Uncle Calvin at the Mariners’ Museum

by Diane Tom-Ogata, PVS Education Volunteer

While the dry dock crew and painters busily prepare Hōkūleʻa to look shiny and new for the voyage home, some of us work side-by-side with our hosts at The Mariners’ Museum to support the Polynesian Voyaging exhibit the museum has curated in our honor.  Today, Uncle Calvin Hoe has captivated the minds and hearts of the staff, taking them on a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

With a slow, thoughtful voice, his introduction begins with his genealogy – who he is and where he has come from.  He tells of being from Hakipuʻu, where Hōkūleʻa was first launched.  He then breezes into the topic of wind, talking about the Wind Gourd of Laʻamaomao and the names of wind that are put into a wind gourd, as he seamlessly takes out his flute and plays.  The resonance is just as captivating as Uncle.


Suddenly, Uncle sits up in his chair and like a ball of energy tells the staff, “Now you will make a flute”.  The energy in the room suddenly changes from quiet melancholy to hyped excitement, and even a quiet request (“I want to make one, please”) from Lauren, who stepped away for a moment and missed the distribution of flutes.   As we clean and sand our flutes, Uncle continues to chat, and when the flutes appear to Uncle’s satisfaction (he does inspect each flute as it is worked on), he announces “OK, now I teach you folks how for play.”  He carefully states where each finger on what hand is placed on the flute, and within moments we have clear tones from each of us.  Once he hears what he wants, he then moves on to explain the science and physics of sound.

Next on the agenda is the Pu.  Uncle simply explains the technique of pressing your lips together and blowing, like when you were a little kid and didn’t want to eat something.  With much surprise, the clear sound of the pu is heard right away from some in the room (except for me, I still cannot master the art of blowing).

Someone asks the time, and we are all surprised that it is a bit past lunch time.  Uncle reminds me that Union rules states he gets a 30 minute break, so 30 minutes we take.

When we reconvene, Uncle begins with the story of why he does the coconut waʻa activity.  He recalls that when he asked master navigator Papa Mau Piailug what his first memory was of canoes, Papa Mau replied “playing with coconut boats.”  Since Mau did not elaborate, Uncle Calvin created an activity to create coconut waʻa.

Before we can begin the activity, we first need to find the right type of “pick” Uncle needs to husk the coconut for his waʻa.  Initially, our search turns up a hammer and two picks; none of which met Uncle’s expectations. Uncle is then escorted by Museum staff to the Carpentry Division, where the staff indulged in making an oʻo to Uncle’s specifications.  Then the husking and waʻa building can begin – so fascinated were the staff of a coconut, their curiosity brought out their photographer.

After the first coconut waʻa session, Uncle ceremoniously hands over the oʻo to Curator Marc, who shares “this is the most fun I’ve had in years!”

This living treasure trove of knowledge named Calvin Hoe, whom I have been blessed to accompany and work side-by-side with, is a humble conduit eager to share his life’s unmatched experiences and skills. Having made over 80, 000 nose flutes in his life, he shares that he learns something new with every flute he makes.  We can learn something new every day, even by doing the same job, just doing it better and better.

And perhaps the best part, as Uncle says, is that we don’t learn FROM but WITH each other.

Hōkūleʻa’s Dry Dock Fundraiser

Every year since embarking on the Worldwide Voyage in 2014, Hōkūleʻa has taken several weeks of downtime annually to ensure she is safe, seaworthy and beautiful for the thousands of nautical miles that lay ahead.

Please help fund Hōkūleʻa’s 2016 dry dock efforts.

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