CAPE TOWN, South Africa >> Hokule‘a crew members marked the halfway point of their three-year journey around the planet by honoring a different kind of navigator — one who helped change his country by advocating for human rights.
The crew, joined by students and teachers from Hawaii, greeted Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Tuesday at the offices of the legacy foundation he and his wife established.
It was the second time in a week that the group encountered the Nobel Peace Prize winner. On Saturday Tutu welcomed the canoe’s arrival to the city with several hundred others at a nearby dock. Tuesday’s event was more intimate, focusing firmly on Tutu and his legacy.
Wearing traditional Hawaiian kihei sashes and kukui nut necklaces, about a dozen students from Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School and Kamehameha Schools danced hula and sang before Tutu on a balcony overlooking a waterfront, several of them visibly moved as they performed.
“To perform for him and to be standing in front of him was just breathtaking — to understand that through history he’s a … very astonishing person,” Kamaha‘o Ka‘ai, a senior at Hale Ku Mana, said later.
Crew members also draped Tutu in a handmade “aloha aina” quilt fashioned by students at Hanahau‘oli School on Oahu, where Hokule‘a captain and Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson’s children are enrolled.
“I’m very, very touched,” the 84-year-old Tutu told the group. “It’s just as well I’ve got got this complexion because otherwise you’d see me blushing,” he said with his signature jovial laugh.
The students also performed an original song in Hawaiian by Kamehameha Schools Cultural Director Randie Fong called “Ho‘oheno Keia no Akipihopa Desmond Mpilo Tutu.”
“His beliefs were so strong and in the belief of his kupuna that he understood that what he was doing had to be done in order for my generation to stay paa (firm) in today’s society, to continue to fight for what we believe in,” Ka‘ai said.
During much of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela’s 27-year political imprisonment, Tutu helped raise global awareness about the nation’s oppressive apartheid system. Later, as chairman of the nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu helped ensure a peaceful transition to democracy after 1994.
In his 1999 book “No Future Without Forgiveness,” Tutu described touting forgiveness during his chairmanship for even the most horrendous atrocities and human rights violations under the apartheid regime — all to help South Africa heal as best it could and move forward.
On Tuesday Tutu braved a chill in the Cape Town air while flanked by his daughter Mpho Tutu, Thompson, retired Hawaii Association of Independent Schools Executive Director and Pacific Voyaging Society board member Robert Witt and prominent voyage supporter Pam Omidyar.
“You’ve given us permission to come here. We need permission to go back,” Thompson told Tutu, referencing the Hokule‘a’s midway point around the world from Hawaii in its “Malama Honua” (“Care for the Earth”) worldwide voyage. At this point every mile the canoe sails brings it closer to home in Hawaii. “You give us strength; you give us courage to do what we need to do in our own way.”
On Monday, before meeting with Tutu at his offices, the group from Hawaii greeted several hundred students at St. Mary’s Primary Catholic School in Nyanga, a township outside Cape Town, to mark the Pacific Voyaging Society’s involvement in the Desmond Tutu Tutudesk Campaign.
The campaign aims to provide 20 million young sub-Saharan African students 20 million portable, lightweight desks by 2020. The entire sub-Saharan region is grappling with a shortage of some 95 million desks, according to the Tutudesk.org website.
The voyaging society will donate at least 1,000 of these desks to the Tutudesk campaign, voyage organizers say. The society’s desks will go to kids in Durban, South Africa.
After Tuesday’s event Tutu told members of the media that he believed the Hokule‘a’s worldwide journey “speaks about the wonder of the human spirit.” He blessed the Hokule‘a ahead of its worldwide journey during a 2012 visit to Oahu.
“Human beings can be so courageous. Human beings can be so inventive that they are ready to take the risks sailing around the world. That’s amazing and uplifting,” he said Tuesday.
Thompson, who became the first Native Hawaiian in some 600 years to navigate from Hawaii to Tahiti using only the stars and other environmental cues, said that the Hokule‘a now aims to find navigators such as Tutu during its global odyssey.
“We needed to seek out and find the world’s great navigators that are not on the deck of the canoe, but those that would be defined by their courage and their commitment and their legacy and their journey,” Thompson told Tutu. “Don’t thank us or honor us. We’re honored to be here in this moment in your presence, in your starlight.”