“Polynesians are all Samoans” says captain of voyaging canoe Hokule’a
“Quite frankly, we Polynesians are all Samoans because that’s where we all started from thousands of years ago,” Kalepa Baybayan, captain of Hokule’a told Pacific Guardians.
“The genesis, the seed from there [Samoa] spread throughout all of Polynesia.”
Hokule’a of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) is in Wellington as part of its three-year Mālama Honua “caring for Our Island Earth” mission aimed to raise global awareness on the plight of the earth’s oceans.
In an exclusive interview, Captain Baybayan highlighted the special place Samoa holds in one of the greatest achievements by the human race: the exploration and settlement of Eastern Polynesia, a 10million square mile area – the largest in the world – which started around 800BC and lasted for a thousand years. The last place to be settled by Polynesians was New Zealand estimated at around 1300AD.
“You know, all those hundreds, thousands of years ago, some smart Samoan figured out how to make and navigate canoes,” said captain Baybayan.
A Samoan not only had the ingenuity to build an ocean going canoe, but an abundance of courage to jump into the canoe and set sail with no navigation instruments. All he had was an audacious amount of self-belief that his observations of the ocean and sky, and knowledge of the patterns of nature will be enough to navigate him to new lands that he believed had to be out there.
“For me, it is that unknown first Navigator who left Samoa that we need to honour and recognize as being the father, being that spark that settled Polynesia.”
Captain Baybayan is not alone in his “We are Samoa” statement.
Scientific proof abounds as well as in the unlikeliest of places such as the New Zealand parliament’s hansard.
On 26th of July 1927 member of parliament, Sir Maui Pomare made a speech to New Zealand’s parliament that included the statement: “Ethnologically and genealogically the Maoris and the Samoans are one people.
“The Maoris can trace themselves right back to Samoans. That is not doubted.”
In 2011, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa anthropologist Terry Hunt reported, “Polynesian ancestors settled in Samoa around 800 BC, colonized the central Society Islands between AD 1025 and 1120 and dispersed to New Zealand, Hawaiʻi and Rapa Nui and other locations between AD 1190 and 1290.”
While the voyages of Hokule‘a that started in 1976 with its inaugural 2,000 mile sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti, together with computer-simulated voyages have shown that Polynesians could have sailed in traditional canoes all the north-south and east-west routes among their islands.
With these proof; what must be constantly acknowledged is the genius and contribution of Polynesians to humanity was more than the development of seafaring and navigation skills and canoe technology. That they also exported a way of life.
It highlights that Polynesian societies were able to find a balance between human needs, governance and limited resources. That their collective way of living where extended families worked the land and sea; those near the coast supplied the products of the sea to those living inland, who in turn supplied land products.
As part of the communal system, everyone worked together and received a share of the produce. Stinginess and hoarding was criticized, as was laziness, freeloading, and greed. While hospitality to guests (persons from outside of the community) was a strong tradition that maintained harmony amongst different villages.
For captain Kalepo Baybayan, and Polynesian Voyaging Society colleagues they have sailed the world’s oceans for over 40 years using their Polynesian ancestors’ navigation techniques to pay tribute to their achievement. But along the way, they have sparked a Polynesian cultural reawakening and a way to rediscover Polynesians voyaging heritage.
September 2014 was the highly anticipated Samoa stopover for Hokule’a’s Mālama Honua mission.
As they neared Samoa, captain Baybayan said there was a unique spiritual feeling for its crew.
“It felt like you were looking down the pathway of our ancestors. That we were looking into the beginning of where we came from. And with each stop we were getting closer and closer to the place of genesis of our Polynesian culture, so there was a feeling of anticipation and excitement,” captain Baybayan reminisced.
“When we got there, it was exhilarating. It was like stepping back in time.
“When your feet touched Samoa’s soil it was like being in a time warp and you’re standing there at the place where our first ancestor launched his canoe. The place where Polynesian culture really took genesis.
“We really wanted to honour that piece of history and thank them.”
During their stay the crew experienced first-hand Samoa’s culture and immersed themselves in its environment and ambience.
They weren’t disappointed.
“I just think,” captain Baybayan reflected, gathering his throughts. “It’s very cultural, they still hang onto their customs, their language, their songs, their dance and I suspect that hasn’t changed since time’s beginning.
“The Samoan people are very friendly, hospitable, kind and generous.”
But the person that made the most telling impression on captain Baybayan and its crew was Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Samoa’s Head of State.
“He is a very articulate, contemplative person, very very smart,” he said.
“I really appreciated the words he shared with us. I’m hoping to read his writings some day. He’s got deep insights into world issues of today but also in the lore of Samoa’s traditions and past.
“He is a man that walks very comfortably in both worlds. He does it admirably and with grace and dignity.”
TUI ATUA INSIGHTS
As captainBaybayan mused for more insights into Tui Atua’s way of thinking, below isa compilation from a newspaper article (author unknown) on the Head of State’s inner thoughts.
“I always try and bear in mind that I am representing more than myself. I’m representing also the knowledge, the values and the visions of my forebears and my teachers.
“Wherever I’d been in my life, whether it’s politics, family, church, academia, I always come from the same reference…when I write something, I read it after I’ve written it, I always ask myself…Does this reflect the culture, the language, the idiosyncrasy, the idiom, the uniqueness of what we are as a people and as a nation?”
Singing and the chanting was part of everyday life. One of the great rules in Samoan articulation, in both speaking and singing, is that words must have fluency in both thought (i.e. meaning) and intonation (i.e. rhythm and melody).
In Samoan language and traditions everything is oratory. It is rich in the Samoan context and loaded with meaning.
“Every language grows and sometimes it grows for the better and sometimes for the worse,” he says. “As somebody who loves language, I not only love the poetry, the imagery but also the music.
“This is what we’re missing today because a lot of our appreciation is through eye discernment. It’s no longer an intellectual exercise, the spiritual exercise. It’s almost exclusively eye discernment – how it impresses the eye. This was never meant to be.
“And our culture of language, and our culture of rituals – it’s supposed to reflect our history, our theology, our philosophy.
“Sometimes, the rituals and the language are supposed to reflect meaning not only in the words themselves but also in the intonation and sometimes in the pauses they’re making, this is what we’re missing.”
In our Polynesian songs, chants, oratory or everyday conversation, words are not just used for mere convenience of communication; they are used to also create atmosphere, drama and poetry – that deliberate creation of sounds to excite and give colour, flavour and spice to the process of making meaning. Other languages such as Maori, the English, Italians and any other people seeking to find meaning in the complex pageantries of our human lives.
“You will find God if you probe in our rituals, in our poetry, in our wisdom, and that makes us the people that we are.
“Who are we? We are a people with a history, with a poetry; with an imagery, with rituals that are rich with metaphor, with nuances. And this goes to make the fibre, the colour, the essence of who we are.”
If you lose your language, you lose your sense of being, you have to find your inspiration, your guidance, your bearings, your vision, your values on something that is not Samoan.
“That is a worry because well, we take our reference from the Bible a lot. And what is the Bible in essence? It’s the story of a people. How do you draw inspiration, guidance and direction? How do you get a vision of God, his goodness, his love? Through the stories.
“And that’s what sustains them as a people, against the odds.”
NAVIGATING WITHOUT INSTRUMENTS
By Dennis Kawaharada [in Mālamalama / The Light of Knowledge: The Magazine of the University of Hawai’i, in April 21, 2011]
One of these sailing masters named Puhoro came to Lima in a frigate; and from him and others I was able to find out the method by which they navigate on the high seas.”
They have no mariner’s compass, but divide the horizon into sixteen parts, taking for the cardinal points those at which the sun rises and sets.
When setting out from port the helmsman partitions the horizon, counting from E, or the point where the sun rises; he knows the direction in which his destination bears. He observes, also, whether he has the wind aft, or on one or the other beam, or on the quarter, or is close-hauled. He notes, further, whether there is a following sea, a head sea, a beam sea, or if the sea is on the bow or the quarter. He proceeds out of port with a knowledge of these [conditions], heads his vessel according to his calculation, and aided by the signs the sea and wind afford him, does his best to keep steadily on his course.
The task becomes more difficult if the day is cloudy, because the sailing-master has no mark to count from for dividing the horizon.
Should the night be cloudy as well, the sailing-master regulates his course by the wind and swells; and, since the wind is apt to vary in direction more than the swell does, he has his pennant, made of feathers and palmetto bark, by which to watch changes in the wind, and he trims his sails accordingly, always taking his cue for holding his course from the indications the sea affords.
When the night is clear, he steers by the stars; and this is the easiest navigation for him because he knows the stars which rise and set over not only the islands he is familiar with, but also the harbours in the islands, so that he makes straight for the entrance by following the rhumb of the particular star that rises or sets over it. These sailing masters hit their destinations with as much precision as the most expert navigators of civilized nations could achieve (Corney, Vol. II, 284-6).
To keep track of their position at sea during long sea voyages, the navigators used a system of dead reckoning – memorizing the distance and direction traveled until the destination was reached. Finding islands before they could actually be seen was also part of the art of navigation. Voyagers followed the flight of land-dwelling birds that fished at sea as these birds flew from the direction of islands in the morning or returned in the evenings. The navigators also watched for changes in swell patterns, cloud piled up over land, reflections on clouds from lagoons, and drifting land vegetation.