Blow ‘ye winds’ of the season

The skittish winds continue into May as we head for summer. Many of our winds are specific to certain areas and mini-climates of our island. In pre-contact times, all were recognized and named — unsurprising for a “colony” that arrived in the beginning in canoes, using navigational knowledge of winds and stars. The Hawaiian dictionary has more than a column of wind names keyed to islands and places.

With other musicians, I recently had the pleasure of learning a traditional song (“Longo Mai Lutia”) of voyagers from a small island in the Polynesian area of the Solomon Islands, some of whom are recent arrivals here via plane, visiting Kauai. Luke Vaikawi has been involved with Vaka Taumako, a Polynesian navigational project that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. He and his wife, Catherine Failiful, have been dreaming and hoping, longing to come for some time to see and experience first-hand some of the sights they have viewed, up to now, in photographs. A similar longing for winds via seasonal change that help the sailing canoes during voyages back and forth between islands, is part of the mentioned song.

Similar to our trade and Kona winds, the names of the two wind seasons embedded in the lyrics either delay or help a prospective bridegroom sail across the water from one far isle of the Solomons to another, to finalize a marriage with his betrothed. Whether waiting for another season to pass after first meeting and agreement between neighbor isle families regarding a wedding, or, in the visitors’ case before coming, waiting to accumulate travel funds before another waiting period for a visa allowing international travel, the dreaming and longing are all part of the anticipation.

We heard a previewed version sung by Rex Alalo, whose guitar rhythm set a tempo like gentle waves sloshing back and forth. Other versions are sung and played faster, I learned. I wonder if, beyond the varied styles and moods of the singers, this difference is due to the marked difference in ocean tides and swells.

The website for the Vaka Taumako Project provides an interesting source for anyone interested in canoes and navigation, related information, as well as peoples of the Pacific region throughout the big Pacific. Two Kauai residents — Dr. Mimi George and Heu‘ionalani Wyeth — have been helpers of the Taumako since the project began. They have given informative talks and presentations at the Kauai Museum, National Tropical Botanical Gardens, University of Hawaii, and international universities and conferences.

In talking with George (informally called Mimi since she and “Heu‘i” are also members of Ka Imi Na Auao o Hawaii Nei Institute) she tweaked my interest, saying that although stars are important for navigation, the winds are even more so.

“Taumako wayfinders use wind positions to correlate what they know about the interrelationships of a great variety of phenomena — swells, weather, seasons, stars, etc. — that they use to find their way,” she said.

Mimi cited how they observe the behaviors of seasonal cyclone (hurricane) winds, such as the Konas, versus the optimal tradewinds, to sail certain routes between islands and to know which stars to steer by.

In the song “Longo Mai Lutia,” the verses touch on the winds that are parts of the cyclone and tradewind seasons of their Nohonaga te Matangi (wind positioning system) — Tengarae and Tokelau. Mimi explained that the voyagers, when sailing to or from islands that are almost directly west of Taumako, travel one way or the other during the right season (either Tengarae or Tokelau). They follow the wind positions that line up with a star pattern known as Manu (same as in Hawaiian, “bird”). Manu is an imaginary alignment of the stars Canopus, Sirius and Procyon. Sirius is the “center path” or body of the bird; Canopus is the “long wing;” Procyon, the “short wing.”

During star watches you, too, can find and see this pattern — a bird flying at an angle with one long and one short wing, as when applying perspective to a drawing. I enjoyed the mental shift, leaving old visuals inherited through Greeks and Romans that have given us the western world’s star map, and trying to project myself into what Solomon Islanders would see in “their” sky.

Canopus (in the constellation Carina, the keel) is most visible in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s often described as “the second- brightest star in the sky.” A quick bit of research led me to the fact that it’s considered a class F giant, a rare class, with a mass close to that of the sun. It doesn’t surprise me that this “long wing” star helped guide Solomon Islanders, since supposedly Canopus is a star by which today’s spacecraft “regulate their attitude” in orbit (per Encyclopedia Britannica), because of its brightness in the star field surrounding it. “Green Flash” star-watching friends may see more at: 22858-canopus.html#sthash.nwXZIT73.dpuf

The website for the navigational project is an interesting source for anyone interested in canoes and navigation, related information, as well as peoples of the Pacific region throughout the big Pacific. Some good maps and further detailed information are located at taumako-project/. A new generation of Taumako voyagers/leaders will soon sail to Vanuatu in their recently-built voyaging canoe. When Taumako gets electricity and the Internet, Mimi further said, the Hawaii- based Pacific Traditions Society will be relieved of managing the website.

This goal is part of the action beyond dreaming as modern methods come into play to connect us, help us communicate and learn about — and support, if so moved — those who are not just awaiting the “right wind” but actively working toward creating it.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, has led group travel throughout the Pacific region and regularly instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer’s second memoir, “Burma Banyan,” based on the Burma of pre- and post-World War II times, will be published this year. She continues her work through TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai under DAWN Enterprises.


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