokulea had arrived several days before. Hikianalia and her crew were providing an onboard learning experience through the ‘Imi Naauao Crew Training program in progress at Kauai Community College for some 30 students, including those from Japanese maritime colleges. It was affirming to learn that the canoe’s crew was connecting, also, with the Kauai Sailing Association’s junior sailors, and to read of the pleasure resident Steve Soltysik derived from crewing aboard the Hikianalia as the support canoe to Hokulea as they left New Zealand almost a year ago.

“Tonight,” I said to my husband Dee, “there’s a program. At the college.”

A quick call to the information number verified the start time at KCC’s Performing Arts Center. We very much wanted to see the film “Papa Mau The Wayfinder” (Naalehu Anthony, Oiwi TV) to learn more of what the last Master Voyager — Mau Piailaug of Satawal — was able to impart to us in Hawaii of Polynesian voyaging before he died. Our curiosity also was piqued regarding the update of Hokulea’s Worldwide Voyage to be shown on the big screen, plus the story of the building of Namahoe (Gemini twin stars), Kauai’s own sailing canoe in progress.

Writing this when I should be completing our tax return, I can’t help wondering how the two of us, a pair of self-proclaimed landlubbers, can be so fascinated by the subject of Polynesian seafaring. The fascination may well have begun in our youth, when we discovered “Kon Tiki.” Fact now replaces supposition, in that today’s fascination is fueled by Hawaiian canoes demonstrating that what was known a thousand years ago — and mostly overlaid, or forgotten — has been rediscovered and put to use.

What a courageous idea — sailing double-hulled wooden canoes fitted with traditional crab-claw sails to far places over seemingly limitless seas. This is way-finding without benefit of charts and navigational instruments using the navigators’ knowledge of skies, currents and craft, and super seamanship.

For me, the thorough memorization of the sky map tracking the path of the stars and planets that leads to applying this knowledge while sailing open ocean seems almost magical. However, I do realize this relates to the function of astrolabes, charts and GPS instruments.

The importance of committing knowledge to memory was underlined for me when the effects of Hurricane ‘Iniki left me practically “bookless.” While loading and carting my revered books to dump, sodden and molding in the storm’s aftermath, the realization hit that it was not the actual volumes that were so important to me. The importance lay in what their texts had given me (beyond the enjoyment of reading discovery) in knowledge and awareness to help chart my life’s personal way-finding journey.

The voyaging “fever” that has been launched at this time with Hokulea’s global voyage of peace is alive and well throughout Hawaii and the world. I’ll wager that many readers have paid attention to recent reports, especially with President Obama joining the welcoming committee in Cuba, and with recent landfall of the craft in Florida preceding its Eastern seaboard leg.

And now, Kauai has offered safe harbor to Hokulea’s sister canoe as she came to exchange knowledge and aloha on Kauai. Hikianalia sailed from Nawiliwili on March 30, continuing her own voyage dedicated to sailing around the Hawaiian Islands “in search of stories of hope here at home that are making a positive change for Hawaii’s future.”

Inspiration for the future? For our youth? I would emphatically say so, after witnessing Imi Naauao’s young participants that recent March night after introductions and commentary given by Kauai seaman/instructor Dennis Chun and honored navigator John Kruse and company.

Following the traditional blowing of a quartet of pu, conch shells, toward the four points of the compass, the youths walked confidently into staggered rows and spread their palpable energy across the wide stage. They appeared to be making eye contact with each one of us across the stage lights, then lifted their voices to deliver a chant that reverberated with vigor and hope. It was spine-tinglingly inspirational, the way their voices launched and ebbed, then built again in the rhythm of a cohesive rowing crew, or like the sea. The chants continued in this way, at times solo, at times blending into a wave of exciting sound. The navigators of our future outdid themselves, bringing us to our feet to give a standing ovation.

As I looked around the great hall, noting many empty seats, I wished that more people could have come to experience what we’d just witnessed. I was truly “blown away” — no pun intended.

Look for more media announcements about the crew training organized by the ‘Ohana Wa’a (Family/Friends of the Canoe) organization. This program will not only lead to potential crews from various islands and communities but, I believe, feed into future strong leaders for the forward movement of Hawaii and renewed respect for the Hawaiian culture and original people. One thing, for sure, the excitement of sailing in traditional craft that is the result of this sea fever (fervor?) is bonding together a new generation of adventurers on the shores of Kauai — and beyond.

For this landlubber, it’s time to get grounded again (what with Earth Day approaching) and refocus on taxes. But, Dear Readers, be assured there is more to come about Kauai’s nani (beautiful) Namahoe and related subjects.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, regularly instructs visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar”/Pacific Islands Institute program, and through the programs of Ka Imi Institute. The writer is completing her second memoir, “Burma Banyan, A Quest for Roots,” sequel to the successful “Jackals’ Wedding.” Her professional work is through DAWN Enterprises, TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai.


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