Transcript: Nainoa Thompson Special Lecture on the Hōkūle'a and Native Hawaiian Health (May 23, 2016)
[Humphreys:] I'm Betsy Humphreys, the acting director of the National Library of Medicine. It is a pleasure to welcome all of you here today and it is an honor for NLM to host this special lecture by Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and master navigator. This lecture is one of the events associated with the visit of the Hokulea voyaging canoe to the Washington, D.C. area during its worldwide voyage. Actually, there is one remaining opportunity for you to tour the Hokulea this afternoon if you haven't done so already and want to, and that is between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. at the Washington Canoe Club in the C&O Canal National Park. But this morning we are very pleased to be joined by members of the crew of the Hokulea and other distinguished guests including Dr.PatDeLeon, former Chief of Staff to Senator Daniel Inoyue. Dr. David Lassner, President of the University of Hawaii System, the Honorable Byron Mallet, Lieutenant Governor of the state of Alaska, and Ms. Darlene Kehaulani Butts, President of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Washington, D.C. , and last but certainly not least Dr. Barbara Redman, President of the Friends of the NLM. I will now turn the podium over to Dr. Donald Lindberg, NLM's Director Emeritus, who led the Library for more than 30 years and was the prime mover in the creation of the exhibition Native Voices: Native Peoples' Concepts of Health and Illness. Dr. Lindberg will introduce our speaker.
[Lindberg:] Well, Betsy, you did that and everything else so well. I'm grateful to you. The idea of Nainoa actually succeeding in this worldwide tour and showing up here is amazing. I mean it's great. And when it was first discussed, I thought, golly, that's incredibly ambitious. I hope it happens. And I fully intended to be out in my boat, you know, on the ocean waving him in or joining the pumping of fireworks or something, but that didn't happen, so I'm doing the second best thing, which is to welcome him to the Lister Hill Auditorium and the National Library of Medicine. We started out looking at Native Americans, and I guess largely thinking about needs, and ending up falling in love with the groups, not the least of which is the Native Hawaiians. But the group that assembled to go there knew very little about the people we were going to visit. Mostly we had stopped in Hawaii to refuel on the way to Tokyo many times, so we knew nothing, and I would say the first trip we made was only semi successful. We had a good time and came to admire the people. We began to realize that all three groups are rightfully rather resentful of the treatment that has been meted out to them by, I guess, America. It's different in the three cases of American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians, but there's a commonality, and there's no point dodging it. I found in Hawaii that the level of resentment was about a half a millimeter deep. In other words, it didn't take too much scratching for people to let you know what they're actually thinking, and so we had to get used to that. That took a second, third, and fourth trip, but by the time the second was made we were probably better introduced, better used to what we were looking at, and in the end it was a wonderful experience. I would say that our current speaker Nainoa Thompson is one of those few people in your life that stand out forever. I mean he's a remarkable, remarkable person. He, of course, inherited some of this torch, if you will, from a distinguished father and, then, himself organized the Voyaging Society into what it is now with ups and downs, not to be joking about the ocean, but their fates were up and down, too, including a few true disasters they also had to overcome. So there's – I don't know how much of the story he'll tell you or what he'll focus on, but to me it gives a measure of how little we understood to begin with, but we were thinking about this. There was a lot of talk about canoes and voyaging and what not, and we were thinking about health, so we assumed that the connection was that it takes a lot of energy to paddle a canoe, but that's totally irrelevant, totally, completely irrelevant, and I know in one of the interviews that he graciously gave, said – explained as I'm sure he will in more detail today – that the voyaging was a means of revivifying the spirit of the people and the pride of the people. He spoke about second-class people in our own home, and things, told of episodes that documented that, but in the end, I tried to understand in his view what is the importance of the voyaging canoe, and he said, "It's gravity to people who are trying to find their way." So maybe he'll help you understand the wonders of the ocean, the canoeing, and the Hawaiian people. Nainoa, please take over.
[Thompson: ] [Speaking in Hawaiian.]
[From the audience:] Aloha.
[Thompson:] Thank you Betsy for allowing us to be here, all of us from Hawaii that's on the crew and those who live here, and, Dr. Lindberg, it's just absolutely a privilege and honor to meet you, let alone you introduce us, and I'm intimidated. Not much of a public speaker, especially at the National Institutes of Health. I mean when we saw there was a request for us to come and speak – deeply honored, but also intimidated because I'm not a doctor. I don't know much of medicine. I hang around with Dr. Pat DeLeon once in a while and learn a lot from him and all the great work he's done for our people. I think Dr. Pat DeLeon is one of the giants that helped navigate our Senator Inoyue to help with the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians, and his accomplishments are frankly what we think as commonplace today. That kind of national support for education in Hawaii, for the health benefits that we have in Hawaii, that's not commonplace. That was hard work, and my dad and Pat were at the helm of that, so it's just an honor to have you here, Pat, too.
The intimidation got worse when I found out that there was a question that he wanted this presentation to try to answer and it was: Can you explain how voyaging and the Renaissance improved the health and wellbeing of Native Hawaiians? And so I don't know anything, and so I called up all my doctor friends, and they sent me a gazillion reports on stuff that I don't understand and – [Laughter] – so all I got was like just completely confused, and then there was Dr. Ben Young, that you know well, and Marjorie Mau put some sense into what I should talk about. Just talk about what you know, and so that's kind of what you get. But it's an intriguing question. I'm going to try my best from the lens that I know. I'm better in the dark. If we could turn the lights off, I'll be way more comfortable. [Laughter] I'm not kidding, by the way.
Let me get started. I know you guys are all busy and don't have a lot of time, and I've got plenty of slides. I'm going to go fast, but I'm going to try to answer that question from the voyaging lens and being old enough to be at that extraordinary time, the mid-70s that you call Renaissance, that time of change. Yeah, if we can turn the lights off, it would be great.
Well, it begins this way. You've got to imagine that 2,000 yeas ago, about the time of Christ, there was a voyaging canoe. It was from the islands in the south. It would travel on the longest open ocean voyage that we know of humankind of all time. It would touch the shorelines of these so-called isolated islands, the most isolated single island archipelago on the Earth, called the Hawaiian Islands today. It would be the first human footprint. It would be the kind of astronauts onboard these vehicles of exploration. It would be the spaceship of our ancestors, and we don't know anything about it. We don't know who they were. We don't know the name of the captain. We don't know who the navigator was. That's like forgetting Neil Armstrong. We don't know where it came from, exactly. We're guessing simply because we forgot. We forgot the way. We forgot the path. And there were forces that drove that extinction of memory that is not about this story, but you have to factor that into the total story to know what Renaissance really means, and this story is not a good one.
It would be 200 years ago. You would have ships that were captained by Captain Cooke, and Lieutenant Blythe would be the first known European to step on the soil of the Hawaiian Islands at a place called Ka Lae on the southern tip of the big island. They would make a census of population and a guess, and that's a rough debated subject, but maybe in the median between 400 and 1.2 million – pick 800,000 Native Hawaiians in his log, strong, healthy, lean, productive, intelligent. These were the character and the definitions of the Native Hawaiians written by Cooke in his journals. They had beautiful art. Had time to do that. Extraordinary people and they spoke the same language from the islands in the south, 2,400 miles away. Cooke was amazed that – how do you account for this nation so big that they can speak the same language when countries like Papua New Guinea, people can't even talk the same as people one valley over. Extraordinary. And we forgot. And the list goes on and on.
A hundred years ago we would be feeling the impacts of this other voyage, of other people coming, primarily in the health and issues – health and disease. The 1922 census went to 22,000. That 1 out of 37 would only survive introduced disease. It was a rough time, and that story goes on and on. It's characterized not by healthy, not by strong, not by active, not by productive, but by loss. You all know the story better than I. And it goes back to taking away of governance. It goes back to losing lands. It goes back to things of removing one's language and one's culture, and it would go back to – this is a really old graph. It's really interesting if you look at it, the Hawaiian population curve is going downward, and it goes off to the edge of the slide on the right-hand side with the assumption that Hawaiians are going to go extinct, that no one would survive. So we build – Queen Emma builds the Queen's Hospital to stay the wasting hand. Bernice Pauahi Bishop would write a will to build a school. If you read the will, there is some consideration that the language of the will is written in a way that there was the assumption that there would be no Native Hawaiian – the school would be written into perpetuity even though there would be no Hawaiians. Rough time. Different kind of projections than today.
Then you've got this kind of curve that's like, whoa, what happened? After the 1920s the curve starts to go up. The projections today are not the ones of before. It is projected by the middle of this century there will be a million Native Hawaiians, part-Hawaiians. Probably no – anyone of full blood, but part-Hawaiians. And I can't account for that curve coming back up. I guess, I don't know. I guess it was really the kind of medical support that we can to keep Native Hawaiians alive, but in the curve if you go – the pre-70s, you get into stuff like 1924 my father is born. Parents near pure Hawaiian. Grandmother spoke Hawaiian beautifully and danced hula beautifully. Beaten in the school that she went to, and she went to Kamehameha for the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians, because the teachers had the authority to do that, beat it out of you. So, guess what? My father and her brother and sister don't get taught language, don't get taught culture, and don't get taught genealogy, who you are by knowing where you come from. So that even though the population was increasing, it didn't mean the wellbeing was increasing, didn't mean health was increasing. In fact, the statistics are showing that we weren't. When we talk about second rate, part of that definition – because we had – by every measurable health statistic we were at the bottom of the list in our own homelands. Remember Captain Cooke? "Healthy, strong." Some things are terribly wrong.
And there were those that needed to do something about this, and that's what this story is today, and thank you for coming to Hawaii. Hawaii is an awesome place. Hawaii is an awesome place for renewal, and the reason is because a few of 1,000 – I'm uncomfortable about doing this because I'll show you a few people that drove Renaissance amongst the thousands that did. So e kala mai, excuse me for leaving out many of the faces that I can't do in this presentation, but it begins with this quote. It's important to look at this quote. When I was in the trauma of trying to put this presentation together, get all the graphs and all the stuff and establish medically that wellbeing is getting better because we have a voyager canoe, it didn't work. [Laughter] So in the trauma, I call up one of my best doctor friends who's the lead doctor for Hokulea that does all the screening for the doctors to get them on board, Dr. Ben Tamura, and he sent me this quote, which I think is correct. "Cultural health is prerequisite for any other kind of health and wellbeing." I think he's correct. I think he's correct.
It's not an easy presentation, because these are my kupuna that aren't here. One of the first medical doctors would be Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, and he believed that our people needed to heal. In the mid-70s, in the Renaissance, he was the one that said healing is going to require – the prerequisite for healing is that we have to have the ability to govern our own lives, that colonization needs to end. That sovereignty needs to begin, and he fought for that, and we just lost him in February of this year, but we didn't completely lose him because we have his daughter, Nalani Blaisdell that is a medical doctor carrying the light and the torch of his father, and then in the mid-70s we had another doctor that you know well. Emmett Aluli who would be the first in the graduating class – in the first graduating class of John A. Burns School of Medicine. This is in the '70s. In the '70s there were only 11 doctors that were Hawaiian. Today there are over 300-plus. That's an indication of health.
Emmett Aluli believed that healing cannot occur until you heal the land from which we come from. That every time we do something destructive and abusive to the dirt in Hawaii, we do it to our souls. We do it to our children. Emmett, as you know, met this guy, artist, musician George Helm. They started to play music about the resistance to the things that were unjust in Hawaii. They started to play songs of fighting, standing up. He was a warrior. And then what they did was to stop the bombing of Kahoolawe. That you would essentially take one of the many Hawaiian islands, give it to an authority that has the ability to get national war machines and come in and blow it up, and at the same time not let people up to inherit the land access it at the same time, because it's unsafe, because we blew it up. They started to write songs in the '70s. These kind of songs that touch way deep, much deeper than the presentation today, into your soul. George Helm would give his life to Kahoolawe. Emmett Aluli carried the torch of healing for all of us and the many, many thousands. Kahoolawe today is a sanctuary. We call it Pu'uhonua. It's a safe place. It's wahi pana, by our terms. Thousands and thousands of children go to Kahoolawe to heal the island, but at the same time what heals them – they know that there is a story of defiance of Emmett and George being of the 11 that would trespass on the island of Kahoolawe, get arrested because they would die for what they believed in. That is Renaissance, and today we can measure that success, because our children have the freedom to go and know what it is to heal.
1976, this man would produce his first album, 18 years old from Ni'ihau. He lived on the west side of Oahu in Waianae. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. That his music is global, and I knew him briefly. And he would talk from the outside about obesity. He would talk about his father died of a heart attack medically – but he would talk about his father died of a broken heart, because of the depression of being Hawaiian. So on the outside you would look at him and say, wow, this guy got health issues, but on the inside Israel more than anybody, maybe because of that, could sing so deep into your soul, into your heart, and he began it in '76 in the Renaissance, and today there's like 27 movies across the world that use his soundtracks. He wrote that song Over the Rainbow. You know why I say he wrote it? Because they're not even the right words. He recorded it at three o'clock in the morning, one take, and it's in 17 different movies on the planet. Israel is global because – it's not because of the obesity, but it's because of his heart. But Israel to some degree gives us those two sides, the depression that crushes us and the beauty and the courage and the strength to live beyond that. He lives forever in his sound and music.
This is a family that didn't need Renaissance, the Kanakaoles. Edith Kanakaole on the left was the one in the area we call puna in the rural area of the island of Hawaii, [speaking in Hawaiian] in the area of the volcano. In the domain of Pele. They didn't need sovereignty because they didn't forget, pass it on to her daughter Pua. That has been the candlelight of the power and the importance of keeping culture alive, and then she passes it on to her daughter Kekuhi who carries the flame together. They were somewhat unknown. They were somewhat forgotten in a society that forgot the values of Hawaiian culture, and they didn't care. They remained who they are by knowing where they come from. Hula today is global. There are far more halaus in different countries around the world collectively than there are even in Hawaii. We just witnessed it underneath the Capitol in the visitor's center at the Kamehameha School statue. Kamehameha, the first statue at – and St. Father Damien statue. Well, hula was dance beautifully. Sound resonated through this hall for hours – Hawaiian. That's Renaissance.
And there was two – in the '70s, mid-'70s to late '70s – Larry Kimura, Pila Wilson got on an airplane, flew south to an island called Aotearoa. Met with those who are leading a movement called Kohanga Reo bringing back Maori language into the school system. These two pioneers – the reason why I bring them amongst – there were two others on the aircraft – these two are not Hawaiian. Renaissance was beyond blood. It was about values. It was about courage. It was about caring. They go to Aotearoa to learn, and they bring back the gift of the commitment and the courage and the drive to make sure that Hawaiian language does not go extinct.
Education – Kuaokala would fight with the public school systems, because of all the statistics that are the worst, take a look at the educational ones, and the places that we hang out. When I was a trustee at Kamehameha schools – do something. When the ninth grader in Nanakuli High School enters ninth grade, 55 percent of the boys entering are going to be projected to drop out, and then 45 percent if you're a girl, you're going to drop out. That's your destiny. And that's because we don't even know how many kids entered the public school because we don't keep the records up to ninth grade. We don't know how many dropped out before that. So there were those who would get together, and education came later. It took time for it to catch on to Renaissance. It didn't happen overnight. Cultural, social, environmental healing needed to take place first, then put it into the schools. Kuaokala would start the first charter schools in Hawaii, pioneer not by herself, but she lead the movement. Kanaoka I know would be this beautiful school in the beautiful land of Waimea on the island of Hawaii, and Kamehameha school, powerful. Kamehameha will change the face of Hawaii and, therefore, the face of the world because it's a movement.
Dr. Randie Fong is our cultural specialist for the voyage. He leads that movement. And I'm careful to say that there are thousands of people leading this movement now. This is not just a few people. It's not the 11 going to Koalawe. It's not the 14 that went to Tahiti. It wasn't the four that got on the plane to go to Aotearoa. There were thousands of people that are working towards justice, setting things right. Thousands.
I don't know, this is the only graph I had the courage to put up, but so if you look at this thing you've got Hokulea, you have the Hawaiian language coming back, you have Israel singing, you have George Helm singing, you have the dancing coming in '76, and then in 1980, Hawaiian language becomes first language in schools when it was forbidden, and then you have Aha Punana Leo being started, these emersion schools in 1985, and then you have the Apology Bill where President Clinton apologizes for the illegal overthrow, and then you have the charter school movement around the year 2000, and then now you have this growing charter school enrollment for Hawaiian emersion. What I'm trying to say is education is changing in Hawaii. Now we're teaching things that are not just academic or somebody else's teachings. We are teaching who we are by the values that we believe in. So protection of healing the land counts, protection of speaking the language counts. It's protection of all the things that we care for in Hawaiian culture. It counts, and it's changing.
Sorry, David, this is the best one I could come up with. [Laughter] The most important institution of taking Renaissance and improving health in Hawaii is not our hospitals. It's the University of Hawaii. And to make a long story short, I was a regent debating the mission statement that had nothing to do with Hawaiians in it. I'm old. About 18 years ago. Today, David is navigating where he's connecting the issues of sustainability. He's connecting the issues of the importance of science and technology. He's connecting the issues of the importance of indigenous knowledge. The vision that he's driving is that Hawaii and the University of Hawaii will be the premier – indigenous knowledge, education – of higher education – institution in the world. That's sovereignty.
Today we're graduating – I was at the graduation this year. It was just phenomenal. The amazing young people that are coming up. There are so many – just the medical doctors alone – again we're past 300 – I don't know what that is. That's 30 times more than it was in 1975, during Renaissance, the beginning. That's amazing. That's an indication of health. Sorry, Byron, that's the best slide I could get of you, too. This is the slide of the lieutenant governor of Alaska today that's sitting in the front row. David and Byron are crew members on Hokulea. David is like kind of psycho according to his staff. [Laughter]. He took three weeks off from being a president and now he's a crew member. He earned it, did all the training, and the training is hard, you know, swims and runs and stuff and a medical screen, all that stuff. But he's – I wanted to have him onboard, sail to New York, be with us, being with us counts. It's what matters. We had a chance to dream as we sailed down the Potomac, as we sailed up the Chesapeake, as we go through Delaware, time to think, reshape with the navigators.
Byron is an old-time voyager with us. I say old because it goes back to 1990. Where Hokulea is built of mostly non-native materials, Bishop Museum wanted to build another canoe from the forest and bring our forest and bring all the native practitioners together on one thing. Build a voyaging canoe. Take it down to Kahikinui, bring it back, and do it all in the old way, [indiscernible]. To make a long story short, we spent nine and a half months searching for a pole. We found trees big enough but none of them healthy enough to build one log of one hull, the vehicle of our ancestors. We had a second source that was a driftwood log. In fact, the longest voyaging canoe ever recorded in Hawaii was by Captain Vancouver with a canoe in Kawai that was 108 feet long, twice the length of Hokulea, and when they asked the chief where did it come from, he said it's a gift of the gods. It floated onto our shores from currents and winds from the Pacific Northwest. So we went to Alaska. Long story short, we ended up at SeAlaska. He [Byron Maillot] was a CEO at 32, and he immediately said we'll give you these trees. Build your canoe. Carry your people.
What Byron did for us was connect us to find out that the story is the same across the planet for all native people. That we all share the depression and we all have our warriors and our heroes that are changing the world for better, because they're protecting who we are. That's Hawai'iloa in Alaska and we took it back. Two trees, Sitka spruce from 17 native villages of shareholders and those logs are the trees of the children that we borrowed.
My story begins knowing about this story. 1968, there's a phone call from this man, anthropologist Dr. Ben Finney, postgraduate, Santa Barbara. Doesn't call Hawaii. Nobody will be there to answer the phone. He called this man Herb Kawainui Kane, painter, sculptor, arguably the greatest artist of our time, historian, author. He's in Chicago, because you couldn't see the canoe in Hawaii because we forgot. They put the dream together, and they start to rethink our place on the earth, start to change worldview, not this depressed people, second-rate in their homeland, the language ain't even good enough to teach it to your kids. That we're part of this nation of people. Hawaii in the north, Aotearoa in the southwest, and Rapa Nui in the east. Ten million square miles. Bigger than Russia. Exclude humbly the landmass of Aotearoa, out of all the rest of the islands in the Polynesia, even though Polynesia is three times bigger than the continental United States, you can fit all the land in one-third the state of New York. Six hundred times more water than land. This is an ocean story and discovered by the voyaging canoe. The vehicle, great navigators shifting the definition and the identity of who we are. Two guys make the change. Then they built the canoe, the vehicle. First canoe in 600 years in Hawaii on that sacred beach Koaloa.
Old slide – this is March 8, 1975 – March 7th, actually, 1975, the day before we launched it. It was a powerful time, and I was there by a whole bunch of circumstances, of just luck, and, I, born and raised in a Hawaiian family that didn't teach things Hawaiian. I drank 'ava that day, first time. I didn't like it because I didn't know what it was. Everything was confusing. Part of the community prayed for this canoe's success. Part didn't even care. Why would this canoe have any value? Even though it was powerful, even though it was elegant, even though it was just extraordinary. And part of the community feared this canoe, because they could sense change that they didn't want.
I don't know what time you guys have got to go to lunch, but I'm just going to do, because this is my teaches, and if you've got to go, I understand, but this is my teaches. I need to finish what I need to do.
Problem: Who's going to navigate this? Back in 1969, in the beginning, before Hokulea, six years before she'd even be launched, Herb and Ben searched Polynesia. No navigators, zero. They're all gone. Extinction. There was one Polynesian navigator in an island called Santa Cruz in the Melanesia proper. It's called the outlier. His name is Tevake, Polynesian. The only name – Tevake. The team went down to meet him – elderly – told him about a project of a canoe that they're going to build and sail to Tahiti. Needed a navigator. Would he do it? And he essentially told them what elders would do when they're not sure what you're asking them to do. "We'll see." And the group went back home. The story I was told, Herb Kane, received a letter six months later saying – sent by Tevake's granddaughter. In the letter it said Tevake had a small sailing canoe in his canoe house, got up one day, said goodbye to his whole family, went on the canoe by himself, went out to sea, never came home. That's the way of the old. He chose the last voyage.
I've always been inspired by Tevake, but at the same time we know what extinction smells like. We know when we're going down the road, that uncomfortable road of loss, we know it. That was the end of the great navigators in Polynesia. Pau – over. But not in Micronesia. I heard there was a meeting in Honolulu, the leadership debating once the canoe was going to be near construction they were debating how we were going to navigate it, and it was one of a – kind of a decision out of complete ignorance. Well, why don't we just navigate it ourselves? It's like a decision about – you make a decision having no idea how much you don't know and how dangerous that it was and – lucky – Hokulea is like the miracle that brings the right people together.
There was a Peace Corps worker by the name of Mike McCoy, was invited to the meetings. He said, hey, you want a navigator, there's one like five miles down the road in Kewalo Basin by Ala Moana. He's on the Thompson Cromwell, a UH research vessel, and he's teaching UH scientists how to catch tuna with traditional lures. His name is Pius Mau Piailug. At the time, he would be one of the six masters left in Micronesia and the youngest. Barely could speak English. So they went to see him, and they asked him if he would navigate a canoe that wasn't constructed, but it would be designed to be six times bigger than the one he sails. They asked him to sail a voyage that's six times farther than he's ever made, to roll across the equator, see southern stars he's never seen, and lose on his star compass the North Star. And then he would be with a crew that wasn't selected. And he said yes. And the obvious is Mau is a great navigator. He's a man of courage. But the less than obvious – Mau in his genius, in the many levels of his genius, was he understood to some degree that he needed to find Tahiti to save the Hawaiian people because nobody else would do it.
That's the school. Satawal, western Carolines, a mile and a quarter long, half-mile wide, highest dirt is eight feet, no lagoon, so the Spanish and the Germans and the Japanese and the Americans didn't care. Had no military value. Left it alone. So the canoe house wasn't broken. The men's house wasn't destroyed, wasn't forgotten. Navigation was continuously being taught to Mau, but not to Mau's children, because at that time essentially by fourth grade you'd be taken off the island of Satawal and taken to boarding schools on other islands that don't have the navigator, and that's why there's only six left. That's our school. It's where it all comes from.
1976 is a powerful year for Renaissance, Kahoolawe, Hawaiian language, and it goes on and on, but also Hokulea. May 1st, 1976, Hokulea would leave Honolulu Bay, Maui to go to Kahikinui, to go to Tahiti. First voyage in 600 years. Mau was worried. I was there at the 'Ava Ceremony in Honolulu Bay, Maui, and Mau came, brought a native speaker with him, spoke in his own language, and he essentially said today we go to sea, today if you have a problem, you leave it in the dirt, don't take it on the canoe. Today you become brothers. Today you listen to my words, and you'll see the island you seek. Today you take care of each other and you take care of the canoe. The reason why he said that was there were – the crew was 17, big crew, and you had – it was a leadership issue, frankly. You had the guys from National Geographic that are there for the mission, document this voyage, create films, create books, and give it to the Earth. It's the right thing to do. You had the scientists onboard that would come and record and write their papers, write their books, share it with the world, the right thing to do. Then you had the Hawaiian crew, and in the time of Renaissance the job was more to sail the canoe. The job was to take care of Hokulea so nobody else takes it away like everything else. It was a rough time, and in my hindsight looking back, it could have been resolved if we trained and we became family, because everybody's piece of the puzzle to the mission mattered, but it wasn't necessarily understood and respected, because they didn't have time to know each other and why they were there. It was a rough voyage.
That's what this voyage looks like three days out, very low, 17 onboard, amazing voyage, awesome, and that's the arrival. Seventeen thousand Tahitians were there. I flew down, somehow got selected for the trip back, to take Hokulea home to Hawaii. Had to climb the monkeypod tree to see the canoe there were so many people there. So many children jumped on the back of the canoe they kind of sunk it. We had to kind of ask them to get off in English even though they spoke our old language. It was one of those moments where Mau and that crew – is Billy Richards here? One of our crew members in Washington is probably helping with educational tours today. He's not in the room, but he sailed on this voyage. Captain Billy Richards, a name to be remembered. Is he here? No. He was there. Changed the world, and yet Mau was supposed to come back with us.
I never saw him in Tahiti. He was taken into hiding. He was put on a jet. He was flown to Fiji, worked on a ship, took him back to Satawal, left us an eight-track cassette tape. Yeah, yeah. Three-quarters of you don't even know what that is. [Laughter] And look I'll say this, but with all due respect, it was an amazing voyage and an amazing crew. They just didn't come together. They weren't given the tools to do that. It's a leadership issue. But Mau would say on the tape, "You know, the first voyage wasn't okay. Maybe the second voyage is not going to be okay. Kemo send my clothes back to Satawal. I'm going to go home. Nobody come look for me. You'll never find me." He was done. You know, done with – he was done with Hawaii, because Hawaii was in the change of Renaissance, in the confusion of Renaissance. It was a powerful time, but it was confusing. And Mau lives by very strict rules, and he went home. "Don't look for me, You won't find me."
We sailed back. This is a photo of us coming home, 13 onboard. No National Geographic, no scientific experiments, just bring the canoe home. Young crew, there was no confusion of leadership. We did it in – the trip down took 31 days. We had good winds, no storm. We got back in 23. Amazing voyage. Now vision, the vision for Hokulea and the construction of Hokulea – it was designed for just one voyage to Tahiti and back, and do the science, do the research. There was never the vision for a second voyage. The problem with that is that it was the first time that I felt whole, that my gravity to the ocean and my love for this memory of my culture – to know that you're going to explore – and to instinctually know that as a young man you're part of something very, very special even though you don't understand it, and that being in the wake of your ancestors was a way that you felt healed. And you've got to go to sea, you've got to get off the island, because the islands are too confusing.
We had to have a second voyage. I wasn't the only one. There were many of us that felt we had to have a second voyage, and so there was one. Hindsight – poorly planned. Didn't train well. The crew wasn't ready, and the canoe wasn't ready. And we left the Ala Wai Canal in 1978 in the spring in bad weather. Leadership got up and talked to the thousands who were there who pray for you and hope your success – your family, it's children, it's spouses, relatives, and it's absolute strangers that you don't know, pray for you. Leadership got up and said, you know, we're going to go to sea today, and we have a single sideband radio. We'll try to call you ship-to-shore to talk to you, let you know we're okay, but if you don't hear from us, it's okay. We'll call you from Tahiti in 30 days. Don't worry about it.
We left at sunset, bad weather, went into the Kaiwi Channel, the Molokai Channel between Oahu and Molokai. Kaiwi is – for the name it means for the color of the bone. That channel is so rough it's current goes against wave and when the whitewater breaks, it's so white that you call it the bone. It turned to gale by midnight, and a lot of the crew have been trained seasick and rough time. I remember Hokulea felt slow, terribly slow, and I woke up one of our captains, Bruce Blankenfeld – opened up the hatch, took a flashlight into the hatch and saw aqua blue, crystal clean saltwater to the top. The leeward starboard hull was full, and you couldn't do anything about it. Tried to turn it downwind to get it around and lift that hull with the sails and try to bale it out, but when you did that these 12-, 18-foot waves came crashing right through the back of the stern. They had no flotation.
So we call it stacking waves or the – generally the waves might be 12 feet in the gale. A big wave moves faster than smaller waves. When the big wave catches the smaller wave, they stack, and we were in one of those stacking waves. The hydraulic cycle was so big, took the whole canoe, fully rigged, underway, turned it over, and we were fully rigged under water, and the only thing above sea level – imagine it would be the height of that wooden rail, that you guys are sitting next to, on one keel. The other one is flooded. Fourteen on the wooden rail and getting knocked off by these waves, and then the question is: How many waves are you going to survive in the cold north wind? Hypothermia. Unprepared. "Call you in 30 days." We're in trouble.
We had this amazing man – this is the heart of this presentation right now. You want a Renaissance? It's him. It's Eddie. He was our crewmember. Want to try out for the crew of Hokulea? How does the greatest waterman on the Earth try out for the crew on Hokulea? All these guys are like, oh, man, we've got the greatest watermen in the world. If you want to try to be a crewmember, it was kind of ridiculous. But he did try out, and he was an amazing man. He was well-known across the planet in the area of big-wave riding. Even to today there's the claim that Eddie still holds the record for the biggest wave ever caught without the assistance of jet skis, without the assistance of being towed in, 55 feet. He was deeply loved. He was with the City and County life guards, and he was the only one certified to be at this beach, Waimea, on the north shore of Oahu in winter storms, biggest waves in the world. He was the only one certified and good enough, and in the records they would show that he went out to rescue those – to find out how unforgiving the ocean is when you're unprepared – over 600 times, over 600 times with just his fins, no jet skis, no nothing, just his fins, and this is the record of how much he lost. Zero. Everybody went home. This is the man trying out for Hokulea.
The thing that impressed me about Eddie, he was what Hawaiians needed in the Renaissance. Not the older Hawaiians. It was the child. Child needed real Hawaiian heroes, the ones that don't talk but do. They needed someone to look up to, to be the light and the beacon for hope when they lived in sometimes circumstances that don't have hope. It was Eddie. Everybody loved him.
Of course he makes the crew. We turn over and there was a second decision. Back at the Haleiwa, this is Eddie sitting on a surfboard. It's a picture of his family taking a picture. They gave me this photograph. The edge on the back there is a surfboard. It's his surfboard. He asked the captain, "Can I put it on the canoe? I want to surf Tahiti." And the captain said yes. The canoe turned over – there's a leadership choice. Sunrise after the swamping, waves knocking us off.
It would be like this is the length of the canoe, maybe a little bit longer, that one keel that's above sea level, like any of these long pews or whatever you call it. Fourteen people sitting on it, but you cannot talk to you, because the gale was so strong you couldn't hear. Sunrise, you see Eddie in front of the captain. You can't hear what he's saying, but you know what he's asking. Every cell in that man's body is designed to help friends that are in trouble. Let him go. The law of the sea: Never leave the ship. Wouldn't let him go. Problem – call you in 30 days. You see Eddie sit down.
I'm just a crew member onboard with no authority of anything. It all felt wrong. I mean everything was, everything was wrong. Everything was wrong because we weren't prepared. In about midmorning, you see Eddie in front of the captain again. You don't know what he's saying, but you know what he's asking. Then you see someone tie on a black knitted bag around his waist. Someone puts some oranges inside, some bags of poi. Yeah – a lifejacket – Eddie's going to go.
It was all wrong. I knew it. I swim out with him, grab his arm, and I'm nobody to ever tell Eddie Aikau what to do. But I just ask Eddie do you think this is the right thing to do, and he doesn't even look at me, pulls his arm away, and you see him climbing these waves. Lifejacket comes off, too hard to paddle. Goes down the trough, you lose him, and he's heading to Molokai and Lanai. It's midday. All you could see – Oahu you couldn't see. Lanai, you could see the top of Lanai Hale, and Molokai, you just see the top of Kamakou 4,000 feet high, far away.
The problem with the day and the gale we caught kayhao [phonetic] – every time a wave breaks on the ocean, it kicks off salt, but in the gale it's infinite amount of waves breaking, and it makes a – it's like a fog on the ocean. It's called kayhao [phonetic] and it's a fog of salt. Can't see the islands. The problem with Eddie – one of the reasons why I didn't want him to go – he had bad eyesight, and it's daytime, and you know the sun is going to go down. If you want to know Renaissance, if you want to know Renaissance – for his people this man would paddle to an island he can't see. That's Renaissance.
We get rescued, the next midnight. We needed to find Eddy. But we thought he made it. How would we get rescued? Eddie – we were at the Honolulu Medical Group weeks before we took the voyage, getting our inoculations and seeing if we had a pulse or whatever, if we were healthy enough to go. We were on the fourth floor. By chance, my hero and I end up in the elevator going down. I'm with him, and he's not with me. He's very far away. You know, that kind of doors that close, the stainless steel, they come together, they hit each other. He was tapping that door with his hand. He was uncomfortable because he was spiritually very far away, and when the doors opened, he left and I stayed in the elevator, and he turns around and calls me. He goes, "You know, Nainoa, I need to sail Hokulea. I need to go down the wake of my ancestors. I need to pull Tahiti out of the sea, bring pride and dignity to our ancestors, give it to our children." That's Renaissance, because without that dignity and that pride, you almost have nothing, because you're empty. That's Renaissance.
We get plucked out of the ocean at midnight by the US Coast Guard, saved our lives. I was in the first basket. My job was to go make sure Eddy made it. How should we know? I was taken to, flown to the black tarmac of south ramp of Honolulu National Airport around 2:00 in the morning in the gale, land. Cars everywhere. People everywhere. I didn't know anybody. I knew one van, though. It was an old white van, the Aikau van. Too young to know your words and own them, I go to the van and open the sliding door, and in the front seat is Pops Aikau, Eddie's father. Powerful, big Hawaiian man, quiet. In the backseat is Eddie's mother. Beautiful Hawaiian lady. Open the door and say, hey, where's Eddie? The part of Renaissance I'll never forget is the sound of a mother who would cry and wail for her son lost at sea. Cry and cry and wail, in the gale, in the black.
Then the most extensive search ever for anybody took place. You have the guys that are supposed to fly, the Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol. These guys were renting airplanes and helicopters, private. You had the Air Guard flying essentially illegal missions at about 1,000 feet, the best elevation to find the head in the water or a surfboard in the water. You had boats out there, fishing boats out there – nobody fishes in a gale. They weren’t fishing. Then you had these kind of disconnected bands of people every single island, they were searching all the coastlines. Maybe Eddie made it. Maybe he's on the shore, maybe he got hurt, couldn't hike back. Let's go check the rocks. It was a demonstration of how much his home loved him, and it was a demonstration of Renaissance, of us coming together about the things that matter.
And we searched and we searched, because that's all we had left was to try to find the man that always found us. The Coast Guard typically in those kind of conditions won't hold the search more than two days, especially in north winds wintertime, but they wouldn't call it off either. I don't know, it must have been ten days or so. The Coast Guard didn't call off the search. Eddie's father did. He called a press conference.
Eddie's family lived in the Chinese graveyard on the north side of Punch Bowl. These are economically poor families, but the richest family when it comes to care and forgiveness and aloha – and in this – they lived in an old wooden house. In the living room they had an old wooden table, and everybody was there. I was there. Microphones, cameras, pads of paper, tape recorders all on that wooden table. Everybody was there. Pops Aikau gets up in front of everybody – quiet, powerful Hawaiian man – he gets up in front of everybody and goes, "Okay, Hawaii, today you stop. You stop looking for my son. Let him be with the sea." Family doesn't want anybody else to get hurt.
That destroyed us. That broke us. Searching was the only thing we had. We were done. No more dreams, no vision. Don't even think about talking about vision. Renaissance? No. Us young guys were paralyzed. We were on our knees. We were to the bone. We couldn't lead anything, even our lives. I hid by myself on the ocean in the day and nighttime I'd look at these dots of light that were like my only friends. But visions of navigation, forget it. We weren't good enough. We were broken. But it was a dangerous time. This was a dangerous time for Renaissance, because if Hokulea was the flame and the light of Renaissance, if it was the light of hope, if it was like the flashlight in the darkness of the depression, then if its legacy would only be defined by its tragedy, then how many generations – this is my father speaking – would we set back the movement? For us to forget enough so that – because there was a movement to take Hokulea out of the water and put it in the Bishop Museum and then allow nobody to get hurt, but my father would say if you did that, then we all get hurt.
It was a rough time and, it was about two weeks after, we gave up searching. I was hiding. I lived in a small house I rented in Kuliouou. I was outside looking at the stars. My dad comes to me. Puts his hand on my shoulder. Don't look me in the eyes, the eye of the Hawaiian shame. I know what it looks like. He goes – the reason why you need to put the slide up here above my father is because my father was born in poor circumstances. My father lived in a family that was like other Hawaiian families that nobody was homeless in Hawaii, that the child deserves a roof at night and something to eat every day. There was no homeless back then, so that those orphans or those at a youth correctional facility or those who were abandoned, families would take them in. My father doesn't talk about the stories, but his older brother says, yeah, we come home from school and you've got all these Hawaiian children in your house. You don't know who they are. They don't know who you are, but they are Hanai. This is your family today. They are going to get fed. And then my uncle would tell me, yeah, we watched – the parents are drinking water for dinner. You know, tomorrow you eat guava, because no food.
And then Pearl Harbor gets bombed. My father is in high school on Maui playing a football game. Military gives him a machine gun to shoot on the beaches assuming that the Japanese are going to invade. They don't even know how to operate the gun. And then you don't talk about it, but his best friend from Oklahoma that was in war with him, comes to my house. I bug him. He said, yeah, you know your dad falsified his birth certificate because his father said, boy, you go to war. You fight for the dirt of your people. Make shame, you no come home.
These are the influences that shaped this man, young ones that navigate the destiny of him. The guy from Oklahoma said, yeah, he falsified his birth certificate, went to Washington state. He enrolled in the army. They thought he was Native American, made him first scout. Lands in Normandy, on the bloody beaches of Normandy, doesn't die, fights 400 miles across French soil, 1 mile from the German border, in green fatigues, white snow. Sniper in a tree shoots him in the head. Goes through the left side of his head. Takes out his left eye. Exits his nose. The Oklahoma man says, yeah, in the frontlines we had so many wounded, limited medical supplies, only give it to the ones that had the best chance to survive. Your father's in the other group. So him and the Oklahoma man and some other man my father never met put him on a cot. He said, "You know why they put him on the cot? Because he was a man of courage; he deserved better." Picked him up, walked out, stepped on a landmine. The other man died. The shot goes all over my dad's body – never removed – and then ends up in a New York hospital. Two years, bandaged both eyes to protect and fix the left eye, which didn't work, but that's when my dad stars to talk. The power of vision, knowing who you are, knowing where you come from, knowing where you're going.
The surgeon got him into Colby College. His pathway to heal Hawaiians was through social work. He was a social worker. He took the profession to help save the children that are abused, neglected, the ones that need us the most that we typically serve the least. And he was in that role. We were the poor children. He comes to me. Grabs me and says, Nainoa, you need to get this canoe to Tahiti. I want to meet the leadership of Hokulea in one room tomorrow at the biomedical building in the university. Tomorrow.
We go to the building. We ain't talking to each other. We don't even know how to talk anymore. And he sits us down – and here's a social worker that went into medicine. Here's a social worker that went into education. Here's a social worker that worked with Senator Inoyue and Pat DeLeon to make sure that we have support for the trauma, for the depression, and but he knew that Hokulea had to find Tahiti, because if you extinguish that light, you're going to extinguish the hope of all these children. That's the danger of Renaissance – failure.
Talked about vision, know where you're going, but know who you serve. Talked about the importance of core values, of bringing your leadership back together. Talked about where you're going to go and understand that you take it to your community. You don't do anything without the community with you. Tell them your story. Ask them permission to come and help. Rebuild your relationships. He talked about the key piece. Nobody is going on this voyage, nobody set a date of departure, you tell me what you need to do to ensure you're going to find Tahiti through training, through training, and said 95 percent of success is going to be before you leave. The other five percent is nature. You can't control that. But train, and then I will tell you – give me the list of what you've got to do. I'll hold you to the list. When you compile the list then you can go. Earn the right to voyage. Then he said once you finish the list then you've only got one question. Is the voyage worth the risk and [indiscernible]? He said that to his son, because maybe he wouldn't come home. Makes sense.
My dad knew one thing. We get out into the parking lot, bright sunlight. I remember it blinding me, and everybody is like let's go. Let's go train. We were all committed to the road of training. We were all set to go. He stepped – he navigated the path – my father in an angry voice comes up to me in the parking lot. "Hey, Nainoa, you want to navigate? Who's your teacher? Where is he?" The guy that sent the cassette tape: "Don't come looking for me. You won't find me." My father told me in the parking, "He don't come, you don't go."
I fly to Micronesia. Mau let's me find him. We're on an atoll. We're sitting on the beach on a driftwood log. Mau knew of the story of Eddie. He was sad. Mau above all the geniuses had a high, high capacity for compassion. And I said to Mau having no idea what I understood in the question, Mau we need you. We don't need you to find Tahiti for us. You need to show us the way. Will you teach? Oh, man, I had no idea. Traditional navigation is power. It's something that is cherished and kept not just in the language and culture of Micronesia, not just in the island, but it's kept in the genealogy of the family. You never give it away. I had no idea what I was asking. Mau, like Tevake, said we'll see. Mau didn't want to come back.
I went home. My dad told me, hey, he don't come, you don't go. That was the catch. I get a phone call – what – two months later from Mau's son Henry in Saipan saying, hey, Nainoa, Mau is going to be at your house tomorrow.
[Laughter]. A whole, brand new level of trauma, because I was a commercial fisherman, lived by myself. I never took a shower. I only had shorts, no food and one bedroom, and the greatest navigator on the earth is going to come live with you. My neighbors are stuffing frozen food in my freezer, and he stayed three days. Moved out. Lived with my mom and dad up the road. [Laughter] But he would take us like children, like a child by the hand, pointing us to the window of time, into the old ocean, and nobody else could do that. That's Renaissance, because nobody else could do that.
Taught us the old way. Be careful, make sure you know. I'm not a navigator. I'm a student of the master and that's good enough. But he came. And this man – best friend like Byron, like David, like others, Will Kyselka from Boston, geologist, University of Hawaii, but he was a planetarium lecturer. No more computers or Stellarium and all that kind of stuff. Didn't have any of that. So the decision to mesh technology with culture and tradition, science with history was crucial, and these two men from completely different sides of the world, completely different world experience, came together – friendship that we all would cherish and respected each other and shared with us and taught us. Both of them showed us the way. Mau made sure that Hokulea is not a sailing canoe. It's your school. It's a precious school. You take care of it. Taking care of the canoe is like taking care of your home. And we're not crew members. That the crew will be navigated and disciplined by family values. You take care of each other with the assumption – Mau would say every day one of you is going to be weak. You need to see your friend – weak – carry him, because guess what? You're going to be weak, and he will carry you.
And we sailed in 1980. It was a miracle. Took us 31 days to find Tahiti. What an amazing voyage. Mau was onboard. I was the student navigator. When we left in Hilo, I was scared, boy. Yikes. It rained in Hilo, yeah, so the weather was really bad, and so you know the best thing about not failing is not doing? So I was so afraid of this voyage, because I was going to – my big fear is not of the sea. My big fear is inside about failing, and the way not to fail is not go. So we trained. Everybody trained really, really hard.
And I'll tell you a story. It goes back to – we left in March, but the November before that – two stories. In the fall of '79, six months before we were going to go. A senator from Saipan comes to Hawaii. He comes to my house. I pick him up at the airport. I don't know who he is. Stays with us, and Mau – let's just say that Mau and the senator celebrated a lot. [Laughter] And then it was Sunday, and the senator goes up – "Okay, Mau, we've got to go to the airport." What? And so I thought the senator was going back. Mau never told me he's going home. He went inside, packed this one bag of clothes. Packed this bag. I helped him. The great man was going home that had stayed with us for so long. Apparently, Mau was going to teach, but he wasn't going to go. He prearranged the senator to come escort him back home, because Mau was afraid of flying. I didn't know.
I took them to the airport. Back then they didn't have a TSA and all that kind of stuff. You can go right to the gate. Right? So, of course, we're in the bar. Mau's got his carry-on, and he keeps drinking, and I'm looking at the time on his ticket, looking at the gate, and saying you guys have got to go, and he orders another beer. I said, Mau, you've got to go, and he gets up, tells the senator, hey, you, you go on the plane, I'm going to stay. And Mau stayed with us two and a half years. [Laughter] Never went home once. Sailed with us. Trusted us.
And then when we go to Tahiti and we get back, we get home and then it's time for him to go home after we sailed all the way down to Tahiti and came back, successful. He tells me, I know you did okay. This is an education issue. You did okay, he said, but I give you everything or maybe you die. The ocean showed you everything, but it will take you 20 years to see. If you want someone to know everything, send your son. You're too old.
Then he talked about his grandfather picking him at one years old to take the knowledge of navigation, put him in tide pools to play, early childhood education. Hello. And sensing the wind. At old age five, the grandfather would put him on the sailing canoe, five years old, drag him – Mau, said, "Yeah, the wave make the canoe go up and down and the wave make the canoe – I'm on the canoe and on the canoe I get sick. My grandfather tied my hands with rope, throw me overboard, drag me behind the canoe." And he said this with love. You would be in jail if you did that in Hawaii. [Laughter] And so he said, "Yeah, my grandfather throw me in the ocean to go inside the wave. When you go inside the wave, you become the wave. When you become the wave, then you're a navigator. Send your son." Then my mom comes in the room. Sits down with Mau and says, "I've got a nagging question, Mau. How come you came back to teach Nainoa when you said you weren't going to come back?" Mau said, "Nainoa, come look at me, find me on my island. I look in his eyes. I know he's going to go, and if I don't come, maybe he dies." That's Renaissance. That's Renaissance.
Anyway, sorry. My last slide is – Renaissance was the time and still is a time when there were those pioneers that would stand up for justice, that would take the ultimate risk for what they believed in. It would be those that were centered and navigated by the core values even if they stood by themselves, even if they paddled by themselves, even if they went to a place they couldn't see. Renaissance would be those that would come and be with you and stay with you for all the years, whatever it took to find your destination. Renaissance essentially in the end is knowing who you are, where you come from, and what you believe in. And Renaissance in the end is all about love and compassion and care for the things that mean the most.
I thank the National Institutes of Health for the privilege to be here. I thank the National Institutes of Health for the time that you all gave, and you didn't walk out. I thank the National Institutes for even having the honor to meet Dr. Lindberg, a great man of Renaissance, and I thank the National Institutes of Health for all it's doing for all native people, but for my people. And with that, on behalf of the crew of Hokulea, we're deeply grateful to be here today. Aloha.
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