ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Voyaging canoe crew member Kaleo Kualii hands a saw to a workman building the new voyaging canoe Maisu at Kawaihae on the Big Island.
Time short to return gift of sailing to Yap
KAWAIHAE, Hawaii » Resting from the afternoon heat at Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island, Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug perks up when more than 30 kids from around the state arrive at a warehouse to learn traditional navigation from him.
At age 74, "Papa Mau" is eager to pass along his knowledge in Hawaii and in his Micronesian home state of Yap.
Here at Kawaihae, children have had the 54-foot, double-hulled canoe Makalii as a floating school since 1995. The children of Micronesia have none.
That will change as the builders of the Makalii, Na Kalai Waa Moku o Hawaii, builds a new canoe as a gift to Mau.
The canoe is nearing completion, but time for a voyage this year is short. The 4,500-mile sail to Yap has to avoid the hurricane season, starting in May. Every day that passes adds danger and possible postponement of the voyage, said Chadd Paishon, Kalai Waa's executive director.
Another $80,000 is needed to finish the $300,000 project, he said.
The 57-foot vessel will be called Maisu, the name of a certain wind that knocks breadfruits from their trees only when they are ready to be eaten. The meaning is that the Maisu is ready to feed knowledge to Micronesians, Paishon said.
The Maisu has a spar reaching far forward with a carving like a bowsprit. The image is a noio, the Hawaiian noddy tern. Widespread across the Pacific, the bird is known for leading sailors back to land, just as the canoe will lead sailing skills home to Micronesia, said Kalai Waa's executive secretary, Pomai Bertelmann.
Sailing skills are clan secrets in Micronesia. Mau, who learned navigation from his grandfather starting at age 4, objects. Opening a fist, he says, "I took something. Don't hold it. Better share it."
In 1976, Mau shared, a native of the tiny Micronesian island of Satawal guiding the Hawaiian canoe Hokule'a, a voyaging vessel of a type not built for hundreds of years. The knowledge had been lost among Hawaiians.
For the children of Hawaii, canoes like Hokule'a and Makalii have become classrooms for those old skills.
Bertelmann says, "We're not trying to make sailors." The real purpose of teaching navigation in Hawaii is for youth to learn, "Through hard work, anything is possible."
Mau has a different goal: to create full-time sailors at home.
His son Sesario Sewralur, a sergeant in the Yap police force, says the need to guide youth in Micronesia is similar to Hawaii. Some are using drugs, committing crimes, going to jail. Imprisonment brings such shame in Micronesia that it leads in some cases to suicide, he said.
With the Maisu as a classroom, Sewralur plans to change young people. "I want to show them something. There's still a lot of things to do in the world," he said.
He will do it the way his father wants, by quitting the police force and becoming a full-time teacher and navigator.
Donations to complete the Maisu can be sent to Na Kalai Waa, Box 748, Kamuela, HI 96743; or call 808-885-9500.|