Crew Blog | Keoni Kuoha: Fulfilled by Our Coming Together

Kaʻoha Tātou i to Tātou ʻAweʻia: Fulfilled by Our Coming Together

Keoni enjoying the afternoonCrew blog by Keoni Kuoha

Those four days passed quickly, much like the midnight squalls that meet us in otherwise bright, clear skies. That squall has passed, but its memory still chills my skin. Nukuhiva and Uapou had opened my eyes and touched my naʻau.

As we arrived at Taiohaʻe, Nukuhiva, a small fleet of canoes and craft came out to greet us, a sweet, nasal voiced “Mave mai! Mave mai!” wafting toward us. As I began to make out individual faces, I could see smiles that stretched sure and wide. It was a reassuring sign, given the rather stolid, shear-faced islet centennials that flank the entrance to the bay. Moments earlier, they were unmoved by the sound of our pū and the call of our kāhea, but now they seemed to acquiesce. We processed further.

The bay and valley walls ascended to a lofty ridge, deep green and misty, behind the small town. I offered an old chant, and the words manifested themselves before my eyes, showing me an ancestral kinolau I had not previously known. I offered another chant, “Uē ka lani….” It was the briefest, lightest of showers, but I knew someone was listening. Smoke rose from the western shore. A crowd was gathered there to welcome us back.

Every landfall Hōkūleʻa makes is unique–and I’ll get to more of that in a second–but there are some things I’ve come to expect and appreciate about every landfall, especially when it comes to the crew. You see, when sailing for an extended time, far from those things to which we become accustomed, there are certain comforts we all look forward to when we return to land. Among the first things we go for is usually ice cream, if not an ice cold beer. A freshwater shower is also pretty high on the list, as well as meat that doesn’t come from a can. Whatever the craving might have been, Taiohaʻe provided with much bounty.

Besides enjoying simple pleasures and working through a long to-do list around the waʻa, we got to take half a day to see more of Nukuhiva. There are three communities on the island. We were in the largest for most of our stay, but next door lay another community and a deeply storied place: Taipivai. We made our way up the steep mountain side packed into a mini bus, the scenery becoming more breathtaking the higher we went. Then, before us, Taipivai began to peek over the rolling upland forests, the valley emerging like a winter swell across the southeast side of Nukuhiva. Ostensibly, we were headed here to refill some of our water jugs with the best water on island. What we found here, though, was so much more.

Although located on the same island as Taiohaʻe, Taipivai is a world unto itself. Whether it be the landscape engineered for copra production or the unique character of the local language and narratives, Taipivai offered us a new lens by which to know and grow in our learning. Our gracious host on-island, Deborah Kimitete, took us to meet with some folks of this place. When we arrived, they were gathered at the far end of a grassy ceremonial square, under the eves of a long haʻe (hale) that sat upon a platform raised several feet higher than its surroundings. There were a number of adults waiting there to greet us, several of whom I recognized from the welcome ceremony several days earlier. But, as we drew closer, I could see that most of those gathered were children. We had come to the community intersession enrichment program being held this week while the children were on break from school.

“Mave mai! Mave mai!” The greeting we heard chanted in a mature soprano just days earlier was now being voice by two young girls. We were brought into the haʻe where the community head welcomed us, four young ones performed a haka manu, and then the boys performed another haka, less intense than when done by the men, but just as powerful. This place–the ceremonial square with surrounding, open-air haʻe–was first built for the biannual Matavaʻa Marquesas Festival, but it’s obvious from its current use that the community thought beyond the festival to the greater needs and prosperity of Taipivai when planning for this space.

As I sat there listening to the voices of young and old meld together, beneath a thatched roof of modern materials, and ruminating on what Deborah had shared with us at the previous night’s dinner about how the Matavaʻa Festival had led to cultural reawakening and solidarity across the Marquesas, I began to see before me a beautiful example of learning and knowing as community. I believe this to be yet another learning system that can lead us to a more prosperous future.

Nowadays, “learning community” is a model that many, from schools to tech companies, strive to incorporate. Collective learning and attention to continuous learning are powerful tools, to say the least, and they are certainly part of learning and knowing as community. However, there’s something more happening within Taipivai and surely across the Marquesas. For one, the Matavaʻa is providing Marquesan communities with a focal point for development around cultural vitality, purposeful community planning, and redevelopment of traditional sites. Thus, both the driver and the source for learning is the community itself, which can lead to things like the building complex at which we were welcomed to Taipivai.

Moreover, community learning can also ensure that learning is purposeful, that it’s connected to something meaningful to folks across the community. This kind of learning often starts with conversations among community members, identifying common meanings, values, priorities, and resources. Then folks align themselves to shared cycles of discovery and application that can perpetuate themselves for as long as the community finds purpose to them. Through this process, the immediate reasons for coming together can often be achieved with greater efficiency and longevity. Just as important, the community learning process becomes self-sustaining, new goals can be identified and actuated within existing structures when there’s reason to do so, with greater learning being a natural outcome of the community’s collective discovery and application process.

We arrived at Uapou the following day, with the community putting together a lavish welcome in less than 48 hours, and I couldn’t help but see in that place another example of community knowing and learning in exquisite action. The haka they performed were highly refined, graceful, and moving. The food was all provided by individual families, as though it were their daily practice to feed the whole village, and they even provided us with a demonstration of how they transform the common breadfruit into popoi–I appreciated the many similarities between their materials and methods and those we use at home to make poi from kalo.

After lunch and entertainment wrapped up, Heato showed us around the town center. He, along with his father Toti and popular recording artist Rataro, organized the welcome, each representing different organizations within the community and local government. We saw their version of the community market model we had seen in Taiohaʻe and Taipivai. The art pieces for sale were stunning, inspiring a heavy flow of cash from crew pockets to local purses. Then we closed the afternoon with canoe tours and some talkstory with Toti and Heato. It was inspiring to see these two generations express both their grounding in Uapou tradition and their aspirations for the future of their island and community. It was a future self-determined and a future for which they already have the knowledge and learning tools to achieve.

As we sailed out of sight of Uapou that evening, some of the crew softly echoed the refrain of a song we learned back at Taipivai, “Kaʻoha tātou. Kaʻoha tātou, i to tātou ʻaweʻia….” I think it captures nicely the sentiment of the crew. We are each fulfilled by our coming together, both with our Marquesan cousins as well as our family of the waʻa.

ʻAʻole i pau…

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