Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meeting Hokule'a

I'm in the D.C. area right now to do some field research for my project on museums, objects in museums, and Native artists and writers. I'm learning a lot, and having some good experiences, mostly thanks to Lakota artist and teacher Steve Tamayo. (Once again, I should express my gratitude for the Ohio Wesleyan University Theory to Practice grant that made this trip financially possible.)

Steve left a few days ago for his next adventure, curating an exhibit at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, NY. Exciting! We had various excellent experiences (at least some of which I hope end up in the book project), but one highlight of our time in D.C. was our trip to the Smithsonian's Cultural Resources Center, where objects for the National Museum of the American Indian are stored, restored, and studied.

OR RATHER, inspired by the museum staff and their approach to the objects they take care of, here's another way I could write it: this is the place where things like baskets become participants in research, where they become teachers and storytellers and help the humans learn. Artist Teri Rofkar, who works with the museum staff, suggested that they think about CRC standing for Cultural Relationships Center, because that's what the place is really about, making and enhancing relationships where the knowledge and value travel in all directions. (In the book project, I will be doing my best to convey WHAT AN AMAZINGLY REVOLUTIONARY SHIFT this language and approach represents in the world of museum studies; I need to figure out how to do that more gracefully--i.e., without resorting to all caps... )

Steve Tamayo and CRC textile conservator Susan Heald
look at some of the baskets from a recent study.

Another highlight of the trip happened on the day Steve and his wife Susan (not the CRC staff member, that's another Susan) were leaving town: the sea-going Hawai'ian wa'a (canoe) Hokule'a arrived in the D.C. area. The crew aboard Hokule'a use only Indigenous methods of wayfinding--reading the stars and sky and seas to figure out where they are and where they're going. She has been traveling around the world--the entire globe!--since 2014. I had been tracking Hokule'a's World Wide Voyage for Malama Honua (caring for the Earth), and was really excited she'd be in town at the same time I was. (Click around the website for lots more information about Hokule'a and her project: crew member blogs, materials for use in classrooms, navigation reports and updates. You can even track her trip on a map! And support the voyage by buying a t-shirt or bag!)

Hokule'a's front mast

On our way to the airport, we went down to Alexandria's waterfront park, expecting to maybe look at her docked at a pier, and maybe say hello to one of the crew members, whoever was around. When we got there, I spotted a woman in a hula outfit that I recognized from last year's Hawai'ian festival at the NMAI; she said that Hokule'a was going to arrive within the half hour, and that official protocols would take place followed by dancing. Essentially, we accidentally got there just in time to see a full-on welcoming ceremony, with blessings offered in the form of chants, singing, dancing, and speeches. It was amazing and beautiful and heart-opening.

Some members of the Piscataway nation being interviewed before the ceremony

Whenever Hokule'a arrives to dock, she is welcomed by the Indigenous people of that place, who participate in the protocol that is followed whenever a voyaging canoe lands. In Alexandria, members of the Piscataway tribe offered welcoming songs. Once ashore, Hokule'a's crew members gave their chant. After that, there were more dances, singing, official speeches... which might sound a bit dry. But the feeling moved from one that was serious and respectful (more like a state visit) to one that was full of happiness and fun--more like a party, a celebration of people who were glad to see each other, meet each other, enjoy each other's company.

Here she comes! 

This is part of the chant that crew members performed.

Halau Nohona Hawai'i present a dance to the crew of Hokule'a

Susan and Steve and I had to leave after a while to get them to the airport (in a huge traffic jam, which made me think maybe we should have hired a boat to get them up the river!). But I made it back to the park again in time for the last dances and songs of the day: the "end of the party goodbye song" "Hawai'i Aloha," and a big round dance song sung by the Piscataway people; during each one, everyone joined hands in a circle and danced. It was good to hold hands with strangers, laughing and smiling and dancing and singing and putting lots of good, happy energy into the air and ground and water where Hokule'a is docked for a few days.

The next day (Monday), I made the trek back down to take a tour of Hokule'a. I could not pass up the chance to go aboard!

There was a long line, but I passed the time by talking to the couple behind me, who were from Maui. As Hokule'a crew members passed by, they kept stopping and greeting the man. It turns out that he and a group of others are constructing a voyaging canoe on Maui. It was good to talk with him about a bunch of issues: how awareness of Hawai'i's history has changed, how language learning has changed, how traditional knowledge is being shared with a new generation. All the work in the 1970s is bearing fruit now; the world is so different--so much better--because of it.

The previous group disembarked and it was our turn. We handed over our waivers and climbed aboard, stepping carefully across the gap between the dock and the canoe. We gathered on the deck, people sitting on coolers and leaning on rails. I was overcome with emotion, so thankful to be on Hokule'a--she and her builders and navigators have done so much amazing work, that has meant so much to cultural revitalization. What a gift!

Linda Furuto tells us about the boat, navigation, and ancestors...

Crew member Linda Furuto talked about what it means to be doing the work of sailing Hokule'a around the world to raise awareness about the health of our planet. Not only do they talk to visitors who come to the boat, they also broadcast to schools, and prepare materials that can be used in classrooms.

The ki'i wahine (female figure)

The ki'i kane (male figure)

The bow of Hokule'a, with garlands

The part I found most moving was when she talked about links between the past and future, all on board that small boat. The master navigator who taught the 1970s crew how to use Indigenous methods of navigation had taught them: you need to know where you come from in order to know where you are, and where you're going. You need to honor and acknowledge your ancestors.

She told a story. She was asked once: how many people are on Hokule'a? She counted 12. But her teacher said: no, there are thousands. Every person on the boat has generation after generation of ancestors that they carry with them when they come aboard.

Check out the masts and rigging! So many ropes!
She continued, asking a child if he could find a motor on board; he looked around, and answered no. She said: that's right. Our power to sail comes from the wind, the ocean, the universe, and the mana, or life force, of every person who comes aboard Hokule'a. When we're out on the ocean, we feel the prayers and support of all our visitors, and all the people thinking about us.

My heart felt full as I stood on the deck of Hokule'a, shifting with the rocking of the water. I felt the ancestors--how proud they are, how much love they feel for this boat and her crew. I felt the love of the crew for their teachers and ancestors, and for the next generation, who are the whole point of their enduring difficult conditions (being cold and wet, facing storms). I felt the love and admiration of the people visiting the boat, amazed by her journey so far and cheering her on for all the work she does.

Kapu Na Keiki: for the children
I felt the connections between ancestors and grandchildren--between my great-grandmother, whose house steps I'd stood on two days ago, and my son, who never met her but who knows of her through my stories. I felt the connections between people from places far away--momentary meetings, reunions, exchanges of news and knowledge and stories. I felt excited about the possibility that each person who saw Hokule'a on her journey would tell a friend about her, and that so many people would think about all of us living on our island the Earth and think about ways of helping her take care of us. I felt filled with love and promise and possibility.

I am so happy!
It's a new world. We are all relatives.


P.S. Here is a post from our "Learning in Hawai'i" blog about what our visit to the islands taught me about Hokule'a. One important realization: when you bring back the boat, you bring back more than just the boat...

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