A Sight To Behold: Moananuiākea Unites the People of the Pacific

Early on the morning of July 2, 2012, the delegation from Hawaiʻi rose before dawn to eat and prepare ourselves for the Canoe Welcoming ceremony, which would unofficially open the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture. After an early morning breakfast and bus ride to the beach, we were led to our place on the sand. It was still completely dark, and we were barely able to make out our surroundings. On the way, we could see a small stage where various heads of delegation and ministers of culture were seated along with the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.

Just in front of the stage were large piles of watermelon, cassava, sweet potato, banana, sugar cane, pigs, and more. In front of that, the sand was just beginning to fill up with delegations from around the Pacific—the circle of visitors ringed by a growing audience of Solomon Islanders.

Soon, the crisp morning air was vibrating with native songs from all over the Pacific—pan pipers from the Solomon Islands, Western and American Samoa, Fiji, Rapa Nui, and others—as we awaited the arrival of Kānehoalani and the waʻa. That scene set the tone for what was about to unfold.

As dawn approached, we could see in the distance a procession of colored lights topping the masts of the large sailing canoes. The lights grew brighter, and a fleet of war canoes from the Solomon Islands’ Western Province began to materialize in front of us—sleek, low-profile outlines that looked particularly small, yet swift, against the large, still waʻa behind them. Each canoe was armed with Nguzunguzu (canoe figurehead and attached to the prow for protection) and bedecked with other adornments native to their province. The vessels sped across the shallow waters between waʻa and shore, turning on a dime in tight formations to exhibit the skill passed down by their ancestors. It also seemed to be a kind of clearing ceremony, welcoming us malihini to their land and ensuring the safety of their oceans for our travel and for that of the waʻa bobbing off shore.

The arrival of the waʻa of Te Mana o Te Moana was a sight to behold: seven traditional waʻa from various countries sailing as one. Their tall masts and full sails pierced the horizon. It seemed almost surreal, as if we were witnessing a scene from our ancient past. Combined with the profusion of meaʻai harvested from the land and heaped upon the beach for each delegation, it seemed as if we had traveled through time—removed from the madness of our modern lives and thrown into a time, not too long ago, when our people were more connected to each other, to land, and to sea. The beach was packed with hundreds of Solomon Islanders and the hundreds of delegates in attendance. Seeing our faces mirrored in their faces, I could feel the connections being rebuilt by our nations of the Pacific. This was, to me, a true expression of our mutual understanding as Pacific peoples that Moananuiākea connects us rather than divides us.

As great as this all was, there were more adventures ahead. Later that week, Aunty Māpuana ran into Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, the leader of Te Mana o Te Moana, who invited the Hawaiʻi delegation on board two of the waʻa. The following Saturday, we went down to the local yacht harbor where the canoes were anchored and anxiously awaited instructions for boarding the waʻa. A short time later, our delegation and liaisons were split into two groups to board Haunui and Te Matau o Maui, and we set sail.

Many members of our delegation, and all our liaisons, had never been on a sailing waʻa before. What a first experience! My group and I had the pleasure of sailing with the crew of Haunui. We met a few ʻōiwi Hawaiʻi on board, which was special for them, as well as us. After the sharing of a few songs between crew and delegation, we were invited to help the crew with their various tasks. I was favored with helping Keala, from the crew of Makaliʻi, to help steer on the hoe uli named Tefarehukahukaatangaroa.It was magical. And, even though I have also helped to steer Hōkūleʻa, this was slightly different. Our alakaʻi Hotu summed it up best: “Each canoe has her own spirit.”

The waʻa connections made on this trip, with both the war canoes, and, on a more meaningful level, the waʻa of Te Mana o Te Moana, were deep and will be long lasting. It was comforting to know that waʻa are still sailed, and our people of the Pacific are still traversing our great moana in the traditional way. For us representatives of our Lāhui, it was a proud moment to stand on these waʻa and, in a small way, sail in the wake of our ancestors, renew our Pacific connections, and impact our personal lives in a truly matchless way.

-Kalani Kaʻanāʻanā, FestPAC Hawaiʻi Commissioner