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Blog | Mahina Richards: The Everyday Things

Mahina RichardsThis post was written by Mahina Richards.

I find myself back under a night sky full of stars, but they aren’t just stars anymore. They’re the ancient maps of our ancestors who sailed the same paths we on are today.

[body} Having lived in New York for the past five years, this voyage for me has been one of reconnection with my Hawaiian culture. When I moved to the east coast in 2009, I was searching for something different, something so far out of my comfort zone. I’d be forced to mature in an array of ways in order to acclimate myself. And that’s exactly what happened. But of course the downside was being far from my culture, surrounded by people who often couldn’t even conceptualize what it means to be from Hawaii. I found the small, everyday things to be the most difficult to grow accustomed to, like looking up at a night sky that never fully darkens. The glow of the city lights washes any star from visibility. Now it’s something I find beautiful, I can appreciate it for what it is, but in the beginning it was a struggle.

When I told people in NY that I’d be spending my summer sailing in the South Pacific, most of them imagined that meant me tanning on a yacht drinking mai tais all day. I’d show them a picture of Hōkūleʻa to help them better understand. But how do you casually explain what Hōkūleʻa is? And even if I could, it just wouldn’t do the canoe justice. The symbol of cultural awakening that is the Hōkūleʻa can only be appreciated by people familiar with her story, by those who have seen her sail in from a long journey, or who’ve been out on the ocean with her.

So to hop off a plane from NYC in Tahiti a week before my voyage with Mālama Honua was a quick 180 degree pivot. All of a sudden I found myself drinking coconuts and eating poisson cru every day, surrounded by oceans and lagoons that are always more beautiful than the last. Everywhere we go, people are so incredibly giving, something that’s just in their nature. And no one needs to explain what Hōkūleʻa is or why she exists. In fact, her presence is often so meaningful, people weep when she departs. I can’t even describe how foreign all this would be for a New Yorker.

One of the most monumental reconnections for me was the stop at Taputapuatea. Although it was my first time visiting Raiatea, my father had been many times before. On his sail there in ’92, he brought with him my piko, which he left in the marae there. Ever since then, it was imperative for me that I some day make it to Taputapuatea myself, and that my first arrival be on Hōkūleʻa. Seeing the outriggers waiting in the pass for us, crowds of people covering the beach, chants being exchanged as we sailed in; I’d never experienced anything like it. I’ve heard all sorts of stories about canoe arrivals, but it’s different when you’re living it. Walking on the stones of our ancestors at arguably the epicenter of Polynesia, I was finally struck by just how connected we all are: Tahitians, Maoris, Hawaiians, etc. We are separate because our ancestors had the knowledge and fearlessness to voyage across the largest ocean in the world, but in the end we are all one people.

Again though, it is the everyday things I’m having the hardest time getting used to. I find myself back under a night sky full of stars, but they aren’t just stars anymore. They’re the ancient maps of our ancestors who sailed the same paths we are on today. They’re the reason we Polynesians are separate, and they are the reason we are the same. And it’s just too awesome to believe.

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