Hikianalia Report: October 23, 6:03 AM: passed the island of Rurutu this morning, under 300 miles from Tahiti
We are now 290 miles from the SE portion of Tahiti: Tautira village. See Tracking Map.
Tautira is Hōkūle‘a’s home, and the families have been her caretakers while she is in Tahiti since 1976. For stories of Hōkūle‘a and Tautira, see Sam Low’s “Tautira: Hōkūle’a’s Home in Tahiti” and “The Old Men of Tautira” below, from the Voyage to Rapanui: Journal, Tahiti to Hawai‘i, February 5-27, 2000.”
- time: 2012-10-23 16:03 UTC/GMT (06:03 HST Oct 23)
- position: 22 degrees 16.8 minutes S 151 degrees 22.4 minutes W
- course: 020 degrees True
- speed: 9.0 to 10.0 knots
- weather: 50 percent cloud cover with only low-level cumulous, air dry and salty from a nice layer of salt spray from all the high wind
- wind: ESE 30 knots
- sea state: SSE swell 15-20 feet; moderate and has somewhat sorted itself out from yesterday; still shipping occasional wave and spray
- vessel and crew condition: all ok (Faafaite also)
- Celestial Observations, Navigation Stars, Planets and Moon Phases: Clear night with tons of stars. Still enjoying looking at the South celestial pole area and getting to know it better (doing transects). Since the E horizon was really clear, we could see Regulus come up in the early morning. This helps those learning about navigation to learn about the elliptic: the path that stars follow as they rise and set across the sky. The new crew are learning the northern pointers to the northern pole, which is at this point below the horizon by 22.5 degrees.
- Animal Life: None noted.
- Sea Birds and Sea Life: None observed.
- Marine Debris: None observed overnight.
Tautira: Hokule’a’s Home in Tahiti
by Sam Low
I first visited Pape’ete in 1966 when it was a somnolent seaside town with a few yachts tied to the quay along the main street. There were low buildings along the street and a famous bar, called Quinns, which had a rough reputation. Today, few places are left from that earlier time. There are the grand avenues where the old French Colonial buildings still stand and the Hotel Royal Pape’ete which was once the best but is now overshadowed by many new ones on the city’s outskirts. Office buildings rise above boutiques and restaurants. The bars are fancy in the French manner, which means expensive and with an “I could care less” attitude which passes for an island weltzschmertz.
The Banyan trees that I remember still cast pools of shade along the park beside the main street and locals with tattoos still sit under them watching life pass and talking in a mix of Tahitian and French. The popping of motor scooters is familiar but it’s now drowned by the roar of big diesel tourist busses and Mercedes trucks and the street is clouded with fumes. Pape’ete has become a place that, if you know better, you leave as soon as possible.
Hokule’a’s home port in Tahitian waters is the village of Tautira, an hour’s drive on a road that winds through a landscape of utilitarian architecture – burgeoning strip malls, gas stations, lotissemonts – a French-Polynesian version of suburban sprawl. Following the road, the hubbub of uncontrolled development subsides. The air clears of fumes. Mountain peaks jostle toward the shore – presenting waterfalls and vistas into deep valleys. In Tautira, the road ends.
Robert Louis Stevenson visited Tautira in 1888 on a cruise through the South Seas . “One November night in the village of Tautira ,” he wrote to a friend, “we sat at the high table in the hall of assembly, hearing the natives sing. It was dark in the hall, and very warm; though at times the land wind blew a little shrewdly through the chinks, and at times, through the larger openings, we could see the moonlight on the lawn… You are to conceive us, therefore, in strange circumstances and very pleasing; in a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth; surrounded by a foreign race that all travelers have agreed to be the most engaging… We came forth again at last, in a cloudy moonlight, on the forest lawn which is the street of Tautira. The Pacific roared outside upon the reef. Here and there one of the scattered palm-built lodges shone out under the shadow of the wood, the lamplight bursting through the crannies of the wall.”
Tautira has changed since then, of course. The “palm-built lodges” are long gone, replaced by neat bungalows of wood or cinderblock with metal roofs. But the mountains of the Vaitepiha Valley still rise above the village and the Pacific still roars upon the reef and the swells still make a solid white line on an azure gin-clear sea. In the lagoon it is calm. There are stands of tall coconut palm along the shore along with ironwood, milo, mango and ulu trees with leaves that open like human hands, yellow in the palm, dark green at the finger tips. Small fishing skiffs are parked in many lawns. There is a public water tap by the Mairie – the Mayor’s office – and many village women come here to wash their clothes; hanging them out to dry in the yard – pareos of many colors and designs. Driving into the village, the valley opens wide, revealing peaks deep inside, masked in cloud. The slopes are light green with ferns. Mango trees stand above the ferns and lower down are hala trees in groves. Tautira remains, as Stevenson wrote more than a hundred years ago, “a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth.”
Nainoa Thompson first visited Tautira in 1976 as a crewmember aboard Hokule’a. There he met Puaniho Tauotaha, one of the village elders – a fisherman, canoe paddler, and canoe carver – a man of immense physical and spiritual strength.
“You could be in the canoe house,” Nainoa remembers, “and there was laughter and singing and people talking but when Puaniho got up to speak there was complete silence. I didn’t know what he was saying but it felt like an oration. And if he wasn’t doing that he never said anything. When he coached the canoe paddlers he hardly said a word. He was an extremely quiet man. Very religious, very disciplined. He was the edge of the old times.”
After her famous maiden voyage to Tahiti, Hokule’a sailed from village to village along the coast. Wherever she stopped, the crew was hosted like visiting royalty. Nainoa had yet to sail aboard the canoe on a long voyage and although he had prepared for the return trip he was nervous and he was embarrassed by the attention.
“We would prance into these parties and sit down and they would feed us food and beer all night as if we were very special people – which we were not,” he remembers. “We sailed into Tautira, the last stop in Tahiti , and we anchored and I had just had enough. I told Kawika, the captain, ‘I will stay aboard the canoe.’ The current was strong. We had two anchors and the bottom was coral and they were not going to hold well so I was worried. ‘We are so close to leaving,’ I thought, ‘what if the anchors drag and we damage the canoe?'”
Kawika agreed that Nainoa could stay aboard while the rest of the crew went to the party in the village. That afternoon, Nainoa enjoyed the solitude. The canoe bobbed serenely at her anchorage. The sun began to settle over the nearby mountains.
“Finally, the sun went down behind Tahiti Nui,” Nainoa remembers, “and I saw this little girl, maybe four or five years old, on the beach. She had a flower in her ear and she was waving to me to come on shore. She just kept on waving. So I went on shore and she grabbed me with hands so small that she could hold just two of my fingers. She took me by the hand and led me down the road and into a simple house with a dirt floor. They had put in some picnic tables and they had the whole crew in there and they were feeding them shrimp and steak and all kinds of food. Somebody would stand behind you and if your beer glass got half empty they would fill it up. Puaniho came in. He was the stroker for the old time canoe paddlers. He sat down. He had powerful eyes. He was poor in material things but he was a very strong and powerful man. He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak French or Tahitian. We sat there and we spent the evening with him. It was just overwhelming how much the people of the village give when they had so little to give. They didn’t have a floor in their house, much less beer and steak to share. I felt awkward. Here was this Hawaiian group who really didn’t know a damn thing about sailing and they were treating us as if we were special people.”
“We sailed back to Pape’ete and we were staying in a hostel,” Nainoa continues. “Two days before we left I was sleeping in my room and about four o’clock in the morning I woke up. Puaniho’s wife was pulling me by my toes and waving to me to go outside. So I got my clothes on and we went outside. She couldn’t speak any English and so she just signaled to get in her truck. We drove all the way back to Tautira, early in the morning, as the sun came up. We went to every house, every house, and we stopped and they filled that truck up with food. By the time we drove back to Pape’ete I was sitting on a mound of food – banana, taro, mango, uru – everything. There was no verbal communication. Puaniho drove right up to the canoe. He knew exactly what he was going to do. They put all the food aboard and then he drove off.”
“Somehow Puaniho knew that I was nervous about the trip. I was even considering not going. The next day he came back and he had carved a wooden cross, a necklace, and he gave it to me. That was when I knew that I had to go.”
When Nainoa returned to Hawai’i aboard Hokule’a in 1976, he told his grandmother, Clorinda Lucas, and his parents, Pinky and Laura Thompson about Puaniho and the hospitality the crew had received in Tautira.
“I told that story to my grandmother and to my mom and dad and you can imagine what that meant to them. They knew that I was afraid – that I felt that I was not prepared. And these Tahitians knew what to do to care for me and the crew by giving us what they could – their food and their aloha.”
In 1977, Nainoa invited Tautira’s Maire Nui Canoe Club to Hawai’i to compete in the Moloka’i Race. About fifty people arrived. Pinky and Laura moved out of their home in the Niu Valley as did Nainoa and his sister Lita and her husband Bruce Blankenfeld. They converted the Hui Nalu canoe shed into a dormitory with bunk beds on loan from the National Guard. For a month Nainoa and his family hosted their Tahitian guests. It was the beginning of many such exchanges between the people of Hawaii and Tautira.
Maire Nui won the race. “All the other crews were competing for second place,” Nainoa remembers. They returned twice more, winning each time, and retired the famous Outrigger Canoe Club cup which now sits in the house of Sane Matehau Salmon – Hokule’a’s host whenever she visits Tautira.
“If you understand how anxious my parents and grandmother were during the 1976 voyage, you can understand how grateful they were for the hospitality shown to us by the people of Tautira. And you can understand how they would move out of their house and give it to them and feed them for a month. That’s why Sane says ‘This we will never forget and this is why we will always take care of you when you visit Tahiti .’ And then you can also understand why Hokule’a has to come back to Tautira whenever we come to Tahiti .”
“For me, Tautira is not just a beautiful physical place. It’s a symbol for the kinds of values that are important,” Nainoa says. “I learned from the people of Tautira that there are other ways to measure wealth besides the things that you accumulate. The people of Tautira are extremely happy when they see that we are happy. When they give to you they feel rich themselves. That is what Tautira is all about.”
January 27 – Meeting at the Mayor’s Office / “The Old Men of Tautira”
You could imagine a meeting like this in a thatch-roofed canoe house hundreds of years ago with the visitors’ double-hull voyaging canoe drawn up on the beach outside. But this meeting is held in the white-washed conference room of Tautira’s mayor – Sane Matehau – and the date is January 27th, the year 2000. Only the feeling is ancient – a sharing of stories by friends from distant islands, a bonding together of a wide-spread `ohana.
Outside the conference room, the setting sun colors clouds over nearby mountains and a cool wind washes ashore over the reef. Inside, we are seated in a circle with representatives of Tautira’s community, including Kahu from the Protestant, Catholic and Mormon churches. Sane has called the gathering to celebrate the 25 th anniversary of the joining of Tautira’s people with the people of Hawai`i .
The first to speak is Tutaha Salmon. For a Tahitian, he appears almost delicate, yet his bearing is dignified, suggesting confidence. His graying hair indicates he may be in his seventies. Tutaha was once the mayor of Tautira – a position now held by Sane – his son-in-law. He is now the governor of a large Tahitiian district including Tautira and three other towns: Faaone, Taravao and Pueu.
“It’s an honor that whenever Hokule`a sails to Tahiti she lands here in Tautira,” Tutaha tells us. “How many times have you come? I cannot count them. But what’s important is that you are now our family – our brothers and sisters.”
Following protocol that is ancient, Tutaha then speaks of his elders. The enfolding story of Hokule`a’s relationship with Tautira began with “the old men” – a six-man canoe team who paddled their way into the history books
“Our dream of cultural exchange was born twenty-five years ago. In those days the man I remember first is Puaniho. He has now passed on but he showed us the way. He was a quiet man, but powerful. There was Mate Hoatua the steersman on the canoe from Haleolono to Waikiki . He steered the whole way, without relief. Henere, Tevae, Nanua and Vahirua paddled the canoe. We called them “the old men” because their minimum age was fifty. This is our time to remember them and to tie that rope tight to the mast.”
“The old men” of Tautira’s Maire Nui canoe club first traveled to Hawai`i in 1975 to compete in the Moloka`i race. Pinky Thompson next rose to speak in response to Tutaha’s welcome.
“I want you to know that we feel at home ever since you took a strange looking Hawaiian youth into your homes 25 years ago, my son Nainoa. You recognized immediately that he was a stranger in a land that was strange to him and you malama-ed [took care of] him.”
Nainoa came to Tautira in 19 as a member of Hokule`a’s crew. He recognized immediately that the “old men” of Maire nui paddled differently than any team in Hawai`i.
“They were so smooth,” Nainoa recalls, “their movements were fluid, no lost energy, and their canoe seemed to leap forward – faster than anything I had every seen.”
He wanted to learn from them and in 1977 he got the chance. In that year’s Moloka`i race, Nainoa’s team from Hui Nalu lined up next to “the old men.”
“They were twice our age, and we were a pretty strong crew but they left us in their wake, paddling easily.”
In that same year, Nainoa traveled to Marina del Rey to serve on a motor boat escorting Maire Nui in the Race to Newport Beach , California.
“They finished the race, took a shower, and were drinking a beer before the second place canoe arrived. They beat them by an hour and 4 minutes.”
Nainoa invited Maire Nui to stay in Niu Valley when they came to Hawai`i in 1978 for the Moloka`i race and again in 1979 when they won the koa division for the third consecutive time – retiring the famous Outrigger Canoe Club cup to an exhibit case at Sane Matehau’s home in Tautira. Over the years, visits by Maire Nui to Hawai`i and by Hawaiians to Tahiti continued. Puaniho built a Koa canoe for Hui Nalu and later another famous Tautira canoe builder flew to Kona to build six Koa canoes – helping to inspire a renewal in traditional canoe building that thrives today.
Nainoa, Bruce, Pinky and their Hui Nalu colleagues studied the Tahitian way of paddling and became champions themselves. Pinky remembered those moments in his presentation at the Mayor’s office.
“You helped us become champion paddlers, but you did much more than that. You helped us to return pride to our Polynesian people by restoring our native craft of canoe building and paddling.”
“‘The old men’ taught us what it means to be champs,” Nainoa added. “It’s not about outward appearance. It’s about what happens inside. They didn’t talk much because they knew that the mana comes from within. They didn’t think of themselves representing just a club – they represented all their people.”