Isle navigation documentary creates ohana to aid Satawal
Isle's location poses challenges
WHEN Elizabeth Kapuuwailani Lindsey's team members talk about her new documentary film, hands cover hearts, tears well in eyes and passion emanates from every word. Clearly, this is not just another project -- for any of them.
Award-winning filmmaker Lindsey, who also has a doctorate in ethnonavigation, will lead the crew to Satawal to document master navigator Mau Piailug's life. With a working title of "Ancient Light," the film slated for the festival circuit this fall could become the pilot for a national television series on PBS.
The crews aboard Hokule'a, Maisu and their escort boat are doing well, according to Kathy Thompson, spokeswoman for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Despite light winds, they have traveled more than 400 miles from Manuka on the Big Island. Hokule'a navigates and leads the way but always keeps Maisu in sight. A pod of pilot whales surrounded the escort boat Sunday night, which all took to be a good sign, Thompson said.
» Follow the voyage of Hokule'a at the Polynesian Voyaging Society web site at: www.pvs.hawaii.org
But what started as a documentary on a fading culture has evolved into a humanitarian effort, said Lindsey, who has arranged for supplies and food to be shipped with the film equipment to the remote island community.
It all began last year when Piailug, who instructed Nainoa Thompson, Shorty Bertelmann, the late Clayton Bertelmann and Lindsey in the indigenous science of navigation, asked Lindsey to document his teachings. She assured him she would, knowing a film would sustain his legacy. "It's the last time we're all going to see Mau alive," said Lindsey, who explained that Piailug is seriously ill. "And it's important to him that this knowledge doesn't die."
By chance, her trip to Satawal will coincide with Hokule'a's journey to deliver a long-overdue gift to Piailug in the form of the voyaging canoe Alingano Maisu. This is something that would have been difficult to orchestrate, because the canoe's launch schedule was fluid, she said. "But now we're working in tandem."
The documentary is also a chance to honor Bertelmann. "Clay wanted Maisu built more than Mau, and the whole (Big Island) community turned out to construct this canoe," Lindsey said.
Master Navigator Mau Piailug meets with filmmaker Elizabeth Lindsey. CLICK FOR LARGE
Getting a film crew to Satawal is no easy prospect. First, the nearest location an airplane can land is Chuuk, hundreds of miles away. The reef and treacherous ocean surrounding Satawal often prevent supply boats from making contact with residents for months at a time. And there is no electricity or running water. Consequently, Lindsey struggled with logistics.
Then she met Leighton Tseu, Matson's regional port engineer. Matson helped purchase food and supplies for the residents of Satawal and offered to transport the container free of charge.
"It doesn't take this," said Tseu, rubbing his fingers together in the gesture of money. "It takes this." He put his hand over his heart. "There's so much magic in this. It's deep, it's honest, it's clean and it's beautiful."
Continental Airlines supplied air freight. Menehune Water donated drinking water. Costco, Wal-Mart and Down to Earth all provided gift certificates for food and supplies. Pacific Islanders in Communication issued a grant. Patagonia will outfit Lindsey and her team. And the Micronesian government made a surveillance vessel available to carry the crew and provisions from Pohnpei to Satawal.
"It's all connected," Tseu said. "Corporate, workers and the community. We all became one big family in two weeks. It's very strong."
The crew will leave items such as generators, flashlights, rice, clothes and reusable plastic bins for waterproof storage on Satawal for the residents.
"We should be coming back with just our camera gear, the tapes and the clothes on our back," said Kalani Souza, co-executive producer of "Ancient Light."
Those involved see the project as a way to unify the Hawaiian people.
"Obviously, I used to be one of these chain-myself-to-a-tree guys," said Souza, a kahu and musician who specializes in conflict resolution. "But this kind of effort -- self-started, grass-roots -- is indicative of self-healing. All of us deal with historic trauma, and this is a way of addressing it."
He hopes the film emphasizes how connected everyone really is, especially in the Pacific.
"Mau left his country to teach us," Tseu said. "Now everyone trying to go to Micronesia and pass it back, like the wind come around." Maisu is named for the wind that sends breadfruit from the tree to the ground to sustain the community.
Environmental activist and world-class paddler Donna Kahakui agreed. "We came from the Pacific. This is about going back to remember the people and the cultures who came before us, and pay respect to them. How can anyone not support this project? Because it is about the master navigator who helped teach our navigators to remember what we lost, and in doing so brought back our culture."
On Jan. 21, Lindsey, Kahakui and other crew members gathered at the Kamehameha Schools to inventory a list of hundreds of items that will fill the Matson container. Hawaiian music played in the background as they unloaded cases, including first-aid equipment, li hing mango candy, towels, canned goods and educational materials for the Satawalese children.
The container begins its voyage today to Guam and then Pohnpei. From there it will make the four-day voyage to Satawal, where anchorage is poor and there is no dock. So unloading valuable electronic equipment onto the beach from small boats will be yet another challenge. But Lindsey is ready.
"This is the fulfillment of a promise I made to my teacher," she said. "How could I not do this? I'm grateful to be one of many serving as a bridge between Eurocentric science and indigenous knowledge. And this project means I'll be able to continue to share Mau's legacy for years to come. It's our ability to say thank you in a pure and pono way."