As the famous Polynesian sailing canoe Hōkūleʻa voyages the world, we take a moment to celebrate earlier voyages and our kūpuna who sailed them. Eighteen years ago, Hōkūleʻa first visited Mangareva on the historic voyage to Rapa Nui that closed the Polynesian triangle for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Here is the report filed by crewmember and documenter Sam Low.
I first met Attwood Makanani in 1995, in the village of Tautira where Hōkūleʻa was anchored prior to departing for Nuku Hiva on the voyage called “Na ‘Ohana Holo Moana/The Voyaging Family of the Vast Ocean.” My impression was of a sturdy and energetic elf with a pointed beard and a gleam in his eyes. I found him helping his Tahitian host weed a garden, a sight that I would often see as I bumped into “Maka” over the years. He was always busy lending a hand.
One particularly vivid memory I have is from the island of Mangareva in 1999 when Maka was a crewmember on the escort boat Kama Hele. I am riding through the village of Rikitea in the back of our host Bruno Schmitt’s Land Rover with him and a large sandstone slab with strange symbols etched into its surface. For the last hour or so, he has been speaking non-stop in an enthusiastic commentary on the meaning of life, the voyage to Rapa Nui, his ancestors, and the significance of the slab we are conveying to a garden in front of Bruno’s house.
“This is a petroglyph, a traditional way of recording a historic event,” Maka explains, “I carved it for Bruno in thanks for his hospitality. It’s a mo’olelo, a story, which could easily be oral – in an oli or chant – but in this case it’s carved in stone.”
As the Land Rover bumps along the town’s main street past the gendarmerie and the post office, Maka runs his finger over the design he has etched into the stone.
“Here is a representation of Hōkūleʻa, and this is Kama Hele. Here is a manō, a shark, which is one of our ancestral guardian spirits, an ʻaumakua. I chose the manō because it’s an ‘aumakua common to many of the crewmembers sailing on the two vessels. And there’s another reason – when Hōkūleʻa passed through the reef surrounding Mangareva, a number of us saw a shark swim directly in front of the canoe. Timi Gilliom saw it clearly. The shark seemed to be guiding us through the reef and as soon as we got through safely, it disappeared.”
The Land Rover now bumps over a dirt road and arrives at Bruno’s bungalow, which is set on an ample lot bordering the ocean. We unload the petroglyph and the three of us lug it to the garden. With Bruno and his wife, Maka continues his explanation of its significance.
“I also carved a mo’o, a lizard, which is a land ‘aumakua. The mo’o lives in freshwater streams, so now we have here both a land and an ocean ‘aumakua, a lizard and a shark, which represent the fact that all life depends on the land and ocean, which is a typical way that all island people think.”
Now Maka points to a checkerboard with sixty-four depressions.
“This is a kōnane board. Kōnane is an ancient game of kings that is equivalent to chess. Kōnane is symbolic of wisdom; it makes me think of the need for our leaders to plan carefully to care for our land and our ocean, to mālama our natural resources. One goal of our voyage to Rapa Nui is to encourage all of us to respect our natural world, the sea we sail over and the islands that we sail to.”
For a time we all sit quietly, admiring Maka’s petroglyph and Bruno’s garden. It’s silent except for chickens squawking in a nearby henhouse and Bruno’s sheep bleating in a nearby pasture. Maka is usually in constant motion but now he seems serene. The petroglyph is the last of many gifts he has presented to our Mangarevan hosts. Since his arrival on the island, he has carved about three dozen nose flutes, which he presented to children all over Rikitea. He also made a kōnane board for Bianca and Benoir, a couple who hosted a reception for the crew. And from the crooked branches of trees he made and gave away many lomi sticks – a traditional implement to massage the body.
“I don’t have money for tee-shirts to give away, so I make things on every island we visit. These gifts are what we call makana, an exchange from one seafaring family to another to memorialize and enhance our cultural integrity. They are given in simple appreciation for the hospitality we have received. They are a part of our ancestral protocol of meeting and greeting one another as a family of seafaring people. Our voyages are also what we from Hawaii offer as our gift to the people of the islands we visit. Voyaging is about the spirit of exploration and the renewal of our culture. They say we have not forgotten our Polynesian heritage; they say ‘onipaʻa – stand fast.”
The above moʻolelo was written by Hōkūleʻa crewmember and documenter Sam Low, author of Hawaiki Rising, Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Renaissance.