Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii

… the crew of the Hokule’a would not be the slightest bit bothered. This traditional canoe recently voyaged to Micronesia, Satwal and Japan, relying on traditional wayfinding methods using the stars, ocean swells, cloud formations and bird sightings to reach their destinations.

[Click here for video]

This morning I went to meet a student of this ancient art and take a look around the canoe. Ka’iulani Murphy showed me the vessel that was their home for 5 months earlier this year. The first thing I noticed was the construction – not a nut or a bolt in sight, just lots of rope lashings.

The second thing was that there is no real “below decks” area – from the central deck there are just canvas screens that unzip to reveal long rows of bunks, end to end, along the lines of the two pontoons of the double-hulled canoe.

The canoe looks very seaworthy, but not very comfortable – a bit like my boat, really.

Ka’iulani told me that, even though she has been studying wayfinding for over 7 years now, she is still learning. Not all the skills can be learned from books – the subtleties of sensing changes in direction of wind or swells have to be experienced to be fully understood.

My interest had initially been to find out more about wayfinding – I am interested in it from a very practical point of view for my own voyages (just in case), but also as an example of a traditional wisdom that is now being successfully revived and passed on to a new generation. There are countless other examples of native skills that worked well for centuries but have unfortunately now died out forever, obliterated by the world of technology, so it was encouraging to find a success story.

We found lots more to talk about as well, including the concept of malama honua. This Hawaiian expression means “caring for our world”, but it has broader and deeper implications too. Like gaia, it recognizes that the health of the land, the health of the oceans, and the health of all living creatures, including us, are inextricably linked. If one part of the organism is sick, then the other parts will be affected too.

This brings me back to my mission for the first part of my Pacific row – to draw attention to the problem of plastic debris in the oceans, and to emphasize that it is not just a problem “out there”. I am looking into how I can develop an educational section on my website that will build on existing online resources to create discussion topics for schools to bring these issues into the classroom. And I also intend that next year, when I am in Hawaii for a bit longer, I can get involved in a very hands-on way, with beach clean-ups and the like. This way, I will be involved in both prevention AND cure.

[photo: Hokule’a, courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society website]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *