Hōkūleʻa Update| Seeking Protection – from ʻAwa to Outer Wear

Naalehu AnthonyBy Nāʻālehu Anthony

Yesterday, the crew of Leg 28 loaded almost all of our personal belongings on to the canoe. What could have passed for a product show for Helly Hansen, Patagonia and Pelican luggage was just another day in waʻa life. While we may or may not be brand conscious (some of us more than others), we most definitely need gear that will stand up to the rigorous tests we put them through while sailing this canoe. One miserable night-long squall in the biting cold is all it takes for you to understand the value of good gear. In many respects, the gear we wear is really the only protection to be found on the canoe. Only a thin layer of canvas keeps the wind and waves out of our bunks; if you ask the likes of veteran crew like Keahi Omai and Max Yaramawai, sometimes even that canvas doesn’t hold up. And so we see a lot of inadvertent trial-and-error of the gear on each leg with crew sporting new equipment, in constant search of gear that keeps us warm when we are cold, and cool when we are hot. Sometimes gear sponsors like Patagonia and Olukai want to hear from us about the equipment – and after 31,000 miles of sailing three-fourths of the way around the planet, I think it is safe to say that we have some pretty unique testing conditions. Beyond the extreme weather and wear-and-tear, we gladly provide that feedback and support to our sponsors and partners based on the values of voyaging and mālama honua, so they can help us to guide Hōkūleʻa and her crew forward in a positive way by being as environmentally-friendly and low-impact as possible. Well-made gear that lasts a lifetime is far better than gear that has to be constantly replaced and adds to our footprint on this Island Earth.

gear galapagos

But the readying of the canoe, loading gear, and checking off kuleana lists is just part of the process of making sure everything is right for departure. There is also the part that connects us now, here on the deck of Hōkūleʻa, back to every voyage undertaken in this ancient way, to times when these canoes were the only way to get from island to island in the vastness of the deep blue sea.

These vessels, the spacecraft of our ancestors, born of the innovation and ingenuity our ancestors utilized to build and sail them, were made of physical things but grounded in a deep respect for the things that could not be seen. Beyond the art and science of wayfinding is the reliance on ritual to help voyagers find their way.

‘Awa (kawa, kawakawa, or even sakau) is familiar throughout almost the entire Pacific — and so it was for the 14 of us this night. As the sun set over this small town, with our canoe slowly swaying to the gentle rhythm of the land breeze, we sat together and drank ‘awa in ceremony. The intent is that which it has always been, I think — to bring us together, to pause in the chaos that is a voyage, to look around and be present with one another as we are about to embark on a journey that is nothing short of impossible.

The math tells us that the ability to find a target as small as Rapa Nui is pretty impossible using the system of navigation that we use. Putting the math aside for a minute, let us consider that thousands of years ago, Polynesian navigator Hotu Matuʻa found the island. In his wake, many other navigators whose names have been washed from our memories found the island as well. And on the deck of Hōkūleʻa, sitting next to the steering paddle named for the sacred beach of Kualoa, we are reminded that this canoe too, with our navigator, found that impossible place in an impossible dream only 18 years ago. Interesting how the impossible becomes possible when we come together and work as one.

As each apu is poured, so too does each person pour into the ʻawa circle their hopes and dreams about this voyage and how they got here. This short time we spend talking about why we are here and what we want to contribute gives us the clarity we need to push on – past the adversity, past the heat, and past anything we wanted for merely ourselves. We are back in the Pacific after more than two years, and about to enter the third corner of the Polynesian Triangle with a group of individuals who represent the effort of countless others that have worked the last 4 decades to get here. As Venus rises above the Ki’i Wahine, Orion stands overhead, and we are awash by Mahina the moon, we do as we have done for thousands of years – we ask those who cannot be seen for protection, to help us reach our destination as one.

Kihawahinekamoʻoomaluʻuluolele illuminated by the rising sun.

Na mākou me ka ha’aha’a,
Nāʻālehu Anthony on behalf of the Leg 28 crew


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