Nainoa Thompson: The Voyage of Rediscovery (1985-1987)
After we got back from Tahiti, we started thinking about what to do and where would it be important to go to? Other parts of Polynesia have great canoe traditions. We wanted to take Hokule'a to these different places and meet these people. And so we started planning for the Voyage of Rediscovery ... rediscovering ourselves. We know that there were certain migratory patterns that had to take place to colonize that great nation of Polynesia. There were at least seven major legs. This is the route. It was to go from Hawai'i down to Tahiti, through the Cook Islands, down to Aotearoa, up to Tonga and Samoa, and then against the tradewinds. (The thing that Thor Heyerdahl said that couldn't be done), to the Cook Islands, back to Tahiti, up to the Marquesas, then back to Hawai'i. A voyage of 16,000 nautical miles. It was driven by this notion that reviving our culture is important to our people. Keep in mind, we didn't know anybody in most of these islands. But we just believed that it was important to take the canoe to them.
The trip from Hawai'i to Aotearoa in 1985, like other voyages, was created out of dreams. The dream was to go to this place called Aotearoa ... land of the Long White Cloud. We started two years before the voyage, just in the planning and the preparation. To cross 1,700 miles from Raratonga to Aotearoa, even though it's shorter than the trip from Hawai'i to Tahiti, is very different. We were leaving the tropics and going into the subtropics. We were going into different weather systems that we were not accustomed to. It was the first time that Hokule'a would be going into much colder water, different environments, much more complicated weather systems.
We took two years to plan. What is the strategy? How are we going to navigate without instruments? One of our real important places to "hit" were the Kermadec Islands. Because if we could find these islands, we would know where we are. Instead of this trip being 4,500 miles from Hawai'i, through Tahiti and the Cook Islands, our trip would be only 450 miles.
As Aotearoa is so much father south than Hawai'i, the star patterns relative to the horizon are very different. We needed to go and study those star patterns. I knew that from an academic point of view, I had to train this way. But I also knew from an instinctive point of view, I needed to see this land before I came on the canoe. The only person I knew in Aotearoa, prior to going down, was a man that you all know, Mr. John Rangihau. And Ilima Piianaia was the one who introduced me to him. And John Rangihau, for those in Hawai'i who don't know, is very respected - - one we would call a kahuna, one who possesses great mana. I asked him in my kind of foolishness, "Mr. Rangihau, I need to go to Aotearoa, and I need to study the stars in the northern part of your island. I looked at a map, and I located a place called Tereinga. It has a light house. Can you pick me up and drop me off there? I'll live in the light house; I'll take my own food. And when I'm pau, can you pick me up?" had no idea what I was doing. I knew no one but him. And he said, "okay, I'll do that."
So I flew to Aotearoa. I was 29 years old. Went through customs and no John Rangihau. I remember these moments, very special moments. Remember, I didn't know anybody. All of a sudden I see this very friendly lady with a banner with my name on it. And she's waving it above her head. And I was saying, oh boy, things are not going the way I throught they would. We went outside in the parking lot, and she put me in the back of her car. She had mattresses and pillows in back of the car to make it into a bed. And that was just one of the many, many gestures of caring that I had there. I was thinking, okay, we're going to go to Tereinga. This place with a light house. That's all I knew. And she said, "Oh no, we're going to someplace else. We're going to Aurere. But they didn't know where it was. So we were going around Mangonui for a while, then we finally went to this place called Aurere." Hector, I apologize we don't have a better photo. of all the years that I spent with you, this is the best I could come up with in terms of an image.
This connection to people, this building of relationships was probably the most powerful thing in all of my voyaging. Hector, Busby was confused as to why this small little Hawai'ian was going to be with him to look at the stars. But when we talked about the canoe, he understood. He said, "I know what you're going to do is important. Do what you must do, and I'll help you all the way." You see, from that message, voyaging is not about one person. It takes many, many people. This connection with Hector ... began a relationship that changed my life. It enriched it in a way that I could never imagine. I went back home renewed and studied harder. There became a much greater purpose of going to Aotearoa than just for science and culture. It was about connecting people. We went down to Rarotonga. Hector was there. We did not have the kind of weather conditions we needed to go. Safety was a priority. We had tropical cyclones near Rarotonga, and New Zealand was experiencing a late winter with their subtropical lows. The two worst conditions we wanted. I was frankly afraid. I was afraid to go because there were so many people's lives at stake. And I was in my early thirties, and I did not have the confidence and the maturity to be handling that kind of pressure. My dad said, "You make the best decision you can make, and we will all follow that." And Hector said, "Don't worry. When you go, you will be there because your ancestors are with you." Two very powerful concepts from those that I would consider parents to me. And we did leave. And Rarotonga in the stern took about six hours to have her go below the horizon. It was an incredible, incredible voyage, the special moments. We had an incredible crew. A crew of common people, bonded around a common vision, from all walks of life.
One special moment -- we were trying very hard to target the Kermadec Islands. The night before this photograph was taken, we saw the stars in a very unusual pattern that gave me a lot of confidence that I knew where I was. Because of the clarity of the sky, I held the direction west. That's where I thought the islands were. The next day because we were looking into the sun which made the water sparkle, we didn't see a pod of whales coming .. . sperm whales. I guess there were about 18. We sailed right into the middle of the pod. I don't know why, but one of the whales -- I guess it was a mother who became separated from its calf, turned from the north, from our starboard side and swam at us with such force that she raised her whole head out of the water. And came right to the hull of the canoe. And at the last moment, turned down and turned its tail and -- instead of ramming us, which would have permanently damaged the canoe, she just kind of nudged us to the south. My scientific background, that had no value. I was just lucky we were still floating. And we kept heading towards the setting sun. That afternoon, a squall came out of the north. Not an ordinary one. It was like this, where the cloud touches the water. And so was the lightning. Fork lightning coming out of the south, our winds dropped, the clouds came upon us. And then I said, lets turn south. Forget the Kermadec Islands, this is too dangerous since we're at the highest part of the water and the lightning becomes very dangerous. We headed south and we sailed in this mist. No storm, but in a mist. But we just sailed, not towards the stars, but away from the lightning in the north. I gave up this notion of finding the Kermadecs because I felt we were going the wrong way.
Next morning, I was sleeping from exhaustion and was not even awake. We had run right into the Kermadecs through the night. We had passed one of the islands. And these are the islands right here, the Kermadec Islands. It was like a gift. Sometimes the navigation is far out of our own hands. Other things guide it. From my background and from science and math, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but in my intuition it does. And these special moments are what make voyaging the most important. And from there we knew where Aotearoa was. The rest of the voyage was relatively easy. You see us guys in this gear? Survival gear, we're at 30 south. We, throughout the whole voyage, talked about how incredibly strong and the quality of endurance of Maori people. Consider that they occupied islands south of Aotearoa at 60 degrees south. That's equivalent for us to go sail to Alaska without foul weather gear. And that is not something that we could do. I tried my hardest one night to experience the cold, and we were only halfway there, 30 degrees south. We remember the chants of legends and genealogies speaking of white floating islands and birds that fly on the water, icebergs, penguins. We were in awe of the strength of those ancestors.
We arrived in Aotearoa. I remember this moment with Stanley Conrad from the North Land, chosen by his people to represent Aotearoa. Stanley came as a young man, and he performed extremely well. And his tremendous concentration on this land. Because I believe that Stanley Conrad came to the canoe in Rarotonga as a boy, and he arrived home. And this home would be defined, yes; as a physical place. He crossed 1,700 miles, but he crossed it in a canoe like his ancestors. And that notion of home is something that was very deep inside of him. And that he just sat there and watched. Said nothing. I think because the experience was too powerful for him. It certainly was for us. When the Maoris greeted us outside in the swells, we heard them chanting before we saw them. And then we could see the canoe rise on the top of the crest, and settle back down in the trough. It was awesome.
To me, it was such an important time for Stanley standing there in the rear as for us. The joining of two canoes was the joining of two cultures. These two cultures have common ancestry. This is not a union of people. It's a reunion. And these experiences have made the voyages so important. And there was Hector Busby fulfilling his promise that he'll be there all the way. Hoping and praying for us like others. Like any parent would. was very happy to see him that day, because we completed the dream that he said that our ancestors would support.
And then we were invited to this special, special occasion, to the marae at Waitangi. And we were quickly educated that the marae houses wellness for your people. We watched grandchildren and grandparents dance together and sing together. We were greeted in the traditional way because that was the way it's supposed to be done. We understood that in these houses, it houses not just people, but it houses the genealogies, how you trace your ancestry back to the actual canoe that brought you to Aotearoa. And in my life, until Kamaki started to do his work, and renew the power of our genealogies, I couldn't do that. And I felt very disconnected from where I came from. I can see how close and connected you are to your ancestry. That is very powerful. The marae houses not just your past and where you are today. Because you are connected to the past, I believe that it's much easier to see what kind of future you want to voyage to. This was another part of our own work towards renewal.
And Sir James Hinare got up and spoke. He said a number of things. He said that you've proven that it could be done. And you've also proven that our ancestors had done it. This was a very special moment for him, a very special occasion, and he laughed and he cried. I recognized from him that we already come from a powerful heritage and ancestry. The canoe, on its voyages, is just one instrument to connect that. Sir James Hinare also said an incredible statement ... because the 5 tribes of Taitokerao trace their ancestry, their family, from the names of the canoes, and because you people from Hawai'i came by canoe, therefore by our traditions, you must be the sixth tribe of Taitokerao. We didn't know what to make of that, such a powerful statement. But I do know -- remember in my point of view, the most powerful things are these relationships. In a few sentences, Sir James Hinare had connected us to you. And he said that all the descendants from those who sailed the canoe are family in Taitokerao.
When we were leaving Aotearoa, again, we had very bad weather conditions. Conditions where we couldn't leave on schedule. We had to wait 22 days. Hilda, Hector Busby's wife, said, "When you're in my land, I am your mother and you are my children. Because of that, children need to be cared for. So I will stay with you all the way." Twenty-two days we were housed. Twenty-two days she fed us three times a day. Twenty-two days she washed our clothes. We were cared for like family. I believe that much of the definition of my quality of life is determined by the kinds of quality relationships I have with others. I believe that to consider this notion to sail to Aotearoa as a dream, and to go there as a single individual to sleep in the lighthouse, I could never have imagined how important it is to be with people. And this is why I think this conference is so important. It's sharing ideas. Sharing hopes and aspirations for a better future.
Against the Wind: Samoa to Tahiti-1986
Thor Hyerdahl had said that it was impossible to get from western Polynesia to eastern Polynesia - to Tahiti - because of the easterly trade winds. He thought that vessels could not tack against it. We trained for two years and we waited for the most optimal weather patterns. We cut down our crew. We cut down our water. We made the canoe light so that it would perform better. We hoped to make the voyage in 35 days. The key was the preparation. We went to Samoa and waited for the weather. We had planned for a 35 day voyage, the longest ever, and we did it in seven days.