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Thomas Wynne: Pacific voyaging, more than metaphor

Saturday 8 June 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Opinion

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Thomas Wynne: Pacific voyaging, more than metaphor
Captain Peia Patai waves out as Vaka Marumaru Atua sets sail with 16 courageous crew in May 2024 on a significant voyage across the vast Pacific Ocean to Hawai’i for the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, in Honolulu from June 6–16, 2024. MELINA ETCHES/24051074

Two thousand four hundred (2400) miles of excellence, 2400 miles of precision and 2400 miles of discipline and strength, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

PWO navigator Nainoa Thompson, the father of Kanaka Maoli Voyaging, captain of Hokulea, and leader of the Hawaiian Voyaging Society, spoke of the courage of our voyagers on Marumaru Atua. They sailed despite insurmountable odds to reach Hawaii in the shortest time, with a narrow window of wind that demanded extraordinary bravery to navigate.

PWO navigator and Tu Oe Peia Patai was the captain, and Nainoa said, “I know him, I know this man.” But what he spoke of was not just his knowledge of the ocean’s swells, the stars, and the navigation points that have become metaphors in today’s narrative about ourselves. He knew that Peia had courage and vision, and that if he made up his mind to go, he would find that window to get himself and the crew home again.

“The ocean will put you on your knees,” said Nainoa, “and it will knock you down because this is the challenge of Moana Nui O Kiva.” Any who take the courage to sail her vastness and expanse demonstrate this, as did our Captain, Vaka, and crew, and the Va’a Faafaite from Tahiti Nui.

But this is not just a story about the past, nor is it just the story of a group of 16 men and women who sailed from Tumutevarovaro and Tahiti to Hawaii. This is the story of us because they are us, and we are them.

Their courage is our courage; their ability to sail despite seemingly insurmountable odds is who we are, who we have been, and who we can be ... if only we could see it also. Their courage is our courage, and as a people, we have often met challenges with a view of ourselves that is small or insignificant, less than others, and at times completely whitewashed and colonised.

What our Vaka reminds us is that navigation and voyaging are not just metaphors. They are not trendy catch phrases for speeches and workshops that reduce our voyaging capabilities to simple words and ideas. They are sewn into the sinews of who we are. The Va is not some empty space to theorise; it is dynamic, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, ferocious, and then silent. Anyone who has sailed the ocean knows these characteristics of our mother, the Moana.

The Vaka, Marumaru Atua and Paikea, are taonga (treasures) to us as a country and should be considered as such, especially given what they offer us as a nation, as a people, and as focal points, as seen in the arrival of the Vaka in Kualoa Bay in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kualoa was considered a sacred place by Kanaka Maoli, serving as a pu’uhonua (place of refuge) and a royal residence. The area was used for training Kanaka Maoli Ali’i in the arts of war, leadership, and cultural practices. The name “Kualoa” means “long back”, referring to the long ridge in the area.

As our CINAT team and dignitaries, including the Prime Minister and government officials, artists, speakers, environmentalists, and supporters, enjoy the rest of the Pacific Arts Festival in the Kingdom of Hawaii, we look on with hearts full of gratitude and pride. This pride is not in an arrogant way, but a pride that comes from standing with our oceanic brothers and sisters from the Pacific. We are grateful.

Unlike our Kanak brothers and sisters in New Caledonia, we sleep in relative peace, knowing our lands are ours and our government is stable. This is in contrast to those in West Papua who fight for recognition and existence, or our Kanaka Maoli brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of Hawaii, whose sovereignty was overrun by greed, sugar barons, businessmen, and colonials at gunpoint. And then there are our Maori brothers and sisters from Aotearoa, whose place as Tangata Whenua and partners in the Treaty is being challenged even now.

So yes, we are grateful as Maori from the Cook Islands, but we are also mindful that amidst the celebrations, there are hard discussions to be had as caretakers and leaders of the Moana – above her, on her, and below her.