Pam Omidyar Blog on Civil Beat

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Aina, Lewa, Kai: A Vision for Healing the World

By Pam Omidyar 06/18/2013

ʻImiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo

Editor’s Note: The Polynesian Voyaging Society recently hosted three days of launch events to mark its world wide voyage.

E ola ‘oe
E ola mākou nei

“If you have life, then we all have life.” This was the prayer each of us offered each young native plant after gently placing 400 young koa, mamane, ‘iliahi, pilo, and other native plant species into the rich mountain soil of Hawai‘i Island. These young trees will help rebuild the dense forest of Hawai‘i island. They will not only provide shelter for endangered birds like the palila, but also create the conditions to support more rainfall, prevent soil erosion, and deter invasive plants from disturbing our complex ecosystem.

Launching Mālama Honua

Friday: ‘Āina, the land

The day of planting kicked off the first of three days of launch events for the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s World Wide Voyage “Mālama Honua” (Care for the Earth). Together, the three days of launch events tell a compelling story about our global interconnectedness – with each other and with our planet.

Friday’s reforestation gathering, held in Keahou, was hosted by Kamehameha Schools and the Three Mountain Alliance. The Alliance – the largest watershed partnership in Hawai‘i – is a group of organizations dedicated to restoring Hawai‘i’s forests, and educating new generations about the interdependence of diverse species that arrived on Hawai‘i’s islands by wind, waves, and via birds. Key to the Alliance’s work is an effort to share the message that sustainability for our āina is key to preserving Hawai‘i’s fragile ecosystem today, and into the future. The interdependent relationship between land, water, and sky has never been more critical to our planet’s future, or more in jeopardy.

Why focus on reforesting, to launch a sail around the world? Quite simply, because land and sea are connected. Nurturing one benefits the other. In the most practical sense, Hawaiian seafarers would journey to the forests to select, with respect and care, the tree that would be their next canoe. Four hundred natives were planted on this day, but thousands of trees will be planted in Hawai‘i over the next few years to offset any carbon emissions generated from the Worldwide Voyage (WWV).

Beyond maintaining what we have, the larger purpouse of the journey is to improve ourselves, the world, and our islands, for those who follow. The Voyage is named Mālama Honua in honor of Polynesian Voyage Society’s (PVS) efforts to share aloha at home and in every port around the world through these priorities:

Culture: to practice and share Hawaiian culture and values and to celebrate diversity and culture around the world by engaging in the cultural protocols of others.

Leadership: to share and celebrate the wisdom of Hawaiian ancestors, both in Hawai‘i and globally, which serves as a model for cultural perpetuation and environmental stewardship.

Ocean: to raise awareness about the critical need to protect and enrich the ocean and share Hawaiian practices of natural resources management while learning from others about their good methods.

Voyaging: to perpetuate traditional navigation and ocean voyaging while creating unity among all those linked by oceans. And to celebrate these traditions around the world.

Education: to inspire youth to care for their communities and their environment, foster values-based education, and connect students to other cultures around the world.

Our children, the small trees in the forest, will be here long after our kūpuna, our elders, are gone. We must teach the next generation to steward the diminishing resources that will be needed in an ever-increasing global population.

As my daughter and I gently introduced plants into their new home, feeling the rich damp soil, I felt much gratitude to be able to participate in this worthy effort. My husband Pierre and I were born elsewhere, but our roots were attached and nurtured in Hawaiian soil for years. We returned to Hawai‘i with our family so that our children could also benefit from the Hawaiian values and traditions that will help them build a strong sense of identity and purpose to help make the world healthier.

Saturday: Lewa, the sky

The next night, after a fun learning trip with the kids to the Kīlauea caldera and lava tubes, we all went to the Imiloa Astronomy Center for a PVS event. Humbled by the 38 years of rich history of Hawaiian voyaging, we heard from Clyde Namū‘ō, Mayor Billy Kenoi, Nainoa Thompson, and others who shared with us the founding of PVS and the Hōkūle‘a, the vision of Mālama Honua, and a brilliant mini-lecture on star path navigation by pwo navigator Chad Kālepa Paishon.

Nainoa spoke passionately about how the voyages of the Hōkūle‘a were a core part of the revival of Hawaiian language and culture in Hawai‘i. So many people contributed their hearts, minds, and bodies towards not just each voyage of the Hōkūle‘a but also to the greater potential of what PVS could be. Nainoa then briefed us on the vision for the Worldwide Voyage, with values being central. Personally, I was struck by his notion about the importance of both preserving culture and identity while embracing diversity.

“The strength of this voyage is in diversity and not isolation. That is the route to peace,” Nainoa Thompson.

I passionately believe this to be true and feel strongly that culture and diversity can co-exist in harmony. For it is in the honoring of our differences while connecting to our shared humanity where the space for peace exists. The efforts of PVS and all those who support it, are part of a journey in the hard work of healing and moving forward. PVS and its supporters are creating a proud legacy for Hawai‘i.

What strikes me is the inward journey that must be taken; one that allows the outward journey to progress. Before we act, we must decide for ourselves our intention to act — and that is often a barrier. Native knowledge and wisdom were achieved through deep observation and reflection: Who are we in relation to the land, the sky, and the sea? The ability to be master navigators is far more than guiding a vessel in the ocean by following the cues found in the skies; it is caring for land and shoreline resources, and arriving at a greater understanding and integrity within.

I think about the legacies that Hawaiian leadership has left: Queen Lili‘uokalani’s sacrifice of land for the survival of her people and the trust she left to help Hawai‘i’s most vulnerable children; Princess Pauahi’s legacy of valuing education; Queen Emma’s commitment to the health and well-being of her people; and, King Lunalilo’s trust to help care for and give dignity to our kūpuna. They understood the priorities needed to prevent more suffering and to heal the damage the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom caused.

The kids had a wonderful time at ‘Imiloa; happily, our time on Hawai‘i Island included two visits! The Astronomy Center is truly a phenomenal blend of Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions, integrated gracefully with science and technology. What a wonderful way to inspire our youth by connecting them to their heritage and to the stars. I loved that the museum was fully bilingual as well. It would be wonderful to see all of Hawai‘i’s children grow up to be fully bilingual. The visit also humbled me to realize that I need to learn more about the Hawaiian language.

Sunday: Kai, the sea

On a beautiful Hawaiian Sunday, to fill the mana, we connected land and sky with the sea with a Hoʻolauleʻa, or celebration, for the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage at Palekai. We were humbled to step foot on the deck of these sturdy, yet precious, canoes before they left for the first leg of the voyage.

This was a lovely setting for a meaningful day filled with prayer; sharing of history and wishes for the future; hula and food. Children played and learned about PVS. There was swimming and canoeing, and the community was able to bless the Hōkūle‘a and its sister vessel, Hikianalia, before they embarked on the first leg of their voyage, Mālama Hawai‘i.

As the escort to the Hōkūle‘a the Hikianalia is a magical bridge between traditional sailing customs and green technologies. Her mana increases with every harmonious sail.

Our family has had the deep honor of sailing on the Hōkūle‘a. A March sail to Maui with Nainoa, crew, and environmentalist/humanist Paul Hawken will be remembered as one of the most special moments in my life. When I was nine, growing up on O‘ahu, I remember vividly the images and stories about Hōkūle‘a’s sail to Tahiti. My mom shared a friendship with Will and Lee Kyselka and I have fond memories of them even if I didn’t understand any of the astronomy at the time.

When our daughter visited Hōkūle‘a with her third grade class, a circle was completed. Like most tweens, our daughter balks at many of our requests to attend public functions – unless Uncle Nainoa is going to be there … and then she drops everything! To feel the mana of the Hōkūle‘a with our bare feet on her deck and to know we are even a small part of her history and her future feeds my heart with hope.

The Worldwide Voyage is a way to share this path to healing with the world – for Hawaiians are just one group of so many that have faced deep challenges. It is a chance to share the message that, despite much hurt and much loss, even of the destruction of a people, removal of their language, their cultural expressions of their identity like hula, and of their land, there is a way to heal and to rediscover the gifts of wisdom from Hawaiian ancestors and still move forward in the world with enough resources to share with everyone.

The ancient Polynesian people were history’s greatest navigators, explorers, and survivalists. They populated lands across the largest ocean on our planet. They used only what they needed to survive, took care to leave their lands in conditions that would be healthy for future generations.

As Hawai‘i’s wise leaders like Queen Liliuokalani and Princess Pauahi knew, every time a mother speaks to her child in Hawaiian, every time we see Hawaiian in museums and on signs, every time Hawaiian is taught in schools, every time we have more sacred ceremonies like those described above, Hawaiian identity and our spirits grow stronger, the ‘āina gets healthier, and the path forward becomes clearer.

“E ola oe. E ola makou nei. If you have life, then we all have life.”

Returning to this quote, it reminded me of the South African concept, ubuntu. In the Xhoas language, ubuntu is part of a longer expression that translates, “My humanity is tied to your humanity.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu often explains it as our deep interdependence: “If I lift you up, I rise as well.” “E ola oe.” This is ubuntu for the earth and oceans! What a sacred message the world must embrace if our planet, and therefore each other, is to survive.

About the author: Pam Omidyar is a philanthropist who provides financial support to the Polynesian Voyaging Society. She is also the wife of Civil Beat publisher Pierre Omidyar.

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