Nainoa Thompson: Significance of Voyaging
Our crew and I sailed with about 135 of them. Common people. They do uncommon things. On the Hokule'a , I had the privilege to be with these people, about 750 days. Never heard a loud argument. Never heard somebody raise their voice. And it's because these people know they're involved in something special. They represent more than just themselves and their families and their community. They represent the pride and honor of a whole nation, and they're simply not going to not fail in reaching their destination. Under the worst living conditions I've seen the best in humanity. I've been honored to be with these people. The canoe itself is a vehicle, this tool of incredible learning. And it's like going to Aotearoa. It takes you as a platform to very special places, very special moments, meeting very special people in a very powerful way. Our people and those who come here should know the richness of our heritage. And not only know that, but respect it. If we're to protect what we believe is special about our islands, we have to educate our people as to why its special. These canoes are just a mere fraction of what's valuable in these islands. And I just am very glad to be a part of that ... and our islands.
This is the photo that we all worked for when we voyage. Even though they can sail two years in the South Pacific, we never feel the canoe and the crew are home until they see the image of our islands when it rises out of the sea. This is Mauna Kea, our highest mountain. And we call that like our kuula. It's our guardian. Because we can see it the farthest away. The arrival into the Hawai'ian Islands -- been on the canoe five times and every single time it's the same. Our crew -- normally when there's high levels of achievement made, people jump up and down and they scream and yell and everything else. Not on this canoe and not on this image. Everybody's silent. Nobody says a word. And I think it's because ... when they sail home, initially there's a response of relief because the danger is over. The crew and the canoe is safe. But there's also the very powerful sense. It's like a new definition of what home is. That to risk their lives, to bet their families that they will make it back, to take the time off from their work, is far outweighed by what they represent. This new definition of home is part of the renewal that we need as a people to be able to respect the place we come from, and therefore respect ourselves.
And the ocean. For me. It's interesting. I guess -- I don't know how to put this, but as a Hawai'ian in this complex, complicated, somewhat foreign world that I find myself, I sometimes have very difficult time seeing a picture of who I am. Does that makes sense? I don't know who I am sometimes in this world. But I know that picture very clear when I'm on the ocean and when I'm navigating. Because the ocean keeps you honest, and it's governed by very simple natural laws. It can be as tranquil as it can be, and it can just take the life of those who are unprepared. When I'm navigating, I can step in through these moments -- and they're just moments of layers of time, like a window into our past. And it's like you and your maraes. I get connected somehow, much deeper than what I think, deeper into where I feel spiritually. That for me has been a great teacher in terms of my sense of what's important in life.
I really believe that we are a product of our experiences. We are a part of the influences of things that we go through our lives, and we on the canoes recognize that we come from very, very special experiences that made our lives very special. But you know what? That's not true for all our people. If you take a look at the socioeconomic and the health indexes and statistics of our time, not all our people have those great experiences. Our people are in trouble. We die younger, Native Hawai'ians, we die younger. We make less money. We have more people in our prisons. And we are less educated in this world. Why is that? Why would such a rich people, such great explorers, the best in the world, 3,000 years of evolution -- not just exploring on canoes, but living in a healthy, balanced, sustained place. What happened?
I don't understand it all, it's way beyond me. Something happened in the last 219 years, with the introduction of relationships from the outside. I want to ask you to consider this thought. One of the things that happened to our people is that their population declined. Take a look around and count 20 people. The projections suggest that there were 800,000 pure Hawai'ians prior to the European arrival. Over 100 years later there's only 40,000. That means that of the 20, 19 died.
Queen's Hospital was built to stop the dying race. It was built with a vision to take care for its people. It was built for the challenge of its time. But then why, today, even though our population's numbers are rising, is our health statistic so poor. I think when the outside comes in and dominates a culture of people, you end up with cultural abuse. And we know the effects of abuse on a single individual. And how it degrades one's self-esteem, how it lowers the immune system. It's not very hard to understand why our people would tend to be the most unhealthiest race in Hawai'i, than any of the other races in its own homeland. What do we do? I think we do what we are doing. I think good things, incredible things are going on. I think that it's very simple to me that if the abuse is the problem, then rid the problem. And replace abuse with renewal. This is what this conference is about. This is a part of so many people's work to renew the pride and the dignity of our people. Make them strong so they can have the will to guide their own lives. I'm not trying to minimize how difficult that task is. I do know that it's going take the work of many.
This is a very special slide to me. Let me explain it. This is Jacko Thayer. The individual that was chosen to be the navigator of Te Aurere. They did not choose a real good seaman. I think in the wisdom of the people that made the selection in Aotearoa, they chose an educator in order that he would teach their children. I remember training Jacko, because of his lack of experience, he was not very confident. He was very afraid. I would always feel this sense of uncomfortability. He did not think he could make the voyage. And yet he always said, "I'm willing to try." This slide is very interesting. To me, it symbolizes pride in a non-vainful way. It's a renewal of oneself. This is Jacko Thayer doing the haka, his traditional dance on Hawai'ian soil, when he brought Te Aurere to Hawai'i, guided by the stars. There were two people that have always influenced my life in different ways. One is Kenny Brown. He says you want to help your people strengthen their spirit. And my dad would say, you want your people to be healthy, raise their self-esteem. And I didn't know till recently that they were saying the same thing. We have to have our people be able to believe in themselves and be strong enough to do that. And it's from these people that I understand that in some way voyaging, even though it's just a fraction of all the work that needs to be done, is connected to health in a very spiritual way. It's just a great privilege to be able to be around these elders who have the wisdom to help our generation do the work. When you have healthy individuals, you end up with healthy families. This initiative of healthy communities come from healthy families.
This is the arrival at Kualoa. People coming together. This is healthy. Just wondering where do we go. I don't know. I think that the work you do is kind of like the stuff that we do. We need a common vision which we can attach all our hopes and aspirations to. We need to have common values to keep us steering in the right direction towards that destination. Because in the end, as individuals, we will not be able to do very much. Together, we can do much more. It is critical to the health of our people. Our part in the Voyaging Society working with Queen's is to take what we know, our experience, what we can do, things that we've learned on the ocean, and go influence our children. If we're to say that the ills of our society is because our people have been abused by society, my simple thinking is that we need to renew that with nurturing, caring influences. Somehow we've got to find a way that we can replace the abuse with caring. That make sense? Think what you'd change. I don't think our people are necessarily sick. I think it's the parts of our society that influence sickness.