Beating drums and the unfamiliar chorus of Native American voices echo into the air. The sun moves slowly overhead as dried tobacco is thrown to the lone fire as an offering to the spirits. Men draped in eagle-feathered headdresses and deerskin fabric stomp the earth while women in delicately woven garments gracefully dance the same movements as their ancestors before them. Close your eyes and perhaps it was no different of a feeling than those experienced by the Wampanoag people over 10,000 years ago on these very same lands. However, today is a day that will always be remembered. Not because of the news articles or instagram posts, but because today a bond was forged between the people of Hawai’i and the Wampanoag Tribe of Mashpee. For the first time in history, a Hawaiian Flag was proudly raised next to the Wampanoag Flag at their annual Pow Wow that brings together Native American tribes from across the country to honor the culture and traditions of their ancestors.
When we look through time, it’s hard to comprehend the way that history has unraveled. The thousands upon thousands of years of human evolution that fostered magnificent cultures and ways of life juxtaposed by the conquests, the extinction, and the loss of many those very same cultures and practices. Today we are left with a hybrid society: One where the ancient and the modern must work together, for better or for worse. Tribal dances that go back millennia are driven by Native American chants amplified through a stereo system, while even the longest of celestial navigation voyages in some of the most remote stretches of the ocean are documented with digital cameras and broadcast through Facebook and blog posts. And though these ancient traditions may too have evolved, for better or for worse, they are still living breathing examples of how these cultures are alive.
And through it all, who could have predicted that the Wampanoag tribe would one day see people from the islands of Hawai’i take part in their sacred Pow Wow ceremony? And who from Hawai’i would have ever thought the day would come when their voyaging canoe Hōkūle’a would reach the shores of Cape Cod. Yet there we were, together. Not as strangers, but as family, seeming to fulfill a prophecy that perhaps won’t even be fully understood for decades to come.
For the crew, it was undoubtedly an experience that will never be forgotten. From the traditional garments, to the songs and dance, to the legendary fireball ceremony, it is something that will leave a lasting imprint on us all. The stories will be told time and time again. As the dust settles, what seems to linger is this constant thought: What if this is just the beginning of something big? As Hōkūle’a sails around the world connecting indigenous communities and urban cities alike, I can’t help but wonder if these could one day become the very seeds that help sew humanity back together. A gift to mankind from the heart of Hawai’i itself. In the words of elder Ramona Peters of the Wampanoag Nation, “In this day and age, we know that it can be confusing about what is meaningful, but this is. This gathering, this togetherness is historical and we will speak of it for generations to come.”
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Hōkūle‘a’s visit to the eastern United States is a historic milestone in her 40 years of voyaging.
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