You came from us. We are family. Your blood is my blood. Your bones are my bones.
So when you sail, I am with you.
These are words that still haunt me after almost 3 years. They are the words of a Samoan chief at the home of his highness Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi before we sailed from Apia during the 3rd leg of the WWV. They remind us that our story is a line in a much greater narrative, given to us by our ancestors who connect us to times long ago.
Embedded in the story of Hōkūleʻa and the culture that created her is our pacific story of a relationship with the ocean thousands of years old. In Hawaiʻi, it is a story that was almost lost, but instead became a story of survival, rediscovery, and restoration. It is a story that is still being written for our children and future generations now.
But preceding chapters of that story stretch back over 7 thousand years, with a voyaging diaspora that began in Southeast Asia. And through those millennia, its fascinating to imagine how many times the scenario played out where an essential question had to be asked and ultimately be acted on: Are we happy with what we have, or do we join the willing, the able, the intrepid to venture out into the unknown and find something better?
Like many of us who have been called to sail, I can imagine there were those who couldn’t say no, because they weren’t saying yes for themselves.
So the canoe is a wellspring of hope. It is a platform of courage. It is a vessel of inspiration. It is a home for vision. It is a space of positivity and direction. It is why Hōkūleʻa is all of this and more, to all of us and more. I think it is part of her magic that she to this day holds that space. Though her physical dimensions are small, there is somehow always room enough for everyone.
As a crewmember there are many lessons to learn from this space. One is that our ability to take care of it is a direct reflection of our ability to take care of each other. It takes at least a dozen able-bodied crewmembers to sail Hōkūleʻa, living and working in a space of less than 1000 square feet. Challenges must be met with thoughtfulness, preparedness, respect, and kindness.
And with only the natural world to guide her, without the comforts and distractions of modern technology out in the middle of nowhere, we viscerally understand our reliance upon the ocean, just how much we are at the mercy of it, and the need to preserve it for our own existence. On that canoe, resilience and sustainability are anything but buzzwords. In this way the canoe becomes a relevant metaphor for our islands, our nations, our earth.
And after these lessons and experiences, you step out of that space transformed, with a fundamentally changed view about how you approach and work with those around you. After that kind of reality check, community takes on an entirely different meaning. You may first greet a fellow crewmember as a stranger, but I guarantee you say goodbye to them as family. This, too, is her magic: that her ability to inspire brings about our ability to act, and a better understanding of how to act.
It is against this background that several Hawaiʻi-based resource management organizations were inspired to try to recreate that space programmatically for our ocean, called the Promise to the PaeʻĀina, a promise to our Hawaiian archipelago. It was an act to answer basic questions: During the WWV with worldwide implications, how were we going to rise to the challenge here at home? And how was the Hawaiʻi Hōkūleʻa came home to going to be any better than the one it left behind three years prior?
So born of the lessons learned on the canoe, we built a new platform, and once again joined the able and intrepid and stood upon it together to work collaboratively toward common destinations. Specifically, the Promise to PaeʻĀina:
– Is a time-bound collective impact effort during the course of the Worldwide Voyage
– Consisting of over 3 dozen federal, state, and local ocean management orgs and community groups (MAHALO to all of them!)
– Who developed 5 commitments based on what our ocean is to us
– From which came 10 shared, specific, measurable, targets. Representing a spirit and energy to collaborate at an unprecedented scale and scope for Hawaii’s ocean; and
– Serving as a story of hope among many across the globe that Hōkūleʻa has strung together in her lei kaʻapuni honua.
For specifics on the 5 commitments, 10 targets and who was involved, please visit: http://www.hokulea.com/promise-to-paeaina/
Of course, this is but one small part of the greater impact of the Worldwide Voyage, which in my estimation is still too much to understand right now. We are all still processing. But in the least, we can take time to reflect on the lessons from the Promise to PaeʻĀina ocean initiative, perhaps as some indication of what we will soon come to understand from Hōkūleʻa’s greater accomplishment.
We have learned like sailing during the Worldwide Voyage, that the experience was real, it was meaningful, and it has set us on a fundamentally different trajectory. And we would like to think that these new lines of the narrative will forever change the story that follows in terms of how, when, and why we work collaboratively toward mutual interests.
We have realized that while community still matters most and that traditional knowledge is still the key, the lock is changing. Our problems are now larger and more complicated. Other tools such as technology, and more savvy education programs are necessary. Equally necessary is to recognize that since our problems are shared, so too must be our solutions. It will take all of us from all walks of life to make positive change happen.
We have recognized that all around the world, most certainly including in Hawaiʻi, people are doing great work for our oceans, finding answers to tough problems, and serving their community and their places in the right ways. So maybe it is now as much about seeking solutions out where they already exist and connecting them, as it is creating them on our own.
In retrospect, throughout the history of voyaging over those thousands of years, it has really been all about a single mission—to raise islands from the sea that could sustain us. Ironically, what we have learned from the Worldwide Voyage, and the Promise to PaeʻĀina effort it has inspired is that this still hasn’t changed.
What we can conclude from the Worldwide Voyage is that this is still Hōkūleʻa’s mission. It is our mission. This is why voyaging needs to continue. This is why Hōkūleʻa needs to sail forever. Our challenge now is to make the right decisions and take the right actions, both individually and collectively, that will ensure we leave a legacy of progress for our children, rather then a burden of worsening problems.
By sailing around the planet Mālama Honua has proven that human ambition can meet the scale of any challenge, however great, and fundamentally change our understanding of what is possible; and much more importantly, fundamentally change our children’s understanding of what is possible. Kids throughout Hawaiʻi and everywhere, from this day on will forever take as simple fact that Hōkūleʻa sailed around the world. And if our children now know her feats as facts, can you imagine what Hōkūleʻa will now inspire in them?