Crew Blog | Kaʻai McAfee-Torco: Finding Family Far From Home
On July 30, 2016, we made a brief visit to the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine where I was pleasantly surprised to see the teal Smithsonian flag that’s visible near the entrance, representing it as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. I thought about my internship at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Culture Heritage under curator and educational specialist, Marjorie Hunt. She always enthusiastically talked about the Abbe Museum during my time working with her in DC. I would’ve never thought that Hōkūleʻa would give me the opportunity to visit this place in person.
Even more unexpected was the fortunate opportunity to see Gabe Paul, a friend Kalepa and I met while participating in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2013, entitled One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage. He and a group of nine family members welcomed our crew to Bangor, Maine at the airport. Someone from the crew asked, “Kaai, is this your family?” “Kind of,” I responded. Not related by blood, but a relationship built on common beliefs of the importance and value of indigenous knowledge. I’m grateful that they came, it felt like seeing family.
Gabe is a member of the Wabanaki, a group of indigenous people in the New England area, who comes from the Penobscot tribe. His leadership, dedication and passion to ensuring the survival of the Penobscot culture, language and history continues to inspire me. Although Gabe didn’t visit the museum with us, he was featured on one of the displays.
Towards the immaculately designed exhibit, the “Circle of Four Directions” was by far my favorite part that I hope to visit again in the future. In Wabanaki culture, not only does directions provide location, but also refers to phases of life. East is associated with childhood, South is adolescence, West is adulthood, North is our elder years. At this level, elders are passing on knowledge, however, are reliant on others like they once did as a child. A cycle of life. There are further affiliations for each cardinal direction. Children are related to the East, women in the South, men in the West and elders in the North.
In the Circle of Four Directions, every description begins with East, just like how I learned to teach the star compass beginning with East. Knowledge that was passed down from Papa Mau, to Makalii, to Kanehunamoku, to me. In the paafu, the Micronesian star compass that Papa Mau used, emphasis is placed on East. East is where the day begins; where the sun rises. The arrival of Kanehoalani, the sun, is one of the most important times during the day for a navigator, when East can be found easily.
Stepping into the Circle of Four Directions, eyes are immediately drawn to the sky above. The design of the ceiling mimics a wigwam, a traditional Wabanaki shelter. Based on the themes of each direction and the relative location of each tribe, four baskets are displayed. The basket in the East was made by a Maliseet child; the South, a Passamaquoddy woman; the West, a Penobscot man; the North, a Micmac elder.
I hear the voice of a language warrior. On the recording, Gabe tells a part of his peoples’ creation story in Penobscot. Along with the voices of individuals who play a key role in keeping their culture alive is the sound of the ash log being pounded in the background, like the kuku kani o ke kapa, the beating sound of wauke bark. The Wabanaki say that the sound of the ash log is the “sound of creation.”
More similarities were found as we went through the museum. The Wabanaki have Koluskap who is reminiscent of Maui, a kupua; not man nor god, but in between; someone who is sent to carry out instructions. These characters in legends teach life lessons in disguise of moolelo (stories). One tells of Koluskap splitting a brown ash tree in half by shooting an arrow and this is how the Wabanaki people were created.
The brown ash tree, in its importance in the Wabanaki creation story, is similar to taro. In a Hawaiian creation story, Wakea and Hoohokukalani gave birth to a still-born baby. They buried their precious child into the honua (earth) and out grew the first kalo (taro), Haloanakalaukapalili. Sky father and the woman of the stars had a second child, the first Hawaiian man. Both peoples were formed from nature; Wabanaki from the brown ash tree, Hawaiians from taro.
To recognize people in the exhibit from the Wabanaki delegation I met at the Smithsonian folklife festival and personally know was an extremely special experience to me. The connections that I’ve made and are making from this voyage, continues to connect seemingly random points on my life journey. Although this is my first leg on the Worldwide Voyage, I know that being on Hōkūleʻa will allow me to have experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise and will continue to connect everything together.
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