Nainoa Thompson: Mau's Legacy and Importance of Education
When I did my first voyage and came home in 1980, Mau said everything you needed to know about navigation is in the ocean, and it is all there for you to learn. But because of your age, you'll never see it all. He said if you want Hawai'i to have a navigator that knows it all and sees it all, send your children.
Mau is the last. He's 64 years old now. And he is the last to be initiated in the ceremony called po, which is a graduation of deep sea navigators. Not mastery. And let's keep in mind, I'll make it real clear right now. I'm not a master navigator, by a long shot. I'm just a student. Mau graduated because he could sail long. But mastery is only something that is bestowed upon a deep sea navigator upon the death of his teacher. Mau became a master navigator when his grandfather died. Mastery is not accomplishment, it's responsibility. He had the responsibility to carry on the survival of his people. Unbroken tradition, 3,000 years old.
Mau has a dilemma. He is one of five master navigators left in Micronesia. He's 64 years old, and he's the youngest. Great influences are changing the way the young people look at life. Very confusing, turmoiled time. Young people are not learning. One of the things that he told me years ago is that a master navigator's life is not fulfilled until his death, when someone is there to take on his legacy. That's Mau's dilemma. Every year Mau would come, we'd ask him to help us -- teach us about the old ways. He would come. Unselfishly. This act of great caring and giving. And every time he'd come, we'd sit down and talk about that dilemma. 1994, when he came back he simply told me it's too late. I am too old, our children have too much to learn, it's too late. Something I never wanted to hear. But he said, it's okay. All navigators find a way out. When they put me in the ground, meaning when he's buried, it's all right because I already planted the seed in Hawai'i. He said a very interesting thing.. He said, when my people want to learn, they can come to Hawai'i and learn about me. Mau does not separate navigation as cultural revival. It's about a way of life. The issue is his people will never recover this tradition until they want to do it.
The Importance of Education
Nainoa sees it as his responsibility to teach the youth about sailing the way the ancients did. He tells us of his work with high school students. The students plan a voyage in a double-hulled canoe along the coast of the Big Island; they figure out the provisions they need, they calculate the time it takes for them to travel under ordinary weather conditions, they determine who will do what to prepare for the trip and once they are on board. They submit their plan (and alternative ones for other weather conditions) to Nainoa who checks the plan for feasibility; if he sees any problems, he asks questions to help the students focus on the difficulties in their plan. The students are trained in handling the boat-they must have the skills-and their plan must be feasible. But in the end, the plan and the voyage are the students' sole responsibility-no adult is on the boat; they sail alone, by themselves. He insists, "It must be their plan, their responsibility, their voyage." Perhaps in teaching these students about seamanship, Nainoa is instinctively drawing upon how he himself has learned what he now wishes to transmit.
So our part is we step into a part of the lives of our children. To step into a part, even a fraction, to influence positive things. We want to get our educational opportunities. Consider our children spend 33,000 days in our educational system until the time that they graduate. But our part-Hawai'ians, less than 50% graduate from high school. We want to step in there. We want to bring education to the children. We want to get to those children who really want to learn and be motivated about the things that are so important ... like the ocean. Then I think they will be excited to want to learn. We want to integrate the work to improve literacy through academics, and integrate that with some very special and rare experiences that connect the relevancy between learning and achievement. To have children do things that they want to do, to challenge themselves. And challenge they must. If they're truly going to have powerful learning experiences, it must come from inside of them challenge inside of them. What we want to do is provide that challenge through the canoes, through learning about the ocean. They will recognize, like we do in this room, that they need to become a union of people, working together to make great changes.
As I know from being on crews, that even though you might have the responsibility of navigating these canoes, you're only one person of that whole crew, you're only one part. You are only the eyes of the canoes, the crew does all the rest. Unifying is the only way that you .reach large common goals. We want to touch our children in a way, much deeper than the system does now. We want to connect them like your marae does to the spirit. We want them to touch a part of their ancestry, and we want them to have the hope to look for a bright future. And we must, as an obligation, make sure that they understand the interconnectedness, the interrelatedness between themselves and the natural world. Our western thinking is that we can dominate and consume our natural environment. We know that isn't working. One of our greatest problems in our world, is our population and human demand on finite limited resources. In Hawai'i, we live on small islands. What a great classroom for us to understand the issues of sustainability and understand that we don't dominate the world, we're only part of it. And for our world to be of a high quality, so does the environment in which we live in.