APIA, SAMOA » Crew members from the Hokule‘a and the Hikianalia were treated to a homecoming — Samoan-style — when they were invited by the paramount chief of the nearby village of Matautu on Monday to join in a traditional ava, or kava, ceremony.
The event took place shortly after a ceremonial sail with the United Nations secretary-general, and even so, the invitation left crew members deeply honored and humbled to participate in the local custom.
Young men in traditional garb were escorts for several blocks on foot down a dirt road into the village neighborhood — chanting, yelling and hacking at the brush with machetes as they led the way. It was a way to tell the local spirits that those from Hawaii were coming home.
The ceremony took place in a home converted into a "fale," or traditional Samoan gathering place. The paramount chief, or To’omalatai, sat with his sub-chiefs off to the side. The canoe crews sat on the other side of the room and a large ava bowl was placed near the center. Speeches and declarations were made in Samoan for several minutes, and eventually five ava sticks were placed beside the crew.
Master navigator and Hokule‘a first mate Kalepa Baybayan then spoke, first in Hawaiian then translated into English.
The Samoans are the Hawaiians’ ancestors, he said. Centuries ago, they dared to set out and explore Polynesia. Without their courage to do that, Hawaii never would have been settled by their kupuna, he said.
It’s not you who should be honoring us, Baybayan said forcefully, looking directly at the To’omalatai. "We should be honoring you."
Baybayan then presented the Samoan chiefs with ipu encased in coconut shells — symbolizing the inseparable bonds between Hawaii and Samoa.
Prior to the awa ceremony, the Hokule‘a and the Hikianalia made it to Apia just in time to meet and sail with the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after battling through fierce winds and steep swells to finally leave Pago Pago.
By arriving in Apia Harbor early Monday, the canoe crews managed to secure a visit with the head of the U.N. but, perhaps more importantly, they had Ban sign the "Promise to Ka Pae‘aina," a document that the Hokule‘a is carrying in its captain’s box to collect pledges from around the world to be better environmental stewards to the world’s resources.
It wasn’t an easy task though, and it almost didn’t happen.
When the Hokule‘a and the Hikianalia crews pushed off the dock in Pago Pago on Saturday, on the other side of the international date line, they weren’t sure the winds would let them safely clear the harbor there.
If not, they would have had to turn back. However, after waiting four days for the weather to change with no luck and having reached the last day they could leave and still make the visit with Ban and other dignitaries, Hokule‘a Captain Nainoa Thompson said it was important they at least try.
Pago Pago Harbor Master Wally Thompson first towed the Hokule‘a and its crew out to where the harbor met the open sea shortly before noon, and they encountered gusts and swells about 12 feet high. Nainoa Thompson then calculated the two canoes could maneuver safely enough on their own sail power to clear the island of Tutuila, where Pago Pago is located, and make for Apia.
Crews crossed the date line while working hard through the night to keep the canoes on course, even as the weather improved a bit. Three apprentice navigators aboard the Hokule‘a kept their bearing using traditional wayfinding overnight.
Hokule‘a crews then worked swiftly at sunrise to outfit the Polynesian voyaging canoe with its traditional crab-claw sails, for effect, while they simultaneously cleared customs with officials on a nearby ship.
They were then greeted by several hundred Samoans, including traditional dancers and singers, waiting for them at the harbor as an intense Apia sun rose higher overhead.
Ban and an entourage of about a dozen people then sailed around Apia Harbor for about 20 minutes before he signed the Hokule‘a’s pledge — a move that Thompson and Polynesian Voyaging Society officials see as a significant first step toward getting the U.N. to help better protect marine resources. They hope to revisit Ban’s commitment either next year or in 2016, when the canoes are slated to arrive in New York.
Also on board Monday was renowned marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-In- Residence Sylvia Earle.
Ban was curious about the canoe and its Malama Honua "Care for the Earth" global voyage — he asked crew members where the name Hokule‘a originated. He was told it was named for the star, also known as Arcturus, that reaches its zenith directly above Hawaii.
Banis in Samoa to attend the U.N.’s Small Island Developing States conference, which takes place once a decade. The forum takes place this week to discuss the unique issues and challenges facing sea-locked nations.
It’s also the last high-level U.N. event before Ban convenes a summit on global climate change later this month to discuss realistic goals for the future to combat its effects — and issues discussed here at the SIDS conference, unique to small islands, could influence the discussions poised to take place several weeks from now in New York, officials say.
Several Hokule‘a crew members, including Eric Co and Jenna Ishii, will serve as delegates at the SIDS conference this week after working nearly 24 hours straight to get the canoes safely to Apia.
Some 3,000 delegates from dozens of U.N. member states, along with representatives from scores of nongovernmental organizations, are expected to attend the conference held on the island of Upolu in Samoa.
The small islands that are the focus of this meeting are uniquely vulnerable, as specks of land isolated by vast distances of ocean, conference participants note. They’ll discuss issues including food security, sanitation and clean water, invasive species and sustainable economic growth and communities.
They’ll also discuss conservation and protecting marine resources, as well as how to best deal with emerging climate change and sea-level rise, which is already having a big impact on many of these small islands, officials say.
A big part of the conference is networking and building relationships across the globe. More than 300 partnerships among political leaders, NGOs and other groups attending the conference have already been forged on the key issues affecting these areas, according to U.N. officials.
The Hokule‘a and the Hikianalia are expected to leave Friday for the far-flung island atoll of Tokelau, north of Samoa.