We are the cause and the solution

Sunday August 12, 2012 Written by Published in National

Karen Holman of the Pacific Voyagers Foundation summarised the presentations given by Pacific voyagers, including those aboard Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua, upon their departure from Honiara. Below is an abridged version of her piece.

There is a feeling that we call ‘chicken skin’ in Hawai’i. It can be generated in the human body from a variety of situations perhaps a story of spirit, of uncanny synchrony, or, in this case, presentations by the Pacific Voyagers.

Something has made these presentations, in a humble hale at the Pacific Arts Festival in Honiara, particularly powerful. Perhaps it is the knowledge that this will be the last moment for some time that they all perform together, or the room full of a local audience looking on, or perhaps it is the hope that we can all carry this experience forward that lends such passion to their presentations.

Hoturua opens with a karakia and what follows are impassioned messages by each vaka crew, some with song, others with dance or story, and all with tremendous inspiration.

Faafaite (the Tahitian canoe) draws on the Tahitian relationship with whales, their totem animal, to tell their story. Taking a cultural approach to conservation, they share the spirit of their heritage, that protectors or guides can be vegetal, animal, or even mineral. Culture and environment are not perceived as separate and do not have different labels in their language – they are one.The crew embrace a spiritual approach that every being is sacred.

Faafaite means reconciliation and using the vaka as only one vehicle, the crew seeks to reconcile relationships, specifically between humanity and whales, but also with nature, culture, and heritage in a much broader sense. Behind them beautiful images unfold in a slideshow with words such as ”I am the land and the water, this is my future“. They share the profound lessons that whales have taught themtheir song and voice that travels far, their existence as great voyagers and migrators, their ways of teaching their song to their young. Their ancestors come from the land and the whales show us that land and sea are not separate, but each needs the other. They cite the many stories of whales coming to save lost fishermen and entering lagoons to have their bodies washed and massaged by people. Whales are part of us and we must care for them and their environment, upon which all life depends.

Gaualofa’s (the Samoan canoe) message revolves around the truth that ”what you do out of love will live forever“. Skipper Nick shares his thoughtsthat the ocean does not divide us, but joins us, and the sea is a road that connects all Pacific Islanders as one people.

Across the Pacific, the vaka is a sacred icon, a symbol that can help us to navigate to the island of hopea place where the Pacific is plastic-free, where we harness the energy of the wind and sun, where coral reefs are healthy, and fishing is sustainable.

The entire vakamoana fleet is inspired by the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule’a. Nick tells the story of master navigator Papa Mau asking Nainoa, from Lanai lookout on Oahu, if he could see Tahiti. Of course he could not physically see Tahiti that lies 2,500 miles across the curvature of the Earth, but he could see the image of the island in his mind. Mau told Nainoa to never lose that vision and he would never be lost.

Nick plants the vision in all our minds, and calls upon us to pull the island closer until it is no longer a dream, but a Pacific Island paradise. He recalls that during the last Pacific Arts Festival in Pago Pago a promise was made, to recapture what was lost and protect our ocean that is crying out for help. He says that he does not consider himself an environmentalist, but that something changed in him when he voyaged, and that no matter where you may come from, we all share a connection to the ocean. A quote of Sylvia Earle lingers on the screen in the background, ”Oceans in the end will control the destiny of humans, what are we doing to the big blue canoe?“ The crew conveys that we must learn to love and cherish the ocean that is our breath, our survival. They emphasise that what you do in the name of hate will not survive, but what you do out of love lasts always. In their journey, they have seen things that amaze themthe majesty of whales, the playfulness of dolphins, and even a seal that jumped aboard the canoe for a short time. They have seen that rubbish discarded on land eventually ends up in the ocean, and from all of these experiences, they are empowered to generate change.

Marumaruatua translates to ”in the shadow (or protection) of God“. She was the first of the seven canoes to be built and is based on the design of Fakarava in the Tuamotus and this is the message of her crew

Seven canoes over 170,000 miles across our Pacific Oceanwe use traditional navigation to find our way to your shores, to share our message for the ocean. Our message is of a problem with our oceans, caused by you and me, the human race, our lifestyles, rubbish and chemicals. We are poisoning her, killing her. Although we are the cause, we are also the solution. Stand behind our message and share it with your islands. Our goals are to strengthen our ties with the sea, to renew our commitment to healthy ecosystems for future generations, and to honour our ancestors who came before us.

Collectively, these stories provide a moral fabric to live by. A closing statement of the presentations resonates, ”take this knowledge, these messages, and put them in your heart where it counts“.

Filled with inspiration from the presentations, we gathered together to share a parting dinner. Dieter reinforced his belief that the Island of Hope will emerge very quickly, particularly in the context of such impassioned presentations. Addressing the voyagers, he said: ”Imagine if four years ago, I said that you would sail 24,000 miles, each of you, and become messengers. We started by creating a movement. We made seven vakas and I did not know how strongly they would speak to you. You created the vision.“

He referenced an article in the local newspaper about a school in the outer islands that needed to be shut down due to a lack of supplies coming to them, but with one of our vaka, this problem would be solved. We can address social problems, fight poverty, and save the oceans all at the same time.

Karen Holman

Pacific Voyagers Foundation

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