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Hokule’a Log: Voyage to Rapa Nui Part 5

by vrecinto on May 18th, 2014


In preparation for the start of the Worldwide Voyage in May 2014, we are pleased to re-post Sam Low’s stories about the Hokulea’a.

Hokule’a Log: Voyage to Rapa Nui – Part Five

By Sam Low

In 1999 Hokule’a – a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe – set out from Mangareva to voyage to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  Her Navigator, Nainoa Thompson, would find his way as his ancestors once did – without charts, compass or instruments of any kind. This is part five of a multipart series. Please feel free to share this. Aloha

Makana – a story from the voyage to Rapa Nui

A few hours before our departure from Mangareva, I am riding in the back of our host Bruno Schmitt’s Land Rover with Makanani Attwood and a large sandstone slab with strange symbols etched into its surface. Makanani is an elfin man in his forties. He has a pointed beard and a gleam in his eyes, which seem to explode with mirth when he speaks, which he does now in non-stop commentary on the meaning of life, the voyage to Rapa Nui, his ancestors, and the significance of the slab we are conveying to a garden in front of Bruno’s house.

“This is a traditional way of recording a historic event,” Maka explains. “It’s a petroglyph which I carved to give to Bruno in return for his hospitality in Mangareva. It’s a mo’olelo, a story, which could easily be oral, in an oli or chant, but in this case it’s carved in stone.”

As the truck bumps along Rikitea’s main street past the gendarmerie and the post office, Maka runs his finger over the design he has etched into the stone. “Here is a representation of Hokule’a, and this is Kama Hele. Here is a mano, a shark, which is one of our ancestral guardian spirits, an ‘aumakua. I chose the mano because it’s an ‘aumakua common to many of the crew members sailing on the two vessels. And there’s another reason: when Hokule’a passed through the reef surrounding Mangareva, a number of crew members saw a shark swim directly in front of the canoe. Timmy Gilliom saw it clearly. The shark seemed to be guiding us through the reef and as soon as we got through safely, it disappeared.”

The Land Rover now bumps over a dirt road. We pass the technical school created by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and arrive at Bruno’s bungalow which is set on an ample lot bordering the ocean. We unload the petroglyph and the three of us struggle to lug it to Bruno’s garden. With Bruno and his wife, Maka continues his explanation of its significance.

“I also carved a mo’o, a lizard, which is a land ‘aumakua. The mo’o lives in freshwater streams, so now we have here both a land and an ocean ‘aumakua, a lizard and a shark, which represent the fact that all life depends on the land and ocean, which is a typical way that all island people think.”

Now Maka points to a checkerboard of sixty-four depressions.

“This is a konane board. Konane is an ancient game of kings which is equivalent to chess. Konane is symbolic of wisdom; it makes me think of the need for our leaders to plan carefully to care for our land and our ocean, to malama our natural resources. One goal of our voyage to Rapa Nui is to encourage all of us to respect our natural world, the sea we sail over, the islands that we sail to.”

For a time we all sit quietly, admiring Maka’s petroglyph and Bruno’s garden. It is silent except for chickens squawking in a nearby henhouse and Bruno’s sheep bleating in a nearby pasture. Maka is usually in constant motion but now he seems serene. The petroglyph is the last of many gifts he has presented to our Mangarevan hosts. Since his arrival on the island, he has carved about three dozen nose flutes that he presented to children all over Rikitea. He also made a Konane board for Bianca and Benoir, a couple who hosted a reception for the crew. And from the crooked branches of trees he made and gave away many lomi sticks – a traditional implement to massage the body.

“I don’t have money for t-shirts to give away, so I make things on every island we visit. These gifts are what we call Makana, an exchange from one seafaring family to another to memorialize and enhance our cultural integrity. They are given in simple appreciation for the hospitality we have received. They are a part of our ancestral protocol of meeting and greeting one another as a family of seafaring people. Our voyages are also what we from Hawai’i offer as our gift to the people of the islands we visit. Voyaging is about the spirit of exploration and the renewal of our culture. They say we have not forgotten our Polynesian heritage; they say Onipa’a – stand fast.”

I ponder Maka’s words now as I sit quietly in Bruno’s garden, sharing a moment that transcends time. Maka’s petroglyph memorializes both the heritage from our past and the hope for our future as island people united by an ocean we all share and a common urge to sail upon it. In about an hour we will rejoin as a crew, offer a prayer for the success of our voyage, and set out to find Rapa Nui.

Author Sam Low has recently published a book about Hokule’a called Hawaiki Rising – Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

This is a logbook and Sam takes all responsibility for errors in spelling and any other kind.

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