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Telling Tales: Hōkūle‘a prepares to depart for Tokelau

  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assists aboard the Hokule‘a in Samoa for the UNSIDS conference. (Courtesy Oiwi TV)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assists aboard the Hokule‘a in Samoa for the UNSIDS conference. (Courtesy Oiwi TV)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assists aboard the Hokule‘a in Samoa for the UNSIDS conference. (Courtesy Oiwi TV)

So it’s looking like Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia crews will be leaving Apia, and the island of Upolu, on either Sunday or Monday for Tokelau. Some of that’s due to weather but it’s for sanity purposes as well.

This feels like the first moment here that we’ve been able to get some down time. The week has been stacked with powerful and profound moments, and the crew needs to take in a breath. (…before we switch out the remaining crab claw sail with a triangle one, and the list goes on…)

His Highness the Head of State, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, has already hosted the crew twice this week at two residences.

Today’s event, essentially Efi’s goodbye to us, started with another awa ceremony (we know those well now) followed by a meeting with Efi and the crew. He discussed his fears of the threats of climate change and what he described as humanity’s “arrogance” in over-consuming natural resources. We also sang a Hōkūle‘a-inspired version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.” MVP goes to Hikianalia crew member Brad Wong for then spontaneously leading the crew in a traditional Hawaiian song in front of His Highness.

At both events, Nainoa Thompson spoke of his personal reasons for the worldwide sail (“You can keep the canoes tied to the dock, but you can’t complain” then about the challenges facing the world, he says.) Today he spoke of being torn between staying home to be present for his young kids versus sailing the globe to try to help leave a better world for them.

It’s clear he’s leaving a deep impression on our Samoan hosts. We’ve been having some schedule and logistics issues getting everyone to these events on time and keeping them there for the duration — things that might normally irk a head of state. But it’s clear these leaders appreciate Thompson and his oratory.

At the end of today’s event, Efi gifted the crew with traditional falalili’i and ie toga-imi imi mats — as well as a massive tapa (bark cloth) that had originally been gifted by Tonga’s king. The gesture overwhelmed much of the crew. It had Thompson saying, “I’ve got so much to learn.”

(I’d like to point out this is someone who can circumnavigate the globe using little more than his palm outstretched sideways.)

Watching Efi and Thompson seated diagonally across from each other as they talked story in front of everyone, it occurred to me that Thompson more resembles a diplomat for the Hawaiian Islands than any current political leader in the state.

Something is happening out here on these Pacific islands. Or better yet, something *has* been happening during the past several decades or so — and Hōkūle‘a, as a symbol, is right in the middle of it all.

Maybe that’s not news to you — Lord knows plenty has been written about this double-hulled canoe and its larger meaning in the local press over the years. But I’m out here watching its reception in Samoa, and the broader conversations it spurs and the people it attracts and I’m telling you: There’s something going on. It’s real. You can feel it. Chicken skin. Call it a reawakening, or a reconnection among island cultures or whatever — I’m not qualified to say what exactly “it” is.

But there’s something afoot around the Pacific and I don’t think the rest of the world quite knows it yet.

Similarly, the true measure of Hōkūle‘a’s Pacific diplomacy across the sea has mostly gone under the radar, I suspect.

I was tossing these ideas around with one of the crew’s education outreach specialists, Mary Anna Enriquez, a teacher at Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina, and she swiftly brought up Lacy Veach, the astronaut from Hawaii who suggested back in the early 90s that Hōkūle‘a needs to expand its diplomacy around the world. The idea helped lead to this Malama Honua voyage that we’re on right now.

Duh! I think, after writing about Hōkūle‘a for nearly a year, I’m only now starting to fully grasp what Veach saw in this canoe and what he was getting at more than 20 years ago. There’s so much to learn.

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