By Maggie Cassidy
The Molokai Dispatch
They came from across Polynesia: some from Tahiti or Fiji, some from Samoa or the Cook Islands. And for two months, they traveled more than 15,000 miles across open ocean, stopping in places like Auckland, Fakarava, Nuku Hiva, or surrounded by only deep blue water. They relied on wind to fill their sails, sun to power their engines, and little other than stars and birds to guide their canoes.
And although many of the Pacific Voyager sailors had never been to Molokai before, last week, they said they came home.
Seven voyaging canoes, or vaka moanas, were greeted by hundreds of Molokai community members at Kaunakakai Wharf last Thursday. Their journey, named “Te Mana o Te Moana” meaning “Spirit of the Sea,” set course from New Zealand in April. They arrived in Hilo June 17, stopping on Maui before voyaging to the Friendly Isle.
“Coming in [to Molokai], the warmth of the people is there from the beginning,” said Duncan Morrison, the captain for the Haunui vaka, one of two Pan-Pacific canoes on the trip. “It’s very open and welcoming. For someone who comes in as a stranger, it’s beautiful to feel like you’re coming home. It’s really a homecoming of the heart.”
Kumu Anakala Pilipo Solatorio performed traditional Hawaiian protocol at the wharf, where the voyagers were also greeted by Molokai’s Royal Court. Just as the 140 voyagers were honored to be welcomed to Molokai, the community of Molokai was honored to welcome the voyagers. At the wharf, many keiki’s eyes were wide with awe; some aunties’ eyes held tears of joy.
“I know that a lot of the aunties that are here – our kupuna – they’ve never seen anything like this before,” said resident DJ Pelekai. “And to see it in their lifetime was to me a blessing for them, and amazing that we’re all here to witness this.”
Resident Merv Dudoit said he never thought he’d see this many voyaging canoes in Kaunakakai, and was glad his grandchildren were able to. “It’s something special to see,” he said.
Lori-lei Rawlins-Crivello was also glad her keiki were there to greet the voyagers.
“This you rarely ever get a chance to witness,” she said. “It was really nice to welcome them, give them the Molokai welcome, and show the aloha.”
In addition to the Haunui, the fleet included another vaka of crew members from Pan-Pacific nations called Hine Moana. Faafaite had crew members from Tahiti; Gaualofa from Samoa; Marumaru Atua from the Cook Islands; Te Mataua a Maui from Aotearoa (New Zealand); and Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji.
“They come from many different Pacific islands and all are joining as one ohana, as one family,” said resident Malia Akutagawa, who watched the voyagers come into the wharf. “That they’ve come to Molokai is special; we’re all one. I think it was special to have our brothers and sisters come from many island nations.”
The seven double-hulled canoes were built by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, which is supporting the voyage, with the help of Polynesian residents. They used traditional methods and materials, except for the hull, which is made of fiberglass to avoid tree loss, and do not use GPS or other modern navigation systems.
“I think from the sailor talking, the celestial navigation, the traditional navigation has been the most interesting part of it, to learn about it,” said Marc Gondard, the captain for Gaualofa.
While many of the expert navigators aboard have learned from the late Micronesioan navigator Mau Piailug, each vaka has their own way of crossing the sea using natural elements around them.
“It can be a challenge if there is bad weather. We had three weeks of 25 to 30 foot waves…but stuck together,” said Uto Ni Yalo crewman Mausio Mario.
Besides bringing Polynesians together (“that’s the main thing,” said Faafaite crew member Walker Roo), the voyagers aim to support sustainability and spread awareness of global warming and its devastating effects on the land and ocean.
“The time for talking has passed,” Morrison said. “We’ve already done so much damage to the sea, and the planet in general, that if we don’t change, we’re gonna leave a legacy of devastation.”
Although the voyagers feared they might not to make it to Molokai because of time restrictions caused by hot weather in the South Pacific, they made the trip from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii in record time – taking only 12 days over the previous record of 16 – to be able to visit Friendly Isle, according to Okeanos founder Dieter Paulmann.
They left Molokai early Friday morning, bound for Oahu to attend a conference on sustainability before setting sail for California.
Penny Martin, who helped organize Molokai’s welcome to the voyagers, said she got the call that the voyagers were coming about one week before they arrived. A combination of organizations and community members came together to plan the day and collect offerings for the voyagers, she said.
“When we said ‘yes, you could come,’ we knew in our hearts that we would have the support of the community,” she said. “Yeah, it was scary, but not too because we know how generous this island is. They will step up to the plate and they will give everything they have.”
By 12:30 p.m. Thursday, crowds were forming throughout the wharf, as vakas were visible coming around Halawa Valley and passing Lanai. The first arrived by 1 p.m., and the last docked by 2 p.m. At Kulana `Oiwi, community members old and young watched the protocol with pride and respect.
“That’s what Molokai brings, more cultural, more in-depth,” said resident Sherman Napoleon. “Some of these places [where the voyagers are coming from], that cultural part is pretty strong down there. When they come to these places, it’s the same as home.”
Paulmann said he was touched by the generosity of Molokai’s people, who made the same offerings to the escort crew in addition to the seven vakas.
“That’s never happened before,” he said. “All these small details, they are very mindful.”
“I feel the people here really more connected to their ancestors’ wisdom, and the way they live and the spirituality they have, and an unbelievable loving kindness,” he added.
Gondard said he hopes his young crew learns from their experiences in Molokai and Hawaii.
“Meeting the people is the best part of everything, this exchange,” he said. “[In Samoa] there’s no one going for surf or paddling or things like this. I really hope … they will bring it back home and spread it in Samoa. This is something special that I will bring back.”
To follow the rest of the Pacific Voyagers’ journey, visit their blogs at www.pacificvoyagers.org.