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Father's spirit is deeply felt as Hokule'a voyage begins

  • Dr. Ira “Kawika” Zunin, Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson and Brandon Zunin, a junior at Punahou School, aboard the Hoku­le‘a. (Courtesy Ira Zunin)
Dr. Ira “Kawika” Zunin, Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson and Brandon Zunin, a junior at Punahou School, aboard the Hoku­le‘a. (Courtesy Ira Zunin)
Dr. Ira “Kawika” Zunin, Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson and Brandon Zunin, a junior at Punahou School, aboard the Hoku­le‘a. (Courtesy Ira Zunin)

By IRA ZUNIN

As my father took his final breaths this week, he said, “Let my passing be a celebration of the worldwide voyage.”

Those words triggered a memory of when I was a little boy watching him as he stood knee-deep in the ocean, gazing at the horizon for what seemed like an eternity. After a while, tears began streaming down his face. I knew without needing to ask how deeply moved he was by the vastness of the great ocean and how he longed to sail the seven seas.

Today is the day my own son and I have trained for these past years. Together we set sail on Hokule‘a, a traditional-style Polynesian voyaging canoe, for the first leg of a journey that will last more than three years, cover 47,000 nautical miles, include 85 ports of call and require more than 300 crew for many legs.

The voyage’s mission — Malama Honua, “to care for our earth” — was for my father at once so innately natural but also one upon which our fragile planet depends. He knew that at the foundation of Malama Honua is cultural harmony and the ability of modern civilization to forge a unity of purpose that sees our differences as an opportunity to strengthen our efforts to make the world a better place.

He once sculpted a bust intended to carefully blend the facial features of each of the world’s major ethnicities. He could never understand why, at the Olympics, athletes had to represent one country or another. “Couldn’t Olympians come together and just compete as people of the earth?” he used to ask.

Later as a Navy psychiatrist during the Vietnam War, he created a program called Operation Second Life to help war widows grieve their loved ones and find a way forward. In this work he saw firsthand the price we pay for strife among nations. One year, for my birthday, he sent a calligraphy print by Paul Reps. “Drinking a cup of green tea, I stop the war,” was the caption.

Dad was equally passionate about environmental sustainability and thought we should each do our part. He was delighted to learn that my stepmother had just been given special recognition by the Napa Valley Community Awards for her leadership in establishing the Napa Valley Give!Guide, which raised more than $100,000 for 40 nonprofits, many of which work for environmental sustainability. He also used to spend long hours studying bonsai, and relished the pristine beauty of the natural environment.

My father was raised with the notion that prosperity and the wealth of health are the fruits of a good education, consistent hard work and kindness to others. When it came time to raise his own family, he realized that his children also would need to see themselves as global citizens who appreciate the importance of shepherding the earth’s natural resources and, later, the need to affect climate change.

Those of us given the sacred opportunity to crew on Hoku­le‘a or Hiki­ana­lia, her sister vessel, during the worldwide voyage, sail for our families, our community and our ancestors. My father dreamed of traversing the great ocean when we stood together on the shore some 50 years ago. His spirit will be with me today as we sail our canoes toward Tahiti to Malama Honua.

———

Ira “Kawika” Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is a practicing physician. He is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to info@manakaiomalama.com.

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