HOKULE'A: SEAFARING KNOW-HOW
GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Hokule'a crew caught a 150-pound ahi a couple of days before reaching Ulithi in Micronesia. Fish was the major source of protein during the voyage. Attwood Makanani, left, Nainoa Thompson and Tim Gilliom are shown here. CLICK FOR LARGE
A Micronesian showed the way
Native Hawaiian seafarers complete their Micronesian journey and in doing so set a course for future Pacific islander wayfinders
More than 30 years ago, a Micronesian sailor from a tiny island gave native Hawaiians an immense gift: a way to find their way in the vast Pacific without modern navigational tools.
As the crew of the double-hulled canoe Hokule'a prepares to leave Micronesia on its way to Japan, the mighty Pacific no longer feels so daunting and empty. To them, the waters that they ply on the Hokule'a nurture and connect people rather than separate them.
"The voyage bridges us closer and closer as one ocean and one people," Hokule'a Capt. Nainoa Thompson said. "I think it's an extraordinary place. These are Pacific islanders strong in their culture, strong in their heritage."
'ONE OCEAN AND ONE PEOPLE'
THE double-hulled canoe Hokule'a has completed its Micronesian voyage, a trip that helped native Hawaiians revive navigational wayfinding and voyaging in the vast Pacific.
"The voyage bridges us closer and closer as one ocean and one people," Hokule'a Capt. Nainoa Thompson said. "I think it's an extraordinary place. These are Pacific islanders strong in their culture, strong in their heritage.
"Everywhere we went we watched the kids go by and their relatives. In some ways it reminded me of old Hawaii. When I was a kid, everybody knew everybody."
The 4,300-mile voyage to eight different islands and atolls across Micronesia had been planned to deliver the double-hulled canoe Alingano Maisu to Mau Piailug, the navigational mentor of the Hokule'a who sailed in the historic 1976 Tahiti-Hawaii voyage.
But Piailug had an unexpected gift to give to his wayfinding students, initiating five Polynesians into the Pwo, a select group of Micronesian navigators.
More than 30 years ago, Piailug navigated the Hokule'a for the native Hawaiians in their sail to Tahiti, with the expressed hope that they would one day help his native Satawal in its efforts to reinvigorate waning interest in wayfinding.
The Pwo ceremony on Piailug's Satawal island was the first in decades and became an affirmation that native wayfinding and voyaging in the Pacific has made a critical turn for the better in his home region.
Besides the five native Hawaiians -- Thompson, Shorty Bertelmann, Chadd Paishon, Bruce Blankenfeld and Chadd Babayan -- 11 Micronesians were inducted into Pwo, including Piailug's son Sesario Sewralur.
The Alingano Maisu will be based on Satawal and Yap, where Sewralur works as a police sergeant and plans to start a voyaging organization that involves youths.
The Hokule'a was scheduled to leave Palau this week and return to Yap, the island chosen as the staging area for its trip to Japan. On Yap, they'll wait for the right wind and sea conditions before moving on.
"Everything is driven by the weather. When we go to Yap, we'll sit there until we have ideal conditions," Thompson said.
That means strong trade winds to blow the Hokule'a from Yap to Okinawa in 10 to 14 days, with no indications of circulating clouds that could create typhoons.
The more than two-month-long voyage has taken its physical toll on the crews, with calloused hands and feet, an assortment of broken rubber slippers, and various cuts that required a steady supply of disinfectants, cotton swabs and duct tape.
One crew member who suffered a bloody nose was nearly washed overboard in the Hawaii-Majuro leg, when a rogue wave at night threw him against a railing.
Several crew members left abruptly -- one after experiencing dehydration, another from a high fever and suspected flu, a third from coming back to his home island of Satawal to find his wife seven months pregnant, and a fourth responding to a mother's illness in Hawaii.
Throughout Micronesia, crew members, especially the navigators and captains, have been treated to exuberant welcoming ceremonies.
Islanders have adorned the crew with leis and garlands and greeted them with songs prepared especially for their arrival. On remote islands such as Satawal and Woleai, where native culture remains strong, women rubbed yellow tumaric on crew members as part of the greeting.
Observing island protocols, the native Hawaiians brought gifts for the chiefs to demonstrate a respect for the cultures of the islands.
Before entering Yap, the crews obtained permission from Woleai chiefs, who lifted the kapu to allow women aboard the Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu and for the crews to sail into Mogmog island in Ulithi with their masts up.
In the past, natives would sever the masts of ships that sailed into Mogmog, a sign of hostility and a lack of respect.
The Hokule'a explained to the Ulithi chiefs that their rigging required them to keep the masts up, and the chiefs agreed to give them an exemption.
"We'd like to thank you for not cutting our masts," Maisu navigator Paishon told the chiefs during arrival ceremonies where the Hawaiians delivered gifts of lava lava and coconut sennitt.
Riding in one-man fishing canoes , young people of Satawal repeated the names of the Hokule'a and Maisu in exuberant chants, and some Satawalese children became so comfortable with the Hawaiians that they used the canoes as offshore recreational diving platforms.
Crew members were hosted by a number of dignitaries during their journey, including presidents, a U.S. ambassador and nongovernmental organizations.
A piece of coral from the former military target island of Kahoolawe was given by Hawaiians aboard the Hokule'a as a gesture of understanding and hopeful healing to Marshall Islands' Bikinians who have lived in exile since the 1946-1958 nuclear tests exposed their islands to radiation.
Crews of the Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu learned about how islands near Pohnpei are disappearing from rising sea waters blamed on global warming, and how an increasing reliance on Western canned food has led to an increase of diabetes- related illnesses among Micronesians.
The crews aboard the Hokule'a had gone through their own evolution in diet in the last 30 years, switching from a heavy reliance on white rice, Spam and Vienna sausage to a mixture of white and brown rice along with soy milk, tofu and dehydrated vegetables. Freshly caught fish has remained the main fare.
Thompson said the voyage has helped to establish a continuing relationship with Micronesia, including a medical clinic in Ulithi.
The Hawaii-based Aloha Medical Mission, which met the Hokule'a in Ulithi, was looking at ways to continue health services to the region.