Hōkule’a & Weaving a New Story

How can the nation create a new story of America that weaves diverse cultures and languages into a narrative shared by all?  Previous Country Parson columns have struggled with the question: A Path Toward Unity, 1.19.21; Segreintegration, 2.16.21; Tell Me a Story, 3.6.21.  The struggle is necessary, but there are people and organizations doing more.  They’re doing the hard work of weaving new strands into old fabric that demonstrate how it can be done.  One of them is Hawaii’s Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Their story demands a bit of condensed perspective. Hawaii, lying in the middle of the Pacific, was uninhabited until around 300 c.e. when a first wave of Polynesians arrived from islands thousands of miles to the south. A second wave arrived sometime around 800 c.e. Western historians first thought they did it by sheer accident. They didn’t. Ancient Polynesians knew how to navigate and where to find islands none of them had seen. Regular travel developed between island groups separated by thousand of miles of open water. Hawaii became a complex, prosperous society of competing kingdoms. As the 1800s dawned, the islands were united as one kingdom under Kamehameha I. Europeans began arriving about the same time to discover that Hawaiians had a functioning government and no intention of being taken over. The kingdom continued as a constitutional monarchy until 1893 when white plantation owners engineered a coup, declared themselves rulers, and in 1895 gave the islands to the U.S. In the years following, native Hawaiians became a minority in their own land, their culture caricatured as an exotic tourist attraction. Native Hawaiians today make up less than 10% of a population in which no race or ethnicity is a majority. Hawaiian lands were expropriated. Their culture was trivialized, but it survived with determination.

That determination bore fruit forty-six years ago when the Polynesian Voyaging Society launched the voyaging canoe Hōkule’a.  It would demonstrate  how ancient Polynesians navigated the far reaches of the Pacific, not by trial and error, but by precise navigation giving the crew exact knowledge of where they were and where they were going.  Fundamentals of the old traditions were known, but completing the full body of knowledge required learning from one of the few remaining master navigators, an old man living on a remote island in Micronesia.  From that beginning, Hōkule’a and her crews have sailed much of the Pacific and circumnavigated the globe.  Other canoes have joined her.  The ancient art of navigating is being taught to new generations of master navigators, with the expectation that what began as a demonstration can have dramatic impacts on humanity and creation in ways not contemplated forty-six years ago.  

Hōkule’a  assertively demonstrated wisdom, knowledge and skills that Western domination had  demeaned as myth.  In the years since, there has been a revitalization of Hawaiian culture and language, and with it well deserved pride in what it means to be Hawaiian.  Hōkule’a helped energize that revitalization.  The story could end there, with native Hawaiians claiming exclusive possession of the nearly forgotten heritage they resuscitated, nourished and brought to world wide attention.  The Society chose to go in another direction, and recently announced a new venture.

“On this World Oceans Day (June 8), we celebrate our deep connection and kinship with the Ocean.  We also celebrate the many people who in ways big and small are becoming navigators of their own lives, families and communities.  Because of this, our voyage continues.  When we launch the Moananuiākea Voyage in May 2022, we hope to inspire 10 million young people [to] become navigators for the planet prepared to chart a new course and face coming challenges and storms with the courage and determination to seek out a thriving future for our people, places and our home.”(Polynesian Voyaging Society, 6.8.21)

It will be a voyage visiting all the peoples of the Pacific.  In a way, it will touch all the peoples of the world.  Demonstrating principles of navigation that unite humans with creation, it can teach us more about navigating our own lives as fellow creatures on “this fragile earth, our island home.”  If we are willing to accept it, it will be a gift of healing from a people who refused to be defeated offered to millions of unknown others desperately searching for ways to live together in harmony without surrendering their unique identity. 

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