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HOW TO LIVE WISDOM

HOW TO LIVE WISDOM

In 2011, a video of a kid speechifying after learning to ride a bike went viral.  His dad “interviewed” him after his accomplishment, asking him whether he had any “words of wisdom” for all the other kids who wanted to ride a bike.

Thumbs up everybody…for rock ‘n roll!” à la the rock group KTN (Kill the Noise) the little boy says, and the world laughed.

The video above is the “Original,” according to the YouTube posting.  Copies and parodies proliferated for a while.

I thought on all the sometimes-marvelous, oftentimes moving sermons and speeches and lectures and blogs and videos and books and courses and such put out by assorted and varied people.

It seems to me that if you know how to play with words, work your voice, and move your body with conviction and sincerity radiating out of your every pore, it’s not that hard to come up with stuff that at least gets people on their feet and cheering, rarin’ to go off and conquer the world.

There are even courses that will teach you how to induce that effect on other people, and on yourself, I suppose.

The problem is the word-induced enthusiasms and zeal sort of fade away when those people in the audience go back to their ordinary, regular lives.

The fervor and the fire dies down, drowning in the wake of the unending same-old.  The audience members come down off the high and it all turns to meh again.

Wisdom words seem to have a short shelf life.

The viral video made us laugh at ourselves because we know that space, all of us.

IF YOU REALLY WANT TO INSPIRE “THE MASSES”

Master Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson once said, “What is respected by the masses is action; you can inspire someone for a day with your words, but you can inspire someone for a lifetime by what you do.”

And that’s a truth.  Thompson lives it.

He is famed as the first Native Hawaiian in 600 years to practice the ancient Hawaiian art of navigation on long distance ocean voyages using only the stars, the wind and the waves, the flight of birds and the power of focused intent.

It has been his life-work to guide the Hōkūle’a, (“Star of Gladness” or Arcturus), a modern-day iteration of the double-hulled sailing canoes used by the ancients to sail across the Paciific.

Nainoa has also helped to further the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit research and education organization that grew out of the effort to build the canoe and to sail her.

[For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society, click on the button below.]

click-here

The society has developed many ways to explore the deeper meanings of voyaging and wayfinding and they continue to reconnect the island peoples of Oceania with the old ways, with each other, and with the world.

In their growing, they’ve helped to revitalize a number of cultural practices that hold great meaning and mana for the ones who live it.

These practices include art, language, music, dance, ways of thinking and ways of cooperation that are a counter to the homogenizing and narrowing effects of our post-modern dependence on machines and straight-line thinking.

OF COURSE THERE IS A BOOK….

There’s a book, HAWAIKI RISING:  Hōkūle’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Resistance by Sam Low, a photographer and film-maker who documented the origin tale as it happened.

The book tells the story of the vessel’s making and her first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976.  It captures the images of the people who made her and sailed her.

The saga is a remarkable tale of high adventure and great derring-do, a chronicle of the beginnings of one of the sparks that ignited the rebirth of a culture and a people that was languishing in defeat and despair.

(The author also made an award-winning film, “The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific”.)

In 1978, the Hōkūle’a embarked from Oahu’s Magic Island, once again headed toward Tahiti on another cultural expedition. This time the dream was to have a Hawaiian navigate the canoe on the trip to Tahiti.

The canoe capsized in treacherous seas outside the Hawaiian islands and the crew spent the night adrift.

Eddie Aikau, an internationally acclaimed surfer and waterman, who was a member of the crew, set off on his surfboard to find help.  He was never seen again.

The crew was rescued, but the loss of Eddie which was compounded by the departure of their teacher, master navigator Mau Piailug, left the leadership of the voyaging group in disarray.

(Mau had returned to his home, disgusted at the contentious infighting and lack of consensus among the Hawaiians, before the trip began.)

Nainoa’s father and other leaders in the Hawaiian community helped the young people work through their disheartenment.

The old guys, who were experienced group leaders, told the younger ones that they had not “earned” the trip.  They had not learned enough of what they needed to know to make the run.

Any great endeavor requires extraordinary preparation and forethought and a great deal of hard work.  Until you’ve done the work and developed the backlog of skills that you need to deal with the inevitable emergencies, you are likely to meet with failure.

The elders spoke from experience gained over lifetimes of trying and failing and trying again.

With the sharing of their life-knowledge they helped to foster the understanding that there could be a deeper purpose for the voyaging than just playing around and having a good time on the open sea.

Thompson went to Micronesia to bring Mau back.

strings-of-life
“Strings of Life” (banyan tree roots) by Paul Oka via Flickr. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The group learned.  Thompson learned.  They earned that trip to Tahiti and then planned and worked and did others.

They continued to venture out on voyages throughout the Pacific, to build their community, and to build canoes.

They kept extending the circle of connection outward.

AN ICON RIDING THE WAVES THROUGH TIME

Hōkūle’a, which was designed by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane, has become a symbol of the ancient indigenous arts of wayfinding and sailing off into the unknown and for the power of human connection and cooperation.

hokulea
Hōkūle’a” by Steve Judd [CC BY-NC-ND 2]
Other canoes have since been built, but she was the start.

Her greatest voyage was a three-year circumnavigation of the earth that began in March, 2014.  Hōkūle’a docked at 150 ports, stopping in 23 countries including Tahiti, Brazil, South Africa and Cuba and came home in June, 2017.

The world watched.  The children learned.

An interesting thing.

The around-the-world voyage began with many of the oldest surviving members of the past canoe crews who had a hand in sailing the vessel over the years of going out and then returning.

The crew that brought her home were from among the best and newest voyagers who had been trained by their elders.

And the procession continues, from the old ones to the young ones, from the past to the future.

THE POWER OF REMEMBERING YOUR TEACHERS

In 2015, as Hōkūle’a was making the world-encircling voyage, PBS Hawaii’s Leslie Wilcox presented an episode in their Long Story Short series that featured Wilcox’s interview of Nainoa Thompson.

The talk-story meanders through Thompson’s life and includes his childhood and his history with wayfaring and the cultural renaissance of the Hawaiian people, touching on turning points and highlights of his life-journey.

It elucidates Nainoa’s thoughts on how one develops into a worthy leader, the importance of building community, and the value of teachers and mentors in this process.

Even more importantly, Nainoa explains how he continues to live his life based on the “culture of values” into which he was born.

Here’s the YouTube video of the interview:

About halfway through the video, Thompson talks about the time when he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court, in the year 2000, to serve as one of the five trustees for the Bishop Estate, the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii.

The trust, established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will, funds the Kamehameha Schools, a private school system in the state that the princess founded.

Nainoa’s appointment as a trustee came at a time when the trust was rocked by a scandal centered around gross mismanagement that jeopardized the future of the schools.

The previous board had been dismissed and Thompson was one of the replacement trustees, recommended by many community leaders.

Nainoa said that he felt absolutely inadequate for the job at hand. He was a fisherman, he said.

…I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this.”

Maybe it’s a Hawaiian “thing” – one of those values that are a given:  When your community asks you to do something because they believe that you are the one who can help, then you have to respond to that trust and say yes.

Once you do that, you have obligated yourself to try to do the best you know how and to learn how to do better than you already know.

maui-love
“Maui Love” by Roozbeh Rokni via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Thompson tells how he countered his own self-doubt during that time by having his assistant hang in his office pictures of all of his life-teachers, those who he defined as “leaders that navigated” – the ones who had set the course for him for his whole life.  There were more than sixty pictures on the walls of the room.

The pictures included Pius Mau Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Thompson’s father Myron “Pinky” Thompson; NASA Space Shuttle astronaut and teacher Charles Lacy Veach; and waterman Eddie Aikau.

Whenever he faced uncertainty and overwhelming pressure to make some complex decision that involved balancing the often-conflicting needs of the people involved in an issue or situation, Nainoa would take a time-out and go sit in the room, surrounded by his teachers.

He would remember their stories, how they acted, how they thought, and the way they lived. He would ponder on what they would do in the situation he was facing.

Their ways of walking became the foundation for building and developing his own.

He says, “…that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself.  Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do….”

At one point in the interview, he calls the fear of moving forward into ambiguity and uncertainty and taking the next action his “best friend.”

Thompson likens that fear to a door you don’t want to open– the one that requires you to be honest about all of your inadequacies and your-less-than-perfect self and to go on anyhow.

For that lesson, he credits his friend, Eddie Aikau, the big-wave surfer who always would go, who always wanted to take action.

Eddie said, Open the door.”

doorknob
“Doorknob” by SirSlasher via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Nainoa kept that thought with him as he continued to help to build a legacy for the ones who followed after him.

Once his term as a Bishop Estate trustee ended, Thompson went back to the sea.

The voyages and the wayfinding continues still.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a writer and a poet, I am very much aware of the power (and the limitations) of words.

I do know that one elegant and beautiful way of walking through the world is more valuable than all the words and words and words that are meant to move the hearts around you.

It’s a good thing to remember when you are working towards some dream or other.  It really does not matter whether the walker becomes famous or remains obscure.  It’s glorious to succeed, but what are you succeeding at?

It seems to me that what is important is whether the way the walker walks helps to make the world a better place for everybody else.

It’s probably the most effective way to make friends and influence people as well.

tree-fern-crozier-unfurling
“Tree Fern Crozier Unfurling” by J Brew via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
 Here’s a poem….


WISDOM

Wisdom is simple, they tell me.

It’s just hard to walk easy like that.

Wisdom doesn’t make things or break things.

Wisdom just knows when to move,

When to be still.

And if you follow wisdom,

Maybe so will you.

 

Go…Stop…Start…Finish.

 

You make this turn, not that.

You dance a jig and spin a spin,

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You talk, you shout,

You stare, you glare,

You take a dare,

You throw it all down

On one roll of the dice,

Or walk away, whistling.

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You look and see what’s really there,

Join in the spectator crowd,

Or maybe hide your head in the sand,

Or you pull out some ‘scope –

Micro-,

Tele-,

Kaleido-,

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You play or not,

You pass or plot

Or maybe you cheat at cards.

You take a stand,

Gather a band,

Or run like hell’s coming after.

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

The trick of it all is in knowing when

And you really can’t buy that

From some magic man.

 

Time’s what you need

And stepping real slow…

And, always, always, that is wisdom.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “A Place In the Sun” by Chie Gondo in Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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YOUR TURN TO TRY

YOUR TURN TO TRY

Here’s another way of Un-Seeing, one involving time and space.

Google what “Hawaiian time” means and you will probably get some variation of “late.” Sometimes the definition comes with a fifteen-minute grace-period added and, often, there’s a bit of humor-filled tolerance included.

As more than one entry so delicately puts it, we island people are afflicted by a “relaxed indifference to precise scheduling.”  Uh-huh.

These days, many of us have speeded up some.

Some of that is just modern living.  As things crowd in and everything moves faster and faster around us, even the slower-moving ones pick up speed.

traffic
“Honolulu Traffic” by Charlie Boy Criscola via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Time gets chopped up smaller and smaller and we are compelled, it seems, to cram more doing into those little bits of time.

Some of it’s about getting more in tune with goal- and future-oriented thinking.

Some of it is just another facet of being a different kind of polite, another way of showing respect.

THEY GOT IT WRONG

The thing is, all those folks on Google got it mostly wrong.

For Hawaiians, at least, time flows deep and wide.

As an ocean people, we are aware that we are sailing off into unknown waters pushed by winds and wave, guided by the stars and by our own knowledge, sustained by our skills.

We depend on each other to help all of us deal with whatever we encounter.    We are on the same boat and the ocean is very big.

We know.  We are all in this together and each of us depends on every other one to try to help us all get to a better place.

Each of us gets a turn to try.

ocean
“Ocean” by Mark Howard via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

TIME (AND SPACE) AND ANOTHER WAY OF UN-SEEING

There is a Hawaiian proverb that says, “I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope.”  One translation of that phrase is this: “In the past, the future is.”  An even looser one is, “We look to the past as a guide to the future.”

However, the proverb itself, when translated literally, is layered with meaning and reveals itself as something of a paradox.

The term for the past in Hawaiian, “i ka wā ma mua,” literally means “the space/time in front of your body” and the one for the future, “i ka wā ma hope,” means “the space/time in back of your body.”

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“Petroglyph, Pu’u Loa Trail” by Colleen McNeil via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Hawaiian historian Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa was one of the first modern-day native scholars to point out and elaborate on this concept.  She said, “It is as if the Hawaiian stands firmly in the present with his back to the future and his eyes fixed upon the past, seeking historical answers to present day dilemmas.”

It sounds like Hawaiians look forward into the past and walk backwards into the future, doesn’t it?

But, in a very pragmatic way, the people who are sensitive to indigenous ways of walking and who look towards the traditions of their culture for solutions to complicated modern problems accept the reality that we humans are blind to the future.

The best of the wise ones are also aware that many of the problems we now face were once addressed quite handily by the people who lived before us.  (Trying to live a “sustainable” life, for example, is a supposedly “new” solution that native peoples lived every day for centuries.)

Often, those who honor cultural traditions will choose to look at and pay attention to the old ones’ solutions when they brainstorm ways of dealing with the newest iterations of age-old problems.

NON-LINEAR NATIVE TIME

This concept of looking to the distant past for solutions to present-day and future problems may be a bit confusing for more modern-minded folks.

It directly contradicts the Western view that the past is “behind us” and our future lies “before” or “ahead” of us.  It refuses to agree that the past is something we need to let go so we can get on with doing the future.

To many native peoples, however, time is not particularly linear.

The native view involves cycles within cycles, day and night, season following season, generation following generation.  Time spirals outward, accompanied by the rhythm of continuing heartbeats and the ins-and-outs of breaths.

big-ball-of-stardust
“A Big Ball of Stardust” by Kevin Rheese via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The past and the ancestors are remembered.  They are honored and respected as much as the ones who stand beside you now and the ones who are coming up behind you.

TOEING THE LINE

The aboriginal peoples of Australia, who are arguably among the oldest peoples in the world, call modern people “the line people.”  To these ancient cultures, Line-People Time is a relentless progression, always looking and moving ahead, never stopping, never doubling-back.

Every new iteration of an old problem the line people encounter demands “better” and “improved” solutions than those tried in the past. All of it is supposed to be guided by visions of what-might-be.

It does work.  Sometimes, though, the baby gets thrown out with the bath-water.

One example of this is the Big Agriculture “solution” that swallowed up small, sustainable family farms and ranches, erased a wide diversity of food-crops, and eliminated farm animal breeds that were not so profitable.

industrial-rust
“Industrial Rust” by M. Francis McCarthy via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Visionary, forward-looking solutions that were supposed to help feed more and more people often created present-day monster-problems as farmlands become less and less productive, as foods become less nourishing, as problematic pests mutate and proliferate, and as resources that once renewed themselves no longer do.

LOOKING BACK INTO THE FUTURE

In the backward-walking conceptualization of time, telling the old stories and lessons learned as well as trying some variant of the old way is at least as important as racing off, blinded by visions, and flinging yourself unthinking into new.

This other way of seeing allows a person (and a culture) the time to integrate the best of the new with what is still valuable in the old.

It lets a person and a people keep track of who they are and helps them stay connected with their deeper humanity as they flow along the streams of change into the brave new world forming all around them.

iao-valley
“Photo Walk: Iao Valley” by Kaiscapes Media (Peter Liu) via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
For many, it is not that the traditional solutions that have worked in the past are the only ones worthy of consideration as we face the complexities of our problems today.

What is important, however, is the idea that perhaps the effective solutions we are seeking for our current problems have already been tried in the past and might still work if they are adapted to new circumstances and situations.

Poet, writer and Hawaiian activist Dana Naone Hall, in her book, LIFE OF THE LAND:  Articulations of a Native Writer, expresses this idea beautifully, “In my thinking, traditions are not monolithic.  They must be continually refreshed at the roots by the present and next generations.  This is your challenge and birthright as ‘Ōiwi (people of the bone) in the twenty-first century.”

THE FIRST HAWAIIAN VOYAGING CANOE IN SIX HUNDRED YEARS

This YouTube video, “Worldwide Voyage, History of Hōkūle’a and Polynesian Voyaging” was published in 2014 by Oiwi TV.

The film documents the start of a journey to circumnavigate the world by Hawaii’s most famous modern-day traditional sailing canoe, which was built by a group of enthusiastic volunteers over a two-year period and first launched in 1976 from Kualoa Beach Park in Kaneohe on Oahu.

Three men — artist and historian Herb Kane, nautical anthropologist Ben Finney, and writer and rough-waterman/sailor (Charles) Tommy Holmes — had a dream more than 40 years ago.

They wanted to answer a question:  How did Polynesians settle the far-flung islands of the mid-Pacific?  By accident, as some scholars claimed?  Or by design?

After the canoe’s first voyage to Tahiti, from May 1, 1976 to June 3, 1976, with the skillful master Micronesian wayfinder Mau Piailug guiding the canoe using his traditional knowledge of the stars, the waves, and the winds, they had their answer: The islands of the Pacific were not settled by accident.

[For more about the sailing canoe’s worldwide voyage, you can check out Sara Kehaulani Goo’s article on the NPR (National Public Radio) online newsletter, “Hōkūle’a, the Hawaiian Canoe Traveling the World By a Map of the Stars” by clicking the button below.]

click-here

NATIVES NAVIGATING WITHOUT INSTRUMENTS

The sailing canoe’s maiden voyage also helped to spark a continuing and evolving interest in old island ways and the practices of their native peoples.

A historic connection between all of the native peoples of the islands of the Pacific as well as along the coastlines of lands bordering the ocean was renewed and revitalized and continues to strengthen with time.

The native peoples are remembering.

They have become acutely aware of a traditional perspective of time and space that reflects the spiral (a key metaphor especially in Polynesian poetry and arts) which some say represents a doubling back and a reconnecting with the past for the benefit of the future.

tree-fern
“Tree Fern Almost Full-Grown” by David Fulmer via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Traditional crafts and native practices and mindsets flourish and, for many people, they have become ways to help make sense out of the confusion of modern life.

WHY BOTHER?

Each person, regardless of their culture, fashions their own life using legacies left to them by those who came before.  How not?

It is a basic truth that our ancestors live on in us in our DNA.  This brain and heart and body are structurally the same as those possessed by human beings 150,000 years ago.

Is it such a mind-wrench to go from there to the possibility that this brain, this heart, and this body works and feels and functions in the same way that theirs did?

Is it such a mind-boggle to believe that the ways our ancestors lived their lives might hold answers to the dilemmas we currently face?

spiral
Spiral” by Richard via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

NOW IS OUR TURN TO TRY

The thing to remember, I suppose, is that each generation spends their time in the world trying to live their lives the best way they know how.

We are, each of us, a part of a journey that began a long time ago.  The journey will probably continue long after we are gone.

In the meantime, while we are here, remaining mindful of our ancestors might bring us to the understanding that this time now is just our turn to try

At some point in the future, each of us will become an ancestor to the generations that follow us.  Perhaps we can hope that they, too, will remember and honor us and the way we lived.

THREE WAYS OF WALKING WITH THE ANCESTORS

Every one of us humans walks our own walk.

Here are three You-Tube videos about the choices made by individual Hawaiians who are taking their turn at trying….

The first video, “Hula Is More Than a Dance – It’s the ‘Heartbeat’ of the Hawaiian People,” is a short film by filmmaker Bradley Tangonan which was featured in the National Geographic Short Film Showcase in 2018.

The film features kumu hula (hula teacher) Leina’ala Jardin, who explains what she feels is her “kuleana,” her responsibility, to pass on the traditions of Hawaiian dance.

 

This next video is a trailer for “Sons of Halawa,” an award-winning feature documentary about elder Pilipo Solatario and the old-style life he and his family continue to pursue in Halawa Valley.

It was produced by Molokai filmmaker Matt Yamashita (QuaziFilms) and was broadcast on PBS in 2016.

 

This third video was published in 2013 by Tomorrow Ancestor and features Cliff Kapono.  At the time the film was made, Kapono was pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology at the University of California San Diego.

 

Here’s a poem:


HAWAIIANS TEACH BY LIVING

Kuli, kuli…too much noise,”

Tutu would always say

To the loud and curious grandchild

Who ran around all day,

Looking for the answers,

Wanting to know NOW,

Always looking for shortcuts,

Grumbling about ‘as how.

 

Too much questions,

Too much talking,

Too much namunamu.

Close your mouth, move your hands.

One day you will understand.

 

One day…

 

Lessons you learn in silence,

Watching hands move

With graceful skill.

 

Lessons you find in silence,

Hearing old voices,

Talking long and slow.

 

Lessons you see in silence,

By doing it over

Again and again.

 

Lessons you feel in silence,

Wondering, pondering,

While the old ones play.

 

Hawaiians teach by living.

It’s the only way they know.

 

If you want to learn, be still.

When you stop making noise,

They will show.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit: “Kahoolawe, Hawaii” by Justin De La Ornellas via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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