Aue ua hiti e, ua hiti e `o Makali`i e, echoes 4-year-old, Ahu`ula, from the other room as the E Lauhoe Wa`a cohort learns their first chant with Makali`i crew member, Keali`i Bertelmann. It’s Friday evening and the Kanu o ka `Aina classroom is filled with educators from Hawaii Island and Oahu who have gathered to learn the “way of the canoe” — the first of three, 24-hour sessions to prepare cohort members for their own personal and classroom voyages, as well as aboard Makali`i.
In its second year, the E Lauhoe Wa`a program provides educators with canoe-based, holistic learning experiences and the curriculum resources to build their own wa`a classroom with their students.
Before entering the Kanu o ka `Aina classroom, cohort members circled at the edge of the Mauna Kea plain to chant and orient themselves into island districts. Later inside, that orientation deepens with the question: “O wai oe?” A simple question, “Who is your water?” But the apparent simplicity of Hawaiian language belies its complexity and with this question participants contemplate — the places and the people associated with them that are a sustaining source of life — helping them gain a deeper mutual understanding of the environments that shape the community. Their reflections create the initial bond that will grow as they journey together over the year.
Guided by crew member Pua Lincoln-Maielua, participants were asked to reflect on “He Wa`a He Moku, He Moku He Wa`a” (The canoe is the island, the island is the canoe), one of the themes for this session. The many perspectives helped participants begin to see the earth, their island, their community, their classrooms and themselves as both moku and wa`a. The ancestors, for various reasons, sailed out into the unknown, putting their faith in their own kupuna and each other. But the reality now is that opportunities to journey and explore are limited.
“Your classrooms have got to become the wa`a to take your students where they need to go, and whatever way you connect with ‘He Wa`a He Moku’ is how your students are going to get there,” Lincoln-Maielua said to the educators.
Na Kalai Wa`a has provided a binder with a wealth of curriculum resources, corresponding to this sessions’ themes. But also, there are some navigational tools on hand with Hope McKeen and Roxanne Steward, resource and science resource teachers respectively, at Ka`Umeke Ka`eo charter school in Hilo, who share some electronic multifaceted, interactive resources that bring the canoe and the World Wide Voyage into the classroom and provide real time connections with crew members.
The cohort gets another wa`a lesson when they gather in the early morning at Kanu to observe the rising sun. Sun? What sun? All that could be seen were heavy, gray clouds oozing moisture, but as each person found an observation post before magnificent Mauna Kea, the sky began to clear, each mountain being touched by the sun uniquely. While members were thinking, “Change of plans,” crew members were blithely confident in their knowledge of the `aina from years of observation and awareness.
Before the departure to Kawaihae for the day’s activities, the cohort was invited into Keomailani Case’s fifth grade classroom where desks are arranged around the 10-foot outline of a canoe deck. The walls are covered with everything connected to the canoe with a Pacific centered world map, a labeled diagram of Makali`i, displays of canoe plants and three-dimensional moon phases above the window facing the path of the moon.
“Their daily observation is to see outside and to predict what might be happening for that phase of the moon and then check the Hawaiian calendar to see if their prediction is correct,” Case said. Students will learn knots and the parts of the canoe and their function, “So when they get to the wa`a they’re already kama`aina (familiar) to some of the parts.”
Much of their writing will be connected with experiences out in the natural world, and with a significant portion of her students passing the Hawaii State Assessment test last year, Case has offered evidence that engaging students with wa`a-based, tangible, holistic learning experiences is a way to tap into their natural potential.
Another theme of this session is the importance of genealogy and the stories of Hawai`i’s voyaging traditions to “… build the learner’s consciousness between the cultures of Hawai`i and that of the larger Pacific.” Hokule`a became a source for the Hawaiian cultural renaissance that began in the ’70s.
The first generation of Hawaiian voyagers wanted to pass on the knowledge and wisdom that Mau Piailug, referred to affectionately as Papa Mau, brought from the west Pacific and in inimitable Hawaiian style, voyaging programs began to take root in the islands through the grassroots efforts of various crew members.
On Hawaii Island in 1993, Mauloa, a traditionally built coastal sailing canoe, and Na Kalai Wa`a were born, followed in 1995 by Makali`i, providing crew training and inspiring authentic classroom curriculum created by crew members and dedicated educators across the island.
The cohort sets sail for Kawaihae and Halau Kukui, Makali`i’s home and gathering place, where they were gifted with a “talk story” session by three wa`a crew: “Uncle” Kainoa Lee, Keali`i Maielua and “Aunty” Deedee Bertelmann. Lee remembers Hokule`a’s first shake-down cruises, interisland.
“Buffalo Keaulana was my watch captain. Night time in the Moloka`i channel and at that time, the hulls were all open. Buffalo says, ‘Something’s wrong.’ Because the canoe was tilting on one side and when we checked the first three pukas (hull compartments) were filled with water. Nobody had checked,” Lee said. “Talk about lessons learned.”
Bertelmann, one of the matriarchs of the `ohana wa`a , shared with the class the importance of recognizing the foundation our lives are built on by the efforts of those who came before us when she highlighted the legacy of three men who were the catalysts for the resurrection of voyaging in Hawaii.
“I’m sharing this with the students in my classroom,” she said. “If there was no Ben Finney, no Herb Kane, no Tommy Holmes and other people who started this whole journey of Hokule`a and if they didn’t come up with this crazy idea, the desire to build that canoe, where would we be today?”
But perhaps even more important are the life-changing insights gained from voyaging. Voyaging has taught Lee to believe in the protection of the kupuna.
“Imua (forward),” Lee said. “I’m behind you, whatever is in back of you, any pilikia (trouble), I can handle. I’ve got your back and your front.”
Keali`i Maielua from Waimea/Kawaihae and the youngest panelist said, “Like uncle says, his kupuna got his back but also we have each other’s back. I don’t know if there’s any way you can teach that. You just have to show them. We have a saying on Makali`i, ‘We don’t have to turn around because we know somebody’s behind us.’ That’s just the way we function on the canoe and when we get back on land that’s the way we function. The younger crew coming up are getting that idea. They see somebody doing something, automatically they’re right there.”
At which point Maielua’s son, Ahu`ula, brings him a cup of water. The knowledge that there is an intangible source of strength and wisdom, as well as a tangible one of those standing behind and beside us are powerful confidence-building messages.
The final section of the day was spent on the pragmatic endeavors of a test sail for returnees and line handling and knots for newcomers. But story is vital to every aspect of the “way of the canoe” and this is no exception.
Pua Lincoln Maielua shares the legend of Kana, who is the smallest and weakest of Chiefess Hina’s 12 children. His grandmother Uli sees great potential in him and predicts that he will one day be the only one capable of rescuing his mother. Uli brings him to her upland home, where he grows into a great being with the special ability to stretch himself to a great length. And as his grandmother predicted, he ultimately uses his power to rescue his mother.
A metaphor for the importance of line and knots in the voyaging tradition, the legends of Kana also illustrate that even the youngest, weakest member of the crew has the potential to do great things, and that if you have the belief of just one person, you can accomplish great things.
Like story, chant is always present and line handling is no exception. Participants are getting a taste of expected skills to come and many are anxious as line coiling practice begins. Crouched and rocking back and forth, mimicking the motion on deck, the rhythm of the chant “Ia Moku Kele Kahiki” springs to mind to calm and guide the hand.
Chant, story, awareness, skill-building, becoming crew — — these are the threads woven through E Lauhoe Wa`a and offer a lifeline for educators and students. E Lauhoe Wa`a, like the voyaging program, has grown from the hearts and minds of the voyagers and it has taken off and evolved because it has dramatically changed the lives of those who have been able to experience voyaging.
A successful voyage requires an understanding and appreciation of our origins, knowledge of place, self-knowledge and the constant awareness of our surroundings. Voyaging is not just a contemporary, popular concept but an enduring guide to those who are seeking to understand how to set the course of their lives, to create a future for generations to come.