Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, September 29, 1998

Maiden Voyage Productions
Gail Evenari explores the heart of
traditional Polynesian voyaging.

premieres at art

Film chronicles spirit
of Hawai'iloa's voyage
to Alaska

By Greg Ambrose
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Gail Evenari didn't think twice when the unexpected phone call came. Her first travels with crew members of the Hawaiian deep-sea voyaging canoe Hokule'a had stirred a passion in her, and the Half Moon Bay filmmaker jumped at the chance to sail again with the Hawaiians.

Evenari had already impressed them with her writing and interviewing techniques in the early '80s and again during the 1986 Voyage of Discovery to Samoa, Tonga and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

"These people in the Pacific have done extraordinary things for thousands of years, and most people don't know about it," Evenari said. "It doesn't even enter their realm of consciousness in people in Maine or Alabama."

The members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society allowed Evenari and her film crew to accompany them to Alaska in 1991, where the Tlingit and Haida Indians donated magnificent Sitka spruce trees for the hulls of the Hawai'iloa, an open-ocean voyaging canoe made of natural materials.

The project took her to the Cook Islands, the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Raiatea, the spiritual epicenter of the Polynesian universe for the remarkable gathering of the ancient canoes in 1995.

Working on a shoestring budget with National Endowment for the Humanities funding, Evenari's adventures are still bearing fruit.

Her documentary about the creation of the Hawai'iloa, titled "In The Wake of Our Ancestors," was shown several years ago to Hawaii viewers on KHET.

Maiden Voyage Productions
Gail Evenari, shown with Ray Day, tried to present an
islander's point of view in her documentary.

On Thursday, an invited audience will fill the Academy of Arts auditorium for the Hawaii premiere of Evenari's latest offering, "Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey." Presented by Pacific Islanders in Communications and the PVS, the documentary captures the essence of 22 years of the voyaging society's work, which contributed to the renewal of Polynesian pride in their ancestors' accomplishments.

Others can obtain a videotape of the film from Evenari, as well as a study guide for intermediate and high school students.

Otherwise, people will have to wait for its screening with the Hawaii International Film Festival in November, or wait until May, when KHET will broadcast "Wayfinders" as part of national Asian Pacific Heritage Month.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Wright Bowman Jr., who helped design and construct the Hokule'a and Hawai'iloa. His family has seen Evenari's work, and were pleased. Herb Kane, Hawaiiana historian and artist and co-founder of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, also was pleased with the film.

"I thought it was excellent," Kane said from his Big Island home. "I thought it was very sensitively done. She has a great deal of empathy, and was a pleasure to be around. One tends to forget she is there when she is filming, she and her camera guys become invisible.

"I'd say she will be very good for interpreting for a mainland audience what it is all about. And there is a lot of footage local people haven't seen."

Legacy is passed on

The heart of "Wayfinders" is the passing on of the legacy of dead-reckoning navigation. Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug taught young Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson the lost art of his ancestors. Nainoa taught the next generation of Hawaiians, as well as navigators in the Society Islands, Cook Islands and Aotearoa. And the process continues.

The documentary also tells the history of the settlement of the Pacific by Polynesians, with the part of Captain James Cook played by Patrick Stewart of "Star Trek" fame. Stewart was keen to participate in the project because he comes from the same part of England as Captain Cook.

Making these films seriously reoriented Evenari's perspective of the world.

Truth Contest Vaima "My respect for the Polynesians took an exponential leap. How much they had done and how far superior their navigational skills were to their European contemporaries." She had the strangest sensation when she encountered the Hokule'a for the first time. "I felt like I had been there before. Stepping on this ancient vessel, I felt like I was home."

Evenari was disappointed when she went to Norway to interview anthropologist/adventurer Thor Heyerdahl to get his perspective on Polynesian voyaging. She was dismayed to find that Heyerdahl holds firm to his belief that the Pacific islands were settled by South American sailors and fishermen blown off course.

"They did hundreds of thousands of voyage simulations on computers, and proved beyond any doubt the voyages of colonization couldn't have been accidental," Evenari says. "And still Heyerdahl clings stubbornly to his theory.

"That was one of the reasons why I as a mainlander felt compelled to make this film. After the Tonga to Samoa voyage on Hokule'a, when I told people what I had done, nine out of 10 people said, "Oh, you mean like Thor Heyerdahl.' "

"It became this mission where I had to educate the mainland public about what the truth was."

Evenari has a vision for a series of documentary films that would explore how different cultures see the world, with the hope that revealing such viewpoints will help unite people by making the world a smaller place.

Presenting as oceanic view

She already has taken a series of steps toward making the Pacific Ocean a smaller place, while helping people elsewhere see this watery world through the eyes of the Polynesians.

"Nainoa told me that the Polynesian view of the world is an oceanic view. It is a world view that sees the world as water, with islands in it. Over here we see the world as a huge piece of land broken up by water, and European voyagers saw it the same way. Voyaging techniques have changed over the centuries, but that perspective hasn't changed.

"Mau doesn't think of going to the islands, he points the canoe in a direction and brings the islands to it. This is so opposite from how we do things in the Western world. It is more accepting, less aggressive."

It was difficult for a "Jewish girl from Detroit" to capture the essence of what her subjects were doing, but she felt that her objectivity was essential to the project. "It was challenging to be among islanders, I was always conscious that I was on the outside. Sometimes I was made conscious of it; other times I was made to feel totally welcome.

"It has been a privilege for me to enter another world and become more familiar with it, and try in my own way to make that familiar to others."

She received an idea of how well she succeeded in June when she unveiled "Wayfinders" to a hometown audience in Half Moon Bay.

It was clearly a hit, receiving a standing ovation both nights. Evenari was even more pleased when a friend who had been born and raised in Hawaii spoke to her after visiting family in Hawaii. "She said she felt different about Hawaii after seeing the film, it had changed way she saw the islands. I thought that was pretty cool."

Evenari would be delighted to get a similar reaction to her film in Hawaii and across the nation. "I hope they get a sense of the history of the settlement of the islands and a respect for this culture that must seem real foreign to them. I also want them to get an appreciation for the islands and how beautiful they are."


Finding Wayfinders

Bullet What: "Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey" Where: Copies can be obtained with or without a study guide for teachers of students in grades 7-12 by calling Native Books at 845-8949, or by contacting Gail Evenari via e-mail:
Bullet Web site:
Bullet Phone: 1-650- 726-9234

Also, tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Maiden Voyage Productions at P.O. Box 3285 Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Truth Contest $6,000

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