Crew blog by Keoni Kuoha
While we were in Rapa Nui, many supported our work and stay on that island. One of those who stands out in my mind is Taka Hei–he freely offered his kōkua from the day we arrived and he became part of our crew for the time that we were on-island.
The first thing you might notice about Taka is that he has a boat–a simple, open, fishing craft in the style that is common in Rapa Nui and throughout Chile, the island’s colonial authority. Taka is particularly skilled at maneuvering his craft in and out of Hangaroa boat harbor, with its web of docking lines, coral heads, and rolling surf. And we got to see his skills in action at least several times a day, since Hōkūleʻa was anchored off shore and we needed a means to get back and forth to the waʻa, provision the vessel, and stand watch. Taka and his boat were a tremendous value to our crew throughout our stay.
Although shuttling a bunch of Hawaiians to and from their canoe became a temporary responsibility, Taka’s profession is as a fisherman, and he’s well known and respected throughout Rapa Nui as such. On several occasions, when we met up with locals, they would volunteer their estimation that Taka was one of the top three most respected fishermen on the island and by far the youngest.
At first, I thought it was curious that different folks would volunteer this same local knowledge when they found out that Taka was helping us. For one, everyone appeared to have some sort of running tally of respected fishermen in their head and Taka always landed in the top three. More interesting, though, is that everyone mentioned his relative youth–he’s probably in his late thirties, early forties–as a point of interest. The kind of knowing that Taka has mastered is something often reserved for those nearing the end of their careers as fishermen, but not for Taka.
Now, although I met Taka a couple years ago, I don’t know him well enough to say whether he possesses some natural genius for his craft–honestly, I think our society attributes too much to “natural talent” to the detriment of simple hard work and perseverance–but, what I do know is that he comes from a family of master fishermen. I met his cousin some years back, while I was visiting for the annual Tapati Rapa Nui Festival, and got to meet and talk with some of his family. It became apparent soon into the conversation that his family cares for a tradition of fishing. They spoke of genealogies of knowledge and underlying meanings, reasons, and purpose, just as any master of a traditional discipline back home in Hawaiʻi would do. They spoke of fine lines of discernment and observation, things that distinguish those at the top of their field. They expressed a deep-seeded respect and value for the continuity of their lineage of knowledge, and they described their tradition as dynamic, continuously tested by critical observation and reassessment.
This was the context of learning in which Taka was raised–his excellence a natural outcome of his embrace of a family tradition. It’s a powerful context for learning. It’s also an example of a learning system for a better future, this care for lineal knowing. For one, when one’s family is the source of knowledge, it can strengthen family bonds and support total wellbeing for everyone involved. Beyond that which is cared for within families, we have many other sources of lineal knowledge within our communities, hālau hula being a common source for this type of knowing. No matter the source of knowing, though, embracing the knowledge that comes from the lived and learned experience of those who came before you benefits both the learner and the community to which the learner belongs.
ʻAʻole i pau…
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