Message from the Northwest

Shriners Children Voyage Around the Pacific Rim

June 2000


"This white bird can fly at 30 miles per hour, fishes a hundred miles out to sea, then returns to land each night to sleep.  If you follow it, you will reach land."

"If you know land is near, you don't sail at night.  Because on some islands the tallest thing is the coconut trees, so you'll sail right past in the dark and be lost, or else crash into the island.  In the morning, what do you watch for? Right, the birds...which direction they're coming from."

"But don't follow the wide wing-spanned "thief" bird, which steals fish from smaller gulls, because it sleeps while gliding in midair, doesn't go towards land.  The constellation Scorpio seen before dawn signals the coming of storm seasons, and during overcast nights, when the stars are not visible, navigators sleep sitting up, because if they get too comfortable and sleep too long, the canoe will drift far off course and get lost."

The Shriners Hospital for Children patients listened with rapt fascination as Senior Navigator Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society narrated a slide show (thank you brother Fred Chang for operating the projector) about the adventures of the Hokule'a in its trek around the Pacific Rim Islands, home to many of the visiting children.  While enjoying a luau style dinner of kalua pork, lomi salmon, lau lau, rice, haupia pudding and lilikoi cake, their expressions were squeamish when Nainoa described brushing your teeth and bathing in salt water.  "Fresh water weighs eight pounds per gallon, so we only carry a little.  Each person gets about ten cupfuls a day.",  Nainoa iterated, indicating the small plastic fruit punch cups before them.  "What would you rather do?  Drink it or take a bath?" "Drink it!", was the unanimously shouted opinion.

The Honolulu Lodge Free & Accepted Masons, hosted the Friday afternoon fantasy voyage for the children.  Master George Theofanis invited Nainoa Thompson to speak and he graciously accepted the invitation.  Nainoa's artfulness in having the children participate in the presentation displayed his alo'ha for the children, "what do you call this bird in Tongan...what is its Samoan name?  In Hawaiian, we call it this..." Nainoa speaks with a quiet spontaneity and friendliness, suggesting someone at peace with himself, exploring God's world and seafaring.  In the early years of the Hokule'a, Nainoa was always the peacemaker, emphasizing that the voyages were a triumph for knowledge and cooperation, regardless of ethnic differences.  And though he explores the ancient crafts, he sees no disharmony with modern technology; he spoke of his friend, a NASA shuttle astronaut, as another type of "voyager" like himself.

When Nainoa described how the lauhala sails of the second canoe, the Hawai'i lloa, tore apart in strong winds during their Alaskan journey, because they still hadn't discovered how the old Hawaiians spliced the panels together, there was no frustration or discouragement in his voice, only a reverence for the depth of their ancient knowledge, and a humility at how much he still had to learn.

A peculiar humbleness in enjoying just rediscovering without needing to prove anything seemed apparent in an amusing question-answer exchange which brought a chuckle from the audience:

     "When you fish off the canoe, do you use ancient or modern tackle?"

     "Both, wood and bone fishhooks off one side, modern lures off the other."

     "Which side catches more fish?"

     With a twinkling eye and amused grin, Nainoa replied, "The modern one..."

Many of our ancient brothers from the age of exploration were navigators charting off the stars and watching for floating seaweed.  And they were peacemakers, seeking knowledge to benefit all mankind.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeff Tomoyasu