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Crew Blog | Michelle Knoetgen: Sailing into (the) Future Primal

Written by Michelle Knoetgen

“The voyage of the Hōkūle‘a reconnects us [Africans and Hawaiians] at a primal level. It harks back to our oneness. To the starting point of our interconnectedness and our human journey.”
—Reverend Mpho Tutu at the Ceremony of Friendship in Cape Town, South Africa.

Rev_Mpho_Tutu
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu, spoke beautifully about peace and our unity as human beings with African origins. She said, “Welcome home!” to the Hawaiian delegation. Photo by Bryson Hoe.

Before the delegation of Hawaiʻi educators, students, crewmembers, and documentarians arrived in South Africa, our journey began through interactions with cultural experts such as University of Hawai‘i professor of political science Louis Herman. Herman visited ‘Iolani School on Thursday, October 22 to present ideas from his book Future Primal: How Our Wilderness Origins Show Us the Way Forward. Deeply in touch with the natural world, this Port Elizabeth, South Africa native shared insights on the parallels between Hawai‘i and South Africa.

"Hawaiʻi’s antipode [...] lies in the middle of the massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, about 700 miles from where Hōkūle‘a is right now, and a world away from Hawai‘i both literally and figuratively."—Hokulea.com
“Hawaiʻi’s antipode […] lies in the middle of the massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, about 700 miles from where Hōkūle‘a is right now, and a world away from Hawai‘i both literally and figuratively.”—Hokulea.com

Herman spoke of his own attraction to opposites, and how revelatory it can be to oscillate between extreme experiences; for example, to travel from Hawai‘i to its antipode (direct opposite on the globe)—Africa—and back. In his words, there is a “powerful symmetry” between the two locations, and he reminded us that we learn the most about what it means to be human from the people who might seem the most different.

We the Navigators

Just as Hōkūle‘a’s journeys around the world to connect a lei of people and communities, Herman writes about looking within to find “a path with heart” and speaks of the “primal planetary culture” to which we all belong. He sees the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage as “an example of an organization embodying the primal truth quest.”

Part of this quest is to connect spiritually with nature by being quiet and listening: “quieting the ego, meditating, and just paying attention to our natural surroundings.” He referred to the “shamanic resonance with the natural world” present in indigenous wisdom.  Herman brought up Mau Piailug’s “shamanic navigation” and “acute sensitivity” to the ocean’s swells, the earth’s winds, and the universe’s stars, and reminded us that this sensitivity to nature is recognized as reality by all indigenous cultures.

Students of the POW! WOW! School of Art/808 Urban painted a mural of Papa Mau Piailug in Kaka‘ako on O‘ahu to change the way people see their environment. Painting by Kamea Hadar, 808 Urban, Fitted; Image Courtesy of 808 Urban
Students of the POW! WOW! School of Art/808 Urban painted a mural of Papa Mau Piailug in Kaka‘ako on O‘ahu to change the way people see their environment. Painting by Kamea Hadar, 808 Urban, Fitted; Image Courtesy of 808 Urban.

Voyaging wisdom reveals that our similarities far exceed our differences. As Pwo Navigator Kalepa Baybayan wrote about his revered teacher, “Mau viewed and treated us as an oceanic ‘ohana, defined not by an ocean that separated us, but rather an ocean that joined us around common traditions and a passion for an island lifestyle” (from Baybayan’s article “Piailug’s greatest lesson is that we are a single people” posted July 29, 2010 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser).

Photo of Pius "Mau" Piailug by Monte Costa
Photo of Pius “Mau” Piailug by Monte Costa

The Birthplace of Consciousness, the Piko of the Planet

Herman celebrates South Africa as the biological hotspot where human consciousness began: “We are all descendants of a very small group—all indigenous to the planet earth.” Members of the Hawaiʻi delegation will travel to Mossel Bay, the origins of Homo sapiens according to prevailing research. Evidence includes bones, tools, the oldest known piece of art (approximately 77,000 years old), and remnants of an art workshop containing toolkits for mixing paint dating back 100,000 years (according to Popular Archaeology) found in Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point, among other archaeological sites.  When Hōkūleʻa and her crew sailed the southern coast of South Africa, crewmembers anchored in Mossel Bay to pay respect to this origin point, and to learn more about our shared ancestry.

This engraved ocher plaque is the earliest known art work, found in Blombos Cave in South Africa in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution website)]
This engraved ocher plaque is the earliest known art work, found in Blombos Cave in South Africa in 1991. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution website.

Friends of Louis Herman, South African documentary filmmakers Craig and Damon Foster are working with The Sea Change Project — a multi-media endeavor that tells the story of the birth of humanity, and the ancient relationship we all have with the sea. Here is a fascinating excerpt from The Sea-change Project website:

The latest scientific evidence shows that the first modern humans lived at the coast on the southern tip of Africa, in what is now the Western Cape of South Africa. The archeological records at the “point of origin” show the first evidence of cognitive human development, early nuclear family life, art and human values that we associate with modern humans today.

The leap in our evolution to become Homo sapiens is arguably the greatest “sea-change” in the 250,000 year history of our species. The phrase “sea-change” was first coined by Shakespeare in The Tempest, and it means a profound transformation wrought by nature. It appears that this transformation was wrought in part by our relationship with the sea, as it is believed that the high nutrient content in seafood harvested from the abundant rocky shoreline and kelp forests fuelled the brain and upgraded the architecture of our minds. Because we all share the same ancestors, the southern tip of Africa is quite possibly the original home of everyone alive today.

So, it is possible that South Africa is the birthplace of human consciousness, the original Garden of Eden, the location of our ocean origins.

Nainoa Thompson gave a poignant speech that moved the crowd, pointing out connections between Africans, Hawaiians, and all cultures. Referring to the hospitality of African culture and our common origins, he said, "we never left home, because that is us." Photo by Bryson Hoe.
Nainoa Thompson gave a poignant speech that moved the crowd, pointing out connections between Africans, Hawaiians, and all cultures. Referring to the hospitality of African culture and our common origins, he said, “we never left home, because that is us.” Photo by Bryson Hoe.

At the Ceremony of Friendship in Cape Town, Pwo Navigator Nainoa Thompson discussed the incredible experiences the crew of Hōkūle‘a has had in South Africa: sailing around the Cape, diving in the kelp beds, and being welcomed warmly by the beauty of Africa and the African people, Nainoa said, “Across this landscape, in these ancient places of the domain of the beginning of modern man, the funny thing is, we never left home, because that is us. If this is genesis and this is the beginning of mankind, then coming to Hawai’i, you are still you and you are us. And it was an amazing experience to sit there and recognize that you’re half way around the world and you’re still home.”

Into the Future

In our conversation with Louis Herman, a question that arose was, face to face with the catastrophic devastation of nature that is occurring right now – i.e. mass extinction of species (50,000 living species lost per year), rising seas engulfing coastal cities and burying island nations, and the depletion of natural resources – how do we remain hopeful?

Herman finds answers in the generosity of spirit that humans are capable of, and by having “faith that human beings can avert this apocalypse that is underway.” The hope is that we are “shocked into an awakening,” “open to the big picture” and “always growing.”

Mahalo nui to our friends Louis Herman, Craig Foster, and Peter Nilsson for opening our eyes to this shared heritage, our primal connection with Africa.

Louis Herman’s book Future Primal: How Our Wilderness Origins Show Us the Way Forward looks to the primal truth quest for solutions to political and ecological devastation.
Louis Herman’s book Future Primal: How Our Wilderness Origins Show Us the Way Forward looks to the primal truth quest for solutions to political and ecological devastation.

This was initially posted on Shelley’s blog, and revised to include new content from Shelley’s time with the Hawaiʻi delegation in Cape Town.  To read more of Shelley’s amazing work, please visit https://shellkanoe.wordpress.com/


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