(c) Copyright 2004, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
Ben Finney, "Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging," Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 2003. 168 pages. ISBN 1-58178-025-7 (hard) or 1-58178-024-9 (soft). Hawai'i Public Library Call # H 910.9154 FI
Are the Polynesian voyaging canoes, and their journeys, truly Polynesian? Is there such a thing as "deep culture" or "racial memory" which allows long forgotten skills and ceremonies to be revived with authenticity? Is the Polynesian Voyaging Society primarily a cultural organization focused on reviving an ancient skill, or is it primarily a political organization focused on ethnic pride, ethnic nation-building, and related public relations campaigns to solicit popular support for Hawaiian sovereignty? How important is it for PVS and the voyages it sponsors to be dominated by ethnic Hawaiians? What struggles were there over the role of people with no Hawaiian native ancestry in the founding of PVS and the voyaging trips of its canoes?
Surprising as it may seem, these questions were Ben Finney's primary focus. In a "popular book" intended for a general audience, Finney provides considerable depth about cultural authenticity and racial memory, including numerous footnotes to valuable resources on that topic. Ken Conklin offers an explanation and critique of some philosophical underpinnings of the theory of racial memory and deep culture. It appears an effort is underway to adopt Hokule'a as a symbol of ethnic pride for use as a logo to represent a Hawaiian tribe or nation; and also as an architectural design for a major real estate development in Kaka'ako on land owned by a wealthy Hawaiian activist. But in order for a logo to be accepted by the general public and by ethnic Hawaiians as a symbol for a race-based tribe or nation, the logo must be perceived as authentically Hawaiian. That's one reason why Ben Finney's book is important, along with his arguments for collective racial memory.
Ben Finney constructed his own 40 foot double hull canoe, Nalehia, in 1965. As an anthropologist, he was interested in the history of Polynesian voyaging canoes. He spent time in Hawai'i, and became founding president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1973. He organized construction of the voyaging canoe Hokule'a in 1975. He recruited the canoe's first crew, supervised a year-long training program, and led the first voyage of Hokule'a in 1976, to Tahiti. Finney's book contains valuable information about the history of PVS and the many voyages of Hokule'a (and other Polynesian voyaging canoes) from 1973 to 2003. But the primary focus of his book, and more than half of its actual content, is devoted to the political, cultural, and philosophical issues previously identified.
Ben Finney, a white anthropologist from the mainland, with no Hawaiian native ancestry, suffered what would today be called "racial hate crimes" and severe discrimination in his work to revive Polynesian voyaging. Nevertheless, Finney maintains the "politically correct" view that ethnic Hawaiians are entitled by genealogy to exercise leadership in building canoes, navigating them, and running the PVS organization; just as ethnic Hawaiians are entitled by genealogy to exercise leadership in building an independent nation of Hawai'i, navigating the political waters toward sovereignty, and running the nation once it is operational. According to Finney, people like himself, with no native ancestry, can contribute expertise, money, time, and political support. But they must always know their place in the canoe is to paddle, raise the sails, and swab the decks; not to be steersman or captain. Finney's view is that people with no native ancestry (about 80% of Hawai'i's population) are rightfully relegated to second-class citizenship in the Polynesian Voyaging Society, on its canoe voyages, and also in a future sovereign nation of Hawai'i (where 80% of the population have no native ancestry).
LIST OF TOPICS
1. Polynesian voyaging as a political tool for building ethnic pride and a sense of nationhood
2. The issue of ethnic dominance
3. Cultural authenticity of Polynesian voyaging depends on a theory of collective racial memory of a deep culture. Finney's book discusses that theory at length as he tells the story of Hokule'a at Taputapuatea. Ken Conklin in this essay offers an explanation and critique of some philosophical underpinnings of the theory of racial memory and deep culture
4. Some of Finney's footnoted sources on the topic of racial memory as a basis for claiming cultural authenticity for reconstructed knowledge and ceremonies
5. Other essays by Ken Conklin relevant to points discussed in this essay
6. Honolulu Advertiser book review, and series of letters to editor by George Avlonitis, Rubellite Kawena Johnson, Ben Finney, and George Avlonitis (again)
7. Plans for events after 2004 include a politically charged Hokule'a voyage to Japan, and the use of Hokule'a as a logo or iconic image for a race-based Hawaiian tribe or nation. Hokule'a is proposed as the architectural design for a major real estate development on land owned by a Hawaiian activist, adjoining Kamehameha land where massive new development is also proposed.
1. POLYNESIAN VOYAGING AS A POLITICAL TOOL FOR BUILDING ETHNIC PRIDE AND A SENSE OF NATIONHOOD
Polynesian voyaging is intentionally used as a vehicle for promoting Hawaiian sovereignty. It does this by fostering a belief in cultural continuity from ancient times to now. Reviving Polynesian voyaging helps build ethnic pride in a collective consciousness of a culture that has been passed down from the ancestors. The spirits of the ancestors send their sacred breath to whisper cultural knowledge directly into the hearts and minds of today's ethnic Hawaiians, just as the genes of the ancestors have been passed to all who share a drop of native blood. Reviving the culture of the ancients is one way to revive the political self-determination and sovereignty they formerly enjoyed.
But in order for today's Polynesian voyaging canoes to succeed in building ethnic pride and reviving a long forgotten culture and sovereignty, it is essential to show that today's crews, canoes, and ceremonies are truly Polynesian. That's why Finney devotes most of his book to the two topics reviewed later in this essay: ethnic dominance of the PVS organization and the voyaging crews; and cultural authenticity of the canoes and ceremonies. That's why Finney feels it important to cite anthropological/philosophical theories of deep culture and racial memory in order to provide scholarly support for the spiritual concept of the ancestors giving cultural knowledge to their descendants through genealogy. Otherwise, Polynesian voyaging would be Polynesian only in the sense that there are a bunch of Polynesians having fun riding around the ocean on a canoe made of modern materials and navigating by a celestial system used by many cultures throughout the world.
Finney founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1973, along with Hawaiian artist Herb Kawainui Kane and local (born and raised in Hawai'i) white graduate student Tommy Holmes. The Society was founded to raise money, build Hokule'a, and make a journey to Tahiti. One important purpose was to disprove theories by Andrew Sharp, a New Zealand amateur historian who claimed that Polynesian canoes and navigation methods had been too crude to make such voyages intentionally in ancient times. Finney felt that Sharp's work was disrespectful to Polynesians in general and Hawaiians in particular, and would have damaged the sort of ethnic pride that would make the cultural renaissance possible. Previously, the Norwegian explorer/anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl had drifted with ocean currents and prevailing tradewinds from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands in 1947. Heyerdahl cited his success as proof of his theory that Polynesians could have drifted aimlessly and unintelligently to Hawai'i from South America.
Finney believes the PVS canoes have established beyond a doubt that it would have been possible for ancient Polynesians to build voyaging canoes and navigate by the stars, even against winds and currents, to find Hawai'i intentionally, not by luck or accident. Finney thinks the PVS canoes prove the possibility of intentional navigation by the ancestors using primitive materials -- even though the modern canoes were not built with anciently available materials or tools. Finney thinks the voyages of PVS canoes prove that ancient Polynesians could have navigated by using the stars as guides, even though the modern Hawaiian navigators learned how to navigate by using the expertise of a Micronesian (not Polynesian) navigator, modern star charts, and the Bishop Museum planetarium.
The voyages of Hokule'a have indeed proved that ancient Polynesians COULD have navigated by the stars to travel thousands of miles to Hawai'i, provided they knew ahead of time what the positions of the stars would be when viewed from Hawai'i. But of course we will never know whether the first discoverers of Hawai'i actually knew the positions of the stars when viewed from Hawai'i and deliberately followed the correct course (hard to imagine how they could have known the positions of the stars at a location where no human had ever been), or whether they merely drifted until luck brought them to these shores. Once the master navigators knew where Hawai'i is, then of course they could repeat such voyages many times. Nevertheless, cross Pacific voyages stopped visiting Hawai'i centuries before Captain Cook arrived, and navigational knowledge was clearly forgotten for dozens of generations. That's why a theory of "deep culture" or "racial memory" is necessary in order to maintain a belief in the authenticity of indigenous celestial navigation. Finney correctly describes today's Polynesian voyages as a way of reviving not only ancient culture but also modern ethnic pride.
But voyaging can also be seen as an assertion of Hawaiian sovereignty -- a way of controlling the future by controlling how the past is re-created and portrayed. That's why it is essential that leadership roles must be filled by people of Hawaiian native ancestry. That's why current construction practices and navigational techniques must be defended as "Hawaiian" even when they are mostly non-Hawaiian (just as three fourths of all the people identified as ethnic Hawaiians call themselves "Hawaiian" even though they have less than 50% native blood quantum and therefore have genealogies which are mostly non-Hawaiian).
In summer 2004 Hokule'a made a voyage throughout the Northwest Hawaiian Islands: a round trip of over 2500 miles from Hanalei Bay (Kaua'i) to Kure atoll and back, with numerous stops along the way at historically or culturally significant islands. This voyage was politically significant because it completes the joining together by canoe of all the Hawaiian islands that were once part of the Kingdom, and it comes at a time which coincides with the establishment of a Northwest Hawaiian Islands Reserve. The NWHI Reserve is viewed as an effort to give government protection to a pristine environment and allow the fish and coral to regenerate. But NWHI Reserve is also politically controversial because it includes provisions giving special rights to ethnic Hawaiians for fishing and cultural purposes, even though fishermen with no native ancestry have used NWHI for subsistence fishing for many decades and even though white and Japanese sailors and pilots have their bones there (partly because of World War II). For testimony pointing out the inappropriateness of racial privilege in NWHI, see item #8 at:
The Honolulu Advertiser sent an embedded reporter along on the 2004 voyage to NWHI, and published a major special report including map, photographs, crew list, day-by-day diary, etc. See:
The Other Hawai'i: A journey to the northwest Hawaiian islands with Hokule'a
The NWHI voyage was also interesting with regard to the issue of cultural authenticity. Like all PVS voyages since the loss of Eddie Aikau, an escort boat has accompanied the PVS canoe (either leading or following, but always within sight) to provide emergency assistance if needed. The canoes on their "voyages" are often towed through part of their journey. During the NWHI voyage, Hokule'a sailed with the prevailing trade winds to the west, but was towed most of the 1200 mile return trip against the wind. In addition there was an unprecedented level of electronic gear including computers, internet connections, cellular phones, etc. The plethora of electronic devices prompted Star-Bulletin cartoonist Corky to show Hokule'a under a starry sky (presumably using the stars to navigate) even while the crew members all held cell phones to their ears. See:
2. THE ISSUE OF ETHNIC DOMINANCE
Finney himself places this topic squarely at the beginning and end of his book, and discusses it at numerous places in between. When reading the book for the first time, topics are covered in an order that is roughly chronological, and it's hard to see the ocean for the swells (the forrest for the trees). But when reading the book a second time, knowing all the pieces of the picture, it's easy to see that the topic of ethnic dominance is a consistent focus of his narrative.
Finney, a mainland haole scholar with many years of residence and work in Hawai'i, has always believed in the "liberal" or "social justice" concept that ethnic Hawaiians are the indigenous people of Hawai'i who are entitled to special rights in their ancestral homeland. Hawaiians are the hosts, and everyone else is merely a guest. He and other haoles who founded PVS and led the first voyage to Tahiti were subjected to blatant, shocking anti haole racism by onshore Hawaiian nationalist radicals and some Hawaiian crew members who went "on strike" during the voyage, did no work, and made life miserable for everyone else. The first voyage to Tahiti was emotionally disastrous, resulting in the resignation of Finney and of the thoroughly disgusted expert Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug. The second voyage was physically disastrous. It was ill-conceived, racially exclusionary, and operated without any advice from the original crew. In less than 24 hours the Hokule'a capsized. Eddie Aikau died while trying to paddle his surfboard to shore in a storm across many miles of open ocean to get help (yes, this is the Eddie about whom today's many bumper stickers say "Eddie would go").
Nevertheless, Finney rebounded from those troubling experiences and came to feel even more strongly as the years went by that the role of haoles and other people lacking Hawaiian ancestry is to give help tirelessly but always to defer to the inherent "right" of ethnic Hawaiians to exercise cultural and political leadership. Finney is the sort of haole the activists love. He knows his place. In the eyes of some activists, a "good haole" is what Arnold Schwarzenegger would call a "girlie man." He functions like a stereotypical abused housewife who seems to enjoy the abuse: cleaning house, cooking, and doing laundry all day; and getting beaten up repeatedly by her husband at night. But she is glad to have the security of a home where she knows who is boss. She loves her husband because he is strong and runs the show.
Here's what Finney says about racial strife on that first voyage. Lengthy quotes are provided, because it's important for people to know that the story comes directly from Ben Finney himself. Readers not interested in the details should skip down to the next section of this book review.
Hokule'a was launched in 1975, followed by a year of training and practice. Its first voyage was to Tahiti in May 1976 (2250 miles). The captain was Elia "Kawika" Kapahulehua of Ni'ihau, assisted by experienced Tahitian sea captain Rodo Williams. Also on board was the now famous Pius "Mau" Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia, a master navigator expert in "methods similar to those once used in Polynesia." (page 9). Upon arrival in Tahiti, Hokule'a was greeted by 15,000 people
[now quoting from pages 10-11]
"Yet when Hokule'a tied up in Tahiti, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was deeply troubled.
"We had planned our endeavor as an effort in cultural revival as well as an experiment in voyaging. ... That vision proved to be naive. As soon as we launched the canoe and began sailing her around the archipelago in preparation for the long voyage to Tahiti, some highly vocal protesters started campaigning to take over in the name of Hawaiian nationalism.
"That Herb Kane had designed Hokule'a and supervised her construction, Kawika Kapahulehua was the captain, and Hawaiians made up the majority of the crew was not enough. They objected to having any non-Hawaiians on Hokule'a, as well as to the research purpose of the canoe and even to sailing her to Tahiti. Having me, a haole professor, leading what they thought should be an exclusively Hawaiian endeavor was particularly galling. If the protesters had been sailors and were dedicated to voyaging to Tahiti as planned, some of them might have been welcomed as crew members. But they were not experienced blue water sailors and wanted to keep the canoe in Hawai'i and only make short trips between the islands.
"So great was their appeal among some Hawaiians, including more than a few crew members, that for a while it looked like the project might dissolve in controversy. The society's board of directors was split, and Herb, caught in the middle and in financial trouble for having neglected his profession to work on the canoe, resigned. Nonetheless, with the timely intervention of several farsighted Hawaiians we did manage to set sail -- but not before having to endure a final dockside protest replete with fiery denunciations, placards, and television news cameras.
"Despite hopes that we had left the troubles on shore, they erupted again at sea. Two weeks into the voyage a half dozen novice crew members (out of a total crew of fifteen) went on strike. After denouncing "the leaders" for overworking and underfeeding them, they quit standing watch and spent the rest of the voyage eating, sleeping, smoking foul-smelling hand rolled cigarettes, and generally making life difficult for [start page 11] those of us who were actually sailing the canoe. We kicked them off the crew upon landing, but Mau Piailug and Tommy Holmes nonetheless quit in disgust. Although the young Hawaiian men and women flown down from Honolulu to replace the striking crew members did a fine job on the return leg, the damage had already been done. Deeply chagrined that I had not been able to head off the troubles, I resigned the presidency of the Polynesian Voyaging Society after reaching Hawai'i ...
"Although the new leaders of the Society had some success in using Hokule'a for education, the troubles left over from the voyage continued to have a baleful influence. In order to clear the air they decided to sail the canoe back to Tahiti in 1978 on their own. Unfortunately, the new crew lacked the experience of such masters from the first voyage as Kawika Kapahulehua, Mau Piailug, and Rodo Williams, and had not even bothered to ask their advice. At midnight, six hours after departing from Honolulu, Hokule'a capsized while sailing hard into gale force winds and mounting seas. The following day champion surfer Eddie Aikau was lost in a valiant attempt to paddle his surfboard to shore to summon help. At dusk the canoe's overturned hulls were finally spotted from a passing airliner just as the winds and accompanying currents were pushing the wreckage southwest away from the islands. That night the Coast Guard rescued the rapidly weakening survivors, and the next day a cutter towed the canoe back to Honolulu."
A major portion of the book is devoted to the great ceremony of March 18, 1995 at Taputapuatea Marae in Raiatea, when canoes from many Pacific islands assembled to celebrate voyaging and to lift a long-standing kapu that prohibited it. Finney provides extensive analysis of that event with regard to the revival of racial memories as a basis for cultural authenticity (to be discussed in a later section of this book review). One portion of his analysis of the Taputapuatea event is especially relevant to the issue of ethnic dominance, and he then concludes his book by going out of his way to endorse ethnic dominance not only for voyaging but also for political control of a sovereign nation.
[now quoting from pages 137-139]
"A bizarre situation developed just as the canoes were arriving at Taputapuatea for the ritual celebration of voyaging ... A British catamaran designer dropped anchor in the lagoon after sailing all the way from the Canary Islands off Africa in a handsome catamaran of his own design that he advertised as a modern [start page 138] version of an ancient Polynesian double canoe. To everyone's consternation, he said that he had been invited to Raiatea by French Polynesia's Ministry of Culture to participate with the canoes in the ritual at Taputapuatea. It turned out that a Tahitian cultural official had indeed invited him, but that his would-be host was not coming to Raiatea and apparently had not coordinated the invitation with the organizers. The bewildered sailor was therefore getting nowhere in his plea to join the sail through the Sacred Pass and subsequent ceremonies on the marae. Neither he nor anyone else on his crew was Polynesian, and his catamaran looked far too modern to be considered a voyaging canoe.
"Not surprisingly, the designer was angry about having been asked to sail almost halfway around the world to take part in celebrations that he now learned were off limits to him. ... I tried to explain that for contemporary Polynesians building and sailing voyaging canoes was an antidote to the depressing effects of Western colonialism and that they therefore wanted to celebrate their nautical accomplishments on their own. But the designer scoffed at my analysis ... He began accusing the Tahitians of being out-and-out racists, and even went so far as to say that he found all the talk he was hearing about native canoes, heroic voyages, and Polynesian pride to be as bad as Hitler's ravings in Mein Kampf.
"This unfortunate incident made me think about why I found it pono (just and proper) that the Polynesian Voyaging Society is now led by Hawaiians, and that the majority of those who sail Hokule'a and Hawai'iloa are Hawaiian. Was I too close to the situation not to see any problem with this? ... I recalled a discussion Pinky [Myron Thompson] and I had about the society and other organizations devoted to traditional Hawaiian activities or to otherwise benefitting Hawaiians. Pinky firmly stressed that Hawaiians should lead such groups, but that their staff and membership should not be exclusively made up of Hawaiians. He recognized that Hawai'i had long been a multi-ethnic society, and believed that Hawaiians would inevitably suffer if they turned totally inward and worked exclusively among themselves. Although he headed the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and Hawai'iloa and Hokule'a were captained and navigated by Hawaiians, Pinky insisted that the organization's board as well as the canoe crews include non-Hawaiians. That might sound like tokenism, but it makes a great deal of sense in today's Hawai'i.
"During the 1980s some newly emergent Hawaiian nationalists began criticizing Pinky's insistence on reaching beyond the Hawaiian community, as well as his promo- [begin page 139] tion of federally funded projects in Hawaiian health, education, and professional development. They thought that he should be trying to bring down the established order instead of working within it. In private, Pinky criticized them for "crying over spilt milk" by spending their energy protesting past injustices rather than doing something useful for the present. ... Under his tutelage the Polynesian Voyaging Society emerged as a stable and inspirational organization that has greatly helped Hawaiians gain a historical sense of their place in the greater Polynesian nation and a personal sense of being worthy heirs of a great seafaring tradition. So armed, they have not been shy about claiming their rightful place in their own islands."
3. HAWAIIAN CULTURAL AUTHENTICITY DEPENDS ON COLLECTIVE RACIAL MEMORY OF A DEEP CULTURE. Finney's book discusses that theory at length as he tells the story of Hokule'a at Taputapuatea. Ken Conklin in this essay offers an explanation and critique of some philosophical underpinnings of the theory of racial memory and deep culture
Today's Polynesian voyaging canoes certainly are not constructed from traditional materials nor with traditional processes. Following the disastrous attempt at a second voyage to Tahiti in 1978, a successful trip took place. Hokule'a went to New Zealand, Samoa, Cook Islands, then Tahiti (1250 miles S.E. of Samoa)
"After returning home, the Hawaiians began thinking about taking the voyaging revival a step further by building a new voyaging canoe, which, unlike Hokule'a, would be created solely out of traditional materials. ... Polynesian Voyaging Society decided to build a new voyaging canoe with hulls made from koa ... lashed together with 'aha cordage plaited from fibers of coconut husks, and rigged with sails woven out of lauhala ..." [page 13]
But they were unable to find any koa trees in Hawai'i large enough and healthy enough. So they went to Alaska and obtained a gift of two spruce logs from the Tlingit and Haida tribes. The two logs, reduced to 70 foot sections weighing 30 tons each, were shipped to Seattle and then Honolulu. ... Wright Bowman Jr. was the master carver. But he used "long chain saws, templates and jigs assembled out of plywood, planks and steel pipes, hydraulic jacks, power planers and sanders, and a wide variety of modern hand tools." [page 21] And so Hawai'i Loa canoe was built. It is unclear what it means to call such a canoe "Polynesian." The materials are not traditional, and the logs are not from Polynesia nor from any species of tree that existed in Polynesia. The style might somewhat resemble traditional Polynesian canoes, but would certainly cause "raised eyebrows" if the canoe sailed through a time warp into Waikiki of 1770. Some of the ceremonies used while cutting the trees in Alaska might have resembled ancient ceremonies; but there were probably enough inaccuracies that any ancient kahuna witnessing the ceremony would have called a halt and declared that the logs had been rendered unusable because of protocol errors (good intentions were not enough in old Hawai'i, and death was the penalty for some protocol errors). Perhaps the canoe could be called "Polynesian" because some of the people who worked to assemble it were Polynesians.
Authenticity is a serious problem for today's Hawaiian "traditional practitioners." During a period of 120 years following the arrival of Captain Cook, the population of ethnic Hawaiians declined by at least 90%. One immediate cause of the high death rate was the introduction of powerful new weapons into ongoing constant warfare (metal knives, guns, canons, and large ships). Perhaps the main cause over time was the arrival of new diseases for which the natives had no natural immunity and no cures. And even if cholera or measles didn't kill an individual, an incurable procreative disease like syphilis might render her unable to make babies. The great decline of population, together with profound changes in religion and land ownership, produced a radical discontinuity in the transmission of culture. There was a shortage of kupuna to teach ancient knowledge, a shortage of students to learn, and a shortage of resources to allow free time for teaching and learning. There was also a shortage of desire to preserve the old culture, which many families regarded as either useless or as an actual hindrance to learning the skills needed for a new way of life.
If ancient knowledge and ceremonies are not passed from generation to generation continuously, then it is hard to claim their modern versions are authentic. Much of the ancient knowledge has been irretrievably lost. A few kumu hula claim to have an unbroken line of teachers going back to ancient times, just as Roman Catholics like to believe that the authority of today's Pope comes from an unbroken line of Papal succession since Jesus gave Peter the keys to heaven 2000 years ago. Some traditional knowledge was actually written down in the early to mid 1800s by native Hawaiians who knew it first-hand or directly from family members or kumu; but most such writings were produced by natives who were strongly influenced by Christianity and who often reported traditional concepts or ceremonies only for the purpose of denigrating their pagan-ness.
Today's "traditional practitioners" simply (re)invent much of their "ancient knowledge" by imagining what it must have been. Some claim to receive knowledge in dreams. All claim that cultural knowledge is somehow transmitted spiritually or genetically. "Mai ka po mai ka 'oia 'i'o." The concept is that racial memory somehow allows small bits of accurately transmitted ancient knowledge to be authentically expanded, or it allows complete ignorance to be replaced by memories that flow like water once the tap has been opened.
There is nothing new about the concept of a "deep culture" being transmitted through some sort of collective "racial memory." Plato's theory of the Forms claimed that eternal Truth is found in an abstract world. Knowledge of that world is not accessible to the physical senses but is buried deep inside every soul; wise people can turn inward to find these Truths and then turn outward to apply them to this world of appearances. Immanuel Kant had a similar theory of the noumenal world of a priori knowledge, and the phenomenal world of fact. Buddhists talk about Nirvana, and the role of a Bodhisattva in bringing perfect wisdom back to daily life. Catholic theologians Jacques Maritain and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin note that the gulf separating mortal man from a transcendent God can be bridged through faith bestowed as a gift from God. The concept of racial memories or "archetypes" is the central feature of the psychotherapy theory of Karl Jung. American poet William Wordsworth wrote an ode: "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" based on the Platonic concept that people are born with all the knowledge of the Forms deep inside. Wordsworth thought small children in their innocence are closer to wisdom than adults whose knowledge gets forgotten as life experiences focus attention on this world of appearances.
All the Platonic or mystical religious theories mentioned above have great respectability in Western intellectual tradition. All of them explain how knowledge from the world above can be brought down to the level of individuals in daily life. All of them COULD be used to claim that different racial groups have inborn differences of perception or inclination -- indeed, such interpretations of these great philosophers have been used to provide a rationale for blood nationalism and the evils of Hitler-style racial supremacy. That's a good reason to be cautious when we hear ethnic Hawaiians using theories of racial memory; because it would be very easy to slip from such a respectable theory into outright fascism.
However, all of those theories allow for knowledge to flow only downward, and not up. They do not allow knowledge gained from daily life to flow upward to the racial oversoul, thereby changing the collective consciousness and then flowing down to individuals in later generations. Thus, these theories cannot be used to defend cultural authenticity. Knowledge or ceremonies created in ancient times could not become embedded in the racial memory and then retrieved by later generations.
Although the "respectable" theories do not allow upward transmission of knowledge which can later flow back down, there are some less respectable modern theories which do precisely that. "New age" charlatans use the theory of racial memory to support things like fortune-telling, and "channeling" (someone enters the spirit world, welcomes the spirit of a dead person into her mind, and then speaks in the mannerisms and with the memories of that dead person, conveying messages from "the other side").
Some highly respected anthropologists and philosophers have adopted the theory of racial memory as a basis for defending the authenticity of re-invented cultural knowledge and ceremony. Ben Finney's book provides a long list of references. See below. These anthropologists do not try to show that the respectable theories can allow for upward flow of knowledge. Rather, these anthropologists simply claim that knowledge flows upward as well as downward, and perhaps also sideways through something like telepathy (as though all members of a group connected by genealogy are thereby also connected mentally or spiritually). Such anthropologists might refer to Plato, Jung, or Teilhard de Chardin to provide the appearance of profound intellectual respectability even though the respectable theories do not actually provide a rationale for upward or sideways migration of knowledge.
Recreational readers might remember a series of books by Jean M. Auel, starting with "The Clan of the Cave Bear." The novels are based on anthropological studies of the transitional period from Neanderthal to Homo Sapiens (modern man) about 30,000 years ago in the region now known as Europe. A modern girl is the sole survivor of a disaster, and wanders into a tribe of Neanderthals who adopt her. "Ayla" later mates with a Neanderthal and produces a half-breed son. A movie was made based on "Clan of the Cave Bear" starring Daryl Hannah in the role of Ayla. The series of novels are filled with stories about how the Neanderthals communicate big ideas with small gestures and limited speech, because they share "the memories." Although Ayla does not have "the memories," her half-breed son does have them, and later becomes the spiritual leader (Hawaiian kahuna nui) of the Neanderthal tribe. The concept as interpreted for the Hawaiian situation would be that if one parent is indigenous, then the child is indigenous and retains the indigenous racial memories, with full authority to use and interpret them. However many generations go by; however low the native blood quantum falls, it doesn't matter -- the son or daughter of a tribesman is still a tribesman.
The recent movie "Whale Rider" was extremely popular in Hawai'i and especially among ethnic Hawaiians. "Whale Rider" portrays a Maori girl on Aotearoa (New Zealand), living in a rural lower-class modern fishing village, who inherits the racial memories of a Maori cultural hero to the extent that she is able to recreate in real life a famous ancient legend about a spiritual leader riding a whale. The beautiful scenery, powerful spirituality, and humble lifestyle portrayed in the movie were deeply moving to the Hawai'i audiences. And the movie seemed especially relevant to ethnic Hawaiians, because Aotearoa is an anchor of the Polynesian triangle and the Maori are greatly respected by Hawaiians as having preserved more of the authentic ancient Polynesian lifestyle.
Another less known novel has exactly the "feel" that Hawaiian sovereignty activists and Ben Finney would appreciate: Marlo Morgan, "Mutant Message Down Under (Harper Collins 1991 and 1994; Harper Perennial 1995; ISBN 0-06-092631-7). Paraphrasing and expanding a blurb from the back cover: A white female American professor is summoned by a remote tribe of nomadic Australian aborigines who call themselves the "real people" to accompany them on a four month walkabout through the outback. While traveling barefoot with them through 1400 miles of rugged desert terrain, she learns a new way of life, including their methods of healing and hunting, based on the wisdom of their 50,000-year-old culture. Ultimately she experiences a dramatic personal transformation, and fulfills her aborigine-assigned mission of bringing back this story which has the potential of healing the troubles of civilization by putting us in touch with our deep culture and racial memories.
Finney's own book discusses the question whether the Hawaiian cultural renaissance is authentic. He points out that scholars have raised serious objections to modern-day reinvented ceremonies that probably bear little resemblance to ancient practices. My own analogy would be that today's activists complain when tourists create rock piles on heiau, or new-age hippies perform made-up ceremonies; and in the same way scholars complain that modern recreations of 'awa ceremonies, hula, and chants are mostly fictitious. Activists who complain about haole wannabe Hawaiians may actually be little more than wannabes themselves -- they have only the blood, but not the accurate knowledge -- UNLESS Finney can rescue their authenticity by means of the theory of racial memory.
Finney discusses at length how the PVS canoes were constructed out of foreign or modern materials, using modern tools; and how Hawaiian ceremonies were reinvented from books or newspaper descriptions written by Christianized Hawaiians decades after the ceremonies had stopped being performed.
But Finney defends the practice of cultural eclecticism in the Hawaiian renaissance. He points out that the European renaissance made use of architectural styles and philosophical concepts copied (often inaccurately) from ancient Greek and Roman ruins and books; and that European science and mathematics made use of Arabic concepts such as "zero" and "algebra."
So in the end, Finney seems to believe that "Hawaiian" culture is legitimately "Hawaiian" as long as it is created by ethnic Hawaiians using elements of ancient Hawaiian culture combined with other Polynesian, Micronesian, or Melanesian elements plus modern Western elements. He seems to consider modern ceremonies truly authentic even when they leave out important (indeed, essential) elements of ancient practice such as human sacrifice. Finney's concept of what makes a ceremony or newly built object genuinely Hawaiian is the same as the activists' theory of what makes a person genuinely Hawaiian -- one drop of native blood is sufficient. Pay attention only to the native Hawaiian elements of genealogy and cultural products, and ignore all the other non-native elements that might actually comprise the vast bulk of it. Like the yeast in a loaf of bread. Like a fine perfume needs only a few drops of the essence of the fragrance mixed with a neutral carrier medium. Like a powerful medicine needs less than one percent of the active ingredient to be effective.
Here now are some lengthy quotes and summaries from Finney's book on the topic of cultural authenticity and racial memory. His observations are especially significant on the role of human sacrifice, when he discusses the cultural authenticity of the modern ceremony at Taputapuatea in 1995.
[Quote begins on page 58]
"In the early 1980s historians, anthropologists, and sociologists began paying attention to self-conscious efforts of cultural revival among peoples around the world. Many focused on rituals and practices that they judged to be consciously revived or created outright for political purposes. One of the most influential works was a collection of essays edited by British historians, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, entitled "The invention of Tradition." They were interested in traditions that claimed or appeared to have been developed long ago but had really been more recently "invented, constructed and formally instituted," or had "emerged in a less easily traceable manner." Their examples included the creation of royal rituals and pageantry to increase respect for the British monarchy and the construction of a Highland Scots identity featuring tailored kilts, distinctive clan tartans, and other elements they considered to be of dubious authenticity.[footnote to Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983]
"First a trickle and then a flood of articles began appearing in scholarly journals that explored how people from many cultures of the Pacific were "inventing" or "socially constructing" their traditions and customs.[footnote to Keesing and Tonkinson 1982; Linnekin 1983; Handler and Linnekin 1984 ... Finney 1991] Although most of these publications were probably not read by those whose efforts and beliefs were being analyzed, a few such works caught the eye of native intellectuals. Prominent among these were: Jocelyn Linnekin's essay on how contemporary Hawaiian nationalists were deliberately formulating traditions for political ends; Allan Hanson's charge that the Maori have adopted cultural constructs that had actually been developed by foreign scholars during the late 1800s and early 1900s; and Roger Keesing's claim that Pacific peoples were "creating pasts, myths, or ancestral ways of life" that have little or no relation with the actual past as "documented historically, recorded ethnographically, and reconstructed archeologically."[footnote to "Linnekin 1983; Hanson 1989; Keesing 1989]]
"That the subjects of these and similarly phrased writings might take exception is not surprising. In particular, foreign professors use of such terms as "invention," "social construction" and "myth-making" appeared condescending and insulting to those whose beliefs and actions were being so cavalierly analyzed. Maori critics denounced Hanson as shallow and uninformed. Haunani-Kay Trask, a native Hawaiian professor at the University of Hawai'i, castigated Keesing, Linnekin, and other foreign academics" [start page 59] for setting themselves up as authorities on Hawaiian and Pacific cultures, yet ignoring that indigenous people do base their cultural constructs on a deep knowledge and study of traditional ways. [footnote to Grainger 1990; Nissen 1990; Noble 1990; Trask 1991]] The response made in the name of culture theory -- that authenticity is a non-issue since traditions are neither genuine nor spurious but simply socially constructed, in effect, denies the possibility of expressing a cultural identity based on a remembered past. [footnote to Sahlins 1993:4; Turner 1997]]"
Finney notes that anthropologists are trained to accept and use certain ways of knowing, which is a bias within their field. Finney confesses he cannot exempt himself from this tendency. But he tries to hold it in check. However, he offers no counter-arguments. "Selecting ideas and practices from the past and adapting them for present purposes is hardly limited to today's Pacific." [page 60] Finney then describes how ancient Greek and Roman writings were retrieved from medieval monasteries, Arab libraries, and Jewish scholars to become the basis for Western knowledge. Ancient ruins were studied and sketched, and their styles were incorporated into new churches and buildings. When Coubertin revived the ancient Olympics, he left out the ancient practice of competing in the nude.
"It is no accident that the voyaging revival first took hold in Eastern Polynesia, for their people were hit early and hard by the outside world. They have much to reclaim and a strong motivation for asserting their identity vis-a-vis their former or actual colonial overlords, as well as others who have settled in their islands or who now visit them in mass as tourists." [page 61]
On pp. 62-74, Finney describes the celebration at Taputapuatea marae in Raiatea. In ancient times priests, scholars, and warriors from islands to the east, and others from islands to the west, had met here for religious and cultural celebrations. But a priest of one side murdered a priest of the other side, and then the other side tried to kill the murderer. The meeting broke up, and for centuries afterward there were no further such meetings. Later, a voyage of discovery leaving from Raiatea had met with disaster, and a tapu (kapu, taboo, prohibition) was placed on all further overseas voyaging. The tapu could be lifted only when a canoe bearing the descendants of those long-lost emigrants returned to Taputapuatea.
Finney and Herb Kane decided Hokule'a should visit Taputapuatea in 1976, after Tahiti. Locals in Raiatea spruced up the marae, and 1000 locals greeted Hokule'a. This lifted the voyaging tapu. But joy was accompanied by anger, because Hokule'a had failed to consult the local experts on the proper way to enter the lagoon, and it did not enter through the Sacred Pass [in the coral]. [pp. 65-66] Hokule'a visited again in 1985 en route to Aotearoa, and 1992 en route to Rarotonga.
Then March18, 1995 a great ceremony was held to [once again] lift the tapu on voyaging canoes. Legends were freely re-interpreted to mean that the victimized group were from Aotearoa [New Zealand], and that if they would forgive what had happened, the tapu could [once again] be lifted. And so voyaging canoes from all over arrived for the ceremony, including some that had been towed there by modern ships. The ceremonies went well, punctuated by one "disturbance" when members of a Tahitian independence youth brigade staged a demonstration as the president of French Polynesia stepped onto the marae. [they protested French nuclear testing and continued colonization].
Leading up to the ceremony there had been great debate over the proper form for a canoe, who should be on the canoe, etc. [On pp. 71-72 -- Finney reviews the controversy over whether 'awa ceremony is truly Hawaiian. In the August 1993 issue of Ka Wai Ola O OHA , trustee Kamaki Kanahele said there was no such thing, and the ceremony was being artificially invented. But Parley Kanaka'ole and Sam Ka'ai, who frequently presided over 'awa ceremonies, said they had learned distinctive procedures from their elders.]
Discussing the great ceremony of March 18, 1995: [Quote beginning on page 70]
"Among other things there were no human sacrifices.
"Taputapuatea was dedicated to the war god 'Oro who demanded human offerings. Indeed, Teuira Henry translates Taputapuatea as "sacrifices" (taputapu) "from abroad" (atea). According to her text, at the gatherings of the Friendly Alliance, these offerings were delivered through the Sacred Pass by the canoes coming from the islands belonging to the alliance. The narrative of that delivery ... 'Upon approaching the sacred passage of Te-ava-moa, just at daybreak, the canoes united in procession ... come in double file ... Across the bows connecting each double canoe was a floor, covering the chambers containing idols, drums, trumpet shells, and other treasures for the gods and people of Raiatea; and upon the floor were placed in a row sacrifices from abroad, which consisted of human victims brought for that purpose and just slain, and great fishes newly caught from fishing grounds of neighboring islands. They were placed upon the floor, parallel with the canoe, alternately a man and a cavalli fish, a man and a shark, a man and a turtle, and finally a man closed the line.'
[begin page 71]
"Once 'this terribly earnest procession' came ashore at Taura'a a Tapu (Landing Place for Sacrifices), the warriors, chiefs, priests, and other dignitaries greeted the voyagers. Together they silently set to work, suspending the sacrificial victims in the trees, stringing them up with long sennit ropes that ran through the temples of their lifeless skulls. Still more bodies were employed as rollers, over which the canoes were drawn onto the land.
"Though well aware of this ancient protocol, the organizers of this gathering of reconstructed voyaging canoes certainly had no intention of recreating such a gruesome spectacle. ... they drew upon historical precedents, but selectively choosing only those they wanted to recall."
In case any reader thinks it might be silly to criticize modern "traditional practitioners" for failing to engage in human sacrifice, it must be pointed out that in ancient times human sacrifice was regarded as absolutely essential to the maintenance of "pono." The gods, the Hawaiian islands, and the native Hawaiians were all regarded as members of a single extended family. Natural disasters, crop failures, disease, etc. were all regarded as signs that some sort of imbalance had occurred. Prayers and sacrifices were necessary to restore the proper balance (pono). Depending on the severity of the problem, sacrifices might range from a piece of banana wrapped in ti leaf and placed on a home altar, to the sacrifice of a pig, to the sacrifice of a slave or captured enemy soldier, all the way up to the sacrifice of a high chief on the most sacred heiau. For a thorough study of the importance of sacrifice in ancient Hawai'i, see: Valerio Valeri, "Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient Hawaii" (University of Chicago Press, 1985.
4. SOME OF FINNEY'S FOOTNOTED SOURCES ON THE TOPIC OF RACIAL MEMORY AS A BASIS FOR CLAIMING CULTURAL AUTHENTICITY FOR RECONSTRUCTED KNOWLEDGE AND CEREMONIES
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Keesing, Roger. 1989. Creating the Past: Custom and Identity in the Contemporary Pacific. The Contemporary Pacific 1:19-42.
Linnekin, Jocelyn. 1983. Defining Traditions: Variations on the Hawaiian Identity. American Ethnologist 10:241-252.
Linnekin, Jocelyn. 1990. The Politics of Culture in the Pacific. [a chapter in] Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in the Pacific, ed. Jocelyn Linnekin and Lin Poyer, 149-174. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Linnekin, Jocelyn. Cultural Invention and the Dilemma of Authenticity. American Anthropologist 93: 446-449.
Handler, Richard, and Jocelyn Linnekin. 1984. Tradition, Genuine or Spurious. Journal of American Folklore 97:273-290.
Hanson, Allan. 1989. The Making of the Maori: Cultural Invention and its Logic. American Anthropologist 91: 890-902.
Trask, Haunani-Kay. 1991. Natives and Anthropologists: The Colonial Struggle. The Contemporary Pacific 3: 159-167.
Turner, James West. 1997. Continuity and Restraint: Reconstructing the Concept of Tradition from a Pacific Perspective. The Contemporary Pacific 9: 345-381.
5. OTHER ESSAYS BY KEN CONKLIN RELEVANT TO TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY
One of the main purposes of PVS and its voyaging canoes is to build ethnic pride. Accordingly, it is relevant to read about what it means for an ethnic group to assert pride in itself, and the close relationship between racial pride and racial prejudice. See:
Local Pride -- How It Is Different in Hawai'i From Elsewhere; How "Local People" Get to be "American Idols"; The Role of the Aloha Spirit in Local Pride
One issue raised by Finney's book is: how can there be cultural continuity (hence authenticity) when knowledge or ceremonies have been long forgotten. The modern revival of Hawaiian language provides a look at how this might be done. Hawaiian activists like to say the Hawaiian language was suppressed by white English speakers who made Hawaiian language illegal. That claim is false. See:
When the Hawaiian cultural revival was getting started in the 1970s, it was noticed that there were very few native speakers of Hawaiian. How can the language be prevented from dying out? Clearly there was a need to teach the language to thousands of people. And to facilitate pronunciation for people who had never heard the language spoken by a native speaker, it was necessary to invent diacritical marks (‘okina and kahako) that did not exist in the 1800s version of the written language created by the missionaries -- such marks weren't needed because everyone already knew how to pronounce the language. But the thousands of today's people being taught Hawaiian would know Hawaiian only as a second language. Therefore it was urgently necessary to produce a new generation of born-and-raised "native speakers." To do that, adults (who had learned Hawaiian only as a second language, and perhaps poorly) would need to raise their children speaking Hawaiian at home, and children would need to attend language-immersion schools. And so began the native-speakers project, and the punana leo preschools followed by language-immersion K-12 schools. The language immersion schools also provided an opportunity for cultural transmission, political indoctrination, and ethnic nation-building. The language being taught to the new "native speakers" might not be the same, or even close, to the language actually spoken in ancient times, but it would be "close enough for government work" and hence (semi-)"authentic." See:
One major issue in building ethnic pride is what role should be allowed to people who are not members of that ethnic group. Ben Finney described the sad history of the first and second voyages of Hokule'a, when ethnic Hawaiians demanded racial supremacy and even total racial exclusion in the PVS organization and on the canoes during voyages. That issue has been simmering ever since. Here's an essay showing that people of no native ancestry were full partners in the Kingdom of Hawai'i under a social contract where non-natives were given full voting rights, full property rights, and numerous leadership positions, in return for their investment of time, money, expertise, and loyalty.
Some activists claim that Polynesian voyaging is uniquely Polynesian, and therefore must be race-based in order to be authentic. They might argue that Polynesian voyaging is covered by indigenous intellectual property rights, whereby it is morally righteous for trade secrets to be racially restricted and for non-Polynesians to be excluded. Here's a webpage on Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights -- The General Theory, and Why It Does Not Apply in Hawai'i
One of the ways today's Hawaiian sovereignty activists seek to establish racial dominance is by systematically excluding non-natives from core cultural activities, and one way they seek to establish ethnic pride is by systematically ignoring the important contributions of non-native heroes of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Here's a webpage documenting the ethnic cleansing of Hawaiian history, especially as related to the role of non-native heroes of the Kingdom.
One important point raised in this essay is the role of collective racial memory of a deep culture in guaranteeing authenticity for modern reconstructions of ancient artifacts and ceremonies following many generations of forgetting. The uniquely Hawaiian theory of racial memory is a religious belief that the gods, the islands, and the ethnic Hawaiians are related genealogically, as members of a family. Thus, anyone having a drop of native blood has an inborn special relationship with the land and the gods that is not available to anyone lacking native ancestry. Here is a webpage describing that religious belief and how it is used to assert a right to racial dominance of the political (and cultural) process. This religious theory would also explain how racial memory can be genetically transmitted down through the generations.
One reason why cultural authenticity is an issue for ethnic Hawaiians is the severe decline of the native population following Captain Cook's arrival. There simply were not enough teachers and students to perpetuate most of the cultural knowledge and ceremonies. Radicals use the word "genocide" to describe the loss of population, although it is clear there was nothing deliberate about the transmission of disease, and some of the population decline was caused by the slaughter of native-on-native warfare made suddenly worse by the introduction of new technology (metal, guns, canons, and large ships). The massive decline of population is also used as a victimhood claim to solicit pity, compassion, financial reparations, and support for political sovereignty. The best population-decline victimhood tear-jerker is the book "Then There Were None" by Martha H. Noyes (based on Elizabeth Lindsey Buyers TV docudrama). Here's a book review:
6. HONOLULU ADVERTISER BOOK REVIEW, AND RELATED SERIES OF LETTERS TO EDITOR by George Avlonitis, Rubellite Kawena Johnson, Ben Finney, and George Avlonitis (again)
On June 13, 2004 the Honolulu Advertiser published a book review of Ben Finney's book. That stimulated a series of letters to editor on the issue of cultural authenticity, including a letter from Ben Finney himself. George Avlonitis says Polynesian voyaging died out permanently, and what is now done by PVS is really Micronesian voyaging. Professor Rubellite Kawena Johnson responds that Micronesians and Polynesians had cultural exchanges in ancient times; and furthermore there are many similarities among the names used for the stars in various nations throughout the world; thus, navigating by the stars is Polynesian as well as being a part of many cultures. Finney responds to Avlonitis in a very low-key way that does not seriously attempt to defend the authenticity of a uniquely Polynesian style of voyaging. Finally, Avlonitis concludes that indeed there was no uniquely Polynesian component to the navigational system used on Hokule'a.
The Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday, June 13, 2004
The voyaging-canoe revival examined
"Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging" by Ben Finney; Bishop Museum Press $19.95 softcover; sale proceeds support Bishop Museum
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer
University of Hawai'i anthropologist Ben Finney was an early proponent of the theory that Polynesians navigated their ways across the Pacific, countering the idea that the Pacific people were only technologically capable of "drift voyages."
Finney has built and sailed double-hulled voyaging canoes and is one of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. As such, he's uniquely qualified to discuss the revival of voyaging.
He has done so in a clear-eyed volume constructed around the remarkable 1995 sail in which six voyaging canoes from all over Polynesia followed the ancient route from the Marquesas to Hawai'i, five of them navigating without modern instruments.
Whether that event will have sparked a sustainable Pacific-wide renaissance of Polynesian voyaging remains to be seen, but in Hawai'i, the tradition appears well developed. There are several voyaging canoes now built in the Islands. Each county now has a big ocean-going canoe either sailing or under construction.
Hokule'a, of course, leads the list. The nearly 30-year-old canoe is conducting a 4,000-mile tour of the Hawaiian Archipelago, that will take it to Kure Atoll in the northwest to Hilo in the southeast, and dozens of points between.
"Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors" is honest about the challenges, mistakes and missteps that have bedeviled the voyaging effort, but throughout there is a sense of pride -- that in retrospect, this was an effort worth undertaking. It reviews Finney's own construction of a 40 foot double hull, Nalehia, in 1965, the development of the Hokule'a, which was launched in 1975, and eventually the construction of a small fleet of voyaging canoes in Hawai'i, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Tahiti and elsewhere.
At the same time, Finney reviews the development of a modern equivalent of ancient non-instrument navigational techniques - much of the basic information from which came from navigator Mau Piailug of the island of Satawal.
Finney expertly places voyaging in its historical place, and includes vignettes of the many individuals who helped create its modern place. He gives special attention to two key figures: Myron Thompson, who stepped in to reorganize the Polynesian Voyaging Society after the tragedy of 1978 in which Eddie Aikau was lost and the canoe capsized at sea; and his son Nainoa Thompson, the first of Hawai'i modern traditional navigators and present head of the voyaging organization.
Honolulu Advertiser, Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Navigation came from Micronesia
By George Avlonitis
Amateur historian who lives in Honolulu
It's nice that the Hawaiians and other Polynesians are learning, again, to navigate by the stars.
In the late 18th century, European explorers marveled at the navigational skills of the Polynesians, declaring that, before Captain Cook, the Polynesians were 600 years ahead of the Europeans.
The problem is, the star navigation used by the Hawaiians today is not Polynesian at all — it's Micronesian, learned from the celebrated Mau Piailug from Satawal, Micronesia, because the last navigator in the whole of Polynesia had died in the 1970s (see "Hokulea: The way to Tahiti" by Ben Finney).
The Micronesian navigation is not Polynesian because, among other reasons, the Micronesian culture never contacted the Polynesians.
Therefore, despite claims that the great achievement of Polynesian navigation has been revived, today's star navigation is just another star navigation practiced all over the world for thousands of years before the Polynesians appeared.
Archaeological and other records show that contact of Hawaiians with other Polynesians stopped in the 13th century with the arrival of the Tahitians to Hawai'i. In the 1770s, before Western discovery of Hawai'i, a Tahitian navigator made a detailed map of Polynesia, still extant, for Captain Cook (who thought it was curiously similar to his own map), without showing Hawai'i.
To be sure, some time after the discovery of Hawai'i, when Captain Cook communicated with Hawaiians in Tahitian, the Hawaiian chants talked of the ancestors in Tahiti — Kahiki in Hawaiian. But, Kahiki also means faraway land, and nobody seems to have noticed when, exactly, these chants were composed — before or after the discovery.
Another point showing lack of contact with other Polynesians is that Captain Cook knew very little about the Marquesas Islands, Nuku-Hiva, the first origin of the Hawaiians. Therefore, presumably, he didn't mention them to the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians, in turn, didn't mention them in their chants.
The above observations are made in order to show that the long-voyage Polynesia navigation was lost for centuries and cannot be revived.
It is also interesting to note that in the early 1800s, Kamehameha I bought European ships and sent them to China to sell sandalwood. He hired European navigators. Kamehameha II owned several European ships, all navigated by Europeans when sailing outside Hawaiian waters.
The Honolulu Advertiser, Monday, June 28, 2004
Letters to the Editor
Micronesian, Polynesian cultures are indeed linked
The June 22 Island Voices commentary says that the "star navigation used by the Hawaiians today is not Polynesian at all — it's Micronesian ... Micronesian navigation is not Polynesian because ... the Micronesian culture never contacted the Polynesians."
That's not true. The navigator's star compass used throughout the Indo-Pacific region, whether by Arabs, Micronesians or Polynesians, is the same compass. Did they talk to one another and agree to use the same stars in the same places in their separate systems?
The Micronesians call the Southern Cross "Wenewen"; the Hawaiians call it "Newenewe" (just backward, same word). Navigators from the Marianas called west "Liu-giu," meaning Ryukyu, and west beyond Ryukyu (Ruk, Luk) Lu-jan (Luzon, Philippines), same as Lu-Chan (China), but where is Lu, Ru, Ruk, Luk, Lug?
The Marshallese' sky-propping god is Lug-ei-lang, and over here it's Lu, at Kau-no-Lu, the "stance of Lu" on Lana'i. And Lu had a son, Ahu, thus the full name of the island here is O-Ahu-a-Lu-a-Nu'u — Ahu, son of Lu, son of Nu'u, meaning the "zenith"; when the sun is on the meridian at noon, then it is at luanu'u, meaning the oracle tower in the Hawaiian temple (heiau). Hawaiians are descended from Lu, same as Lugeilang in the Marshalls.
Did you know that the Mayans in the Yucatan, Mexico, see the Belt of Orion as three stars across the back of a sacred turtle? So do the Tibetans and the Tongans, but the sacred turtle also holds up the island of Moloka'i just as the sacred cosmic turtle holds up the sacred mountain, Meru, in Buddhist cosmogony. There are two turtles carved onto a submerged mountain just below Yonaguni Island in the Ryukyus (Okinawa), once the home of the Jomon people. Wasn't it Tangaroa (Kanaloa) who took care of a male and female turtle under the land of Rangatiti ages and ages ago? Interesting.
Rubellite K. Johnson
The Honolulu Advertiser, Friday, August 13, 2004
Letters to the Editor
Hokule'a navigation limited
Hokule'a cannot be all things to all people, as witness George Avlonitis remarks in The Advertiser (July 23 commentary). But the canoe has done pretty well in its almost 30 years, making contributions both to understanding ancient voyaging and to encouraging cultural revival
We had wanted a Polynesian navigator to guide Hokule'a to Tahiti in 1976. But none had survived among the main Polynesian Islands, and the last one we knew of from the "Polynesian outliers" in Melanesia had just died. So I recruited a Micronesian navigator, Mau Piailug, who uses methods related to the Polynesians. He and Captain Kawika Kapahulehua (from Ni'ihau) took us smartly to Tahiti without instruments. Neither had learned his profession from the Chinese, Arabs or David Lewis.
Still, it would have been great to have revived specifically Polynesian navigation with its "wind compass," now only vaguely known. But that's exactly what Ariki (chief) Koloso Kaveia, and anthropologist Marianne George of Kona, are now doing on Taumako, a small Polynesian outlier in Melanesia where voyaging did not totally die out. With mat sails, Taumako's swift "te puke" canoes will soon be sailing again, taking us further back into Polynesia's seafaring past.
At the time of European contact, Tahitians apparently did not have an active knowledge of Hawai'i, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Yet the learned Tahitian Tupaia gave Captain Cook the names of 74 islands to which Tahitians sailed, indicating their locations in terms of sailing days and wind compass bearings. Mapped out, they extend from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa in the west, to Te Henua 'Enana (the Marquesas), the Tuamotus and Australs in the east, covering a swath of ocean about the size of the continental U.S.
Now Hawaiians are no longer trying to prove anything about the sailing or navigational performance of traditional craft. Been there, done that. They are into cultural identity, voyaging rather than testing museum replicas. (See my latest book, "Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors," Bishop Museum Press, 2003.)
Still, I would like to see them rig their canoes with Hawaiian "crab-claw" sails woven from lauhala, rather than modern yacht sails. Maybe Hawai'i can follow the lead of distant Taumako.
The Honolulu Advertiser, Thursday August 26, 2004
Hokule'a discussion off course
Professor Ben Finney veers from the subject of my July 23 letter when, in his letter of Aug. 13, he states that the canoe Hokule'a is "making contributions ... to understanding ancient voyaging."
As stated in his books, the purpose for the Hokule'a canoe's first voyage from Hawai'i to Tahiti in 1976 was to settle the question of the ability of the ancient Polynesians to navigate thousands of miles of open ocean and return to the point of origin. The return trip would prove the ability of the ancient Polynesians to accurately fix position and thus ensure repeated trips between the two islands.
Finney and the Hawaiians maintained that the question had been settled by the success of the voyage to Tahiti.
I stated that the question had not been settled because the navigator, Mau Piailug, was not a Polynesian but a Micronesian who used the Micronesian navigational system, which differs from the Polynesian one, and he used Arabic and Chinese navigational techniques not known in the Pacific at the time that the Polynesians discovered Hawai'i.
Besides, the archaeological and glotto-chronological (degree of similarity of the Hawaiian-Polynesian and the Tahitian-Polynesian languages) records are clear: There had been no contact between Hawai'i and Tahiti for at least 500 years before or 600 years after the 12th century, as Kjell Akerblom's survey, based on a bibliography of 116 authors, among others, found.
But, the most important non-ancient Polynesian system he used was the detailed data about ocean currents and winds collected by the non-Polynesian, New Zealander navigator/researcher David Lewis, who calculated the displacement of the canoe and informed Piailug that it would amount to 600 to 800 miles westward from the direct route to Tahiti. Empirical calculation of the displacement of a vessel due to ocean currents can only be calculated near land.
Next, in his commentary, Finney states that neither the navigator Mau Piailug nor the Hawaiian captain of Hokule'a, Kawika Kapahulehua, had learned their professions from the Chinese, the Arabs or from David Lewis.
That's true, though Piailug did use the above-mentioned important non-Pacific techniques and, if not he, then his ancestors had ample time to learn them after the contact with the Europeans.
Moreover, without Lewis' calculation of the displacement of the canoe, which near Tahiti was already 200 miles off course westward, the canoe could have been 1,000 miles west of Tahiti and never make it there.
Meanwhile, in Tahiti, a holiday had been declared to celebrate the greatness of the Polynesian navigational system.
Despite the aforementioned facts, Finney and the Hawaiians never stated that it was not the Polynesian star navigation that brought them to Tahiti ... until Aug. 13, 2004, in the commentary of Ben Finney.
Even that was done in a grudging way, by denying the decisive contribution of non-Polynesians to that feat and by Finney's statement that the Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug and the Hawaiian captain Kapahulehua "took us smartly to Tahiti without instruments."
Actually, the Hawaiian captain is an American-educated captain who uses modern instruments, and his role on the canoe was to steer, as a helmsman, taking his bearings from Piailug, only.
7. PLANS FOR EVENTS AFTER 2004 include a politically charged Hokule'a voyage to Japan, and the use of Hokule'a as a logo or iconic image for a race-based Hawaiian tribe or nation. Hokule'a is proposed as the architectural design for a major real estate development on land owned by a Hawaiian activist, adjoining Kamehameha land where massive new development is also proposed.
During its first 30 years, Hokule'a has traced the entire Polynesian triangle: Hawai'i at the north, Aotearoa (New Zealand) at the southwest, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) at the southeast. This tracing of the Polynesian triangle is, in effect, the staking of a claim. From Columbus' first voyage of 1492 through three centuries of voyages of discovery and conquest, European ships journeyed first to the Americas and then throughout the Pacific, claiming ownership and political control of every place where they planted the flag of their sponsoring nations (mostly Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Russia). Now the Polynesian Voyaging Society asserts the right of Polynesians to exercise that political concept, visiting and re-uniting the far-flung Pacific islands that were first peopled by the Polynesians. In addition, PVS voyaged to the west coast of North America, visiting places where Hawaiians established residence in the early 1800s, and also to thank the Tlingit and Haida for their donation of spruce logs.
Plans are now underway for a Hokule'a voyage through Micronesia and Melanesia to Japan in 2006. Part of this journey's concept is to visit Satawal, the home island of Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug, thanking him for helping Hawaiians revive their racial memories of navigating by the stars. Part of the concept is to stake a claim to unification of all the Pacific islands, some of which are independent nations and some of which are struggling to emerge from centuries of colonial control (hint, hint). Part of the concept is also to visit Japan, because of the large numbers of Japanese who came to Hawai'i to work on the sugar plantations at the invitation of King Kalakaua. The King visited Meiji dynasty Emperor Mutsuhito in Japan in 1881 to propose a close relationship between Japan and Hawai'i, as the beginning of a confederation of Pacific and Asian nations. Kalakaua offered the hand of Hawai'i Princess Ka'iulani to a five-year-old Japanese prince, but the offer was politely declined. Part of the concept, although not being broadcast, is that Japan was a treaty partner with the Kingdom of Hawai'i -- today's sovereignty activists believe that the Kingdom treaties are still legally in force, and international legitimacy for an independent nation of Hawai'i could come through political recognition given by one of those treaty-partners. Part of the concept is that today's Hawai'i citizens of Japanese ancestry have an activist group, the Japanese American Citizens League, which has been very supportive of Hawaiian sovereignty in several formal resolutions over the years. And part of the concept is a racial one, first mentioned by King Kalakaua, that it would be good to encourage marriages between Asians and Hawaiians so their children would "increase the race" of dark-skinned people to fend off the growing dominance of white-skinned Europeans and Americans (An official motto of Kalakaua's reign was "Ho'oulu ka lahui" -- "increase the race").
On September 2, 2004, the Honolulu Advertiser reported that Kamehameha Schools (Bishop Estate) is asking for adjustments to its agreement with the State for redevelopment of the Kaka'ako area (where the University of Hawai'i has announced plans to build a new medical school). This probably indicates Kamehameha is planning major development activities soon. But of greater interest in this essay is the announcement by Andy Anderson the previous day that he is planning a major development in Kaka'ako whose design includes "a nearly 300-foot-high Pacific Rim business trade center made to look like a giant version of the Hawaiian sailing canoe Hokule'a — with residential, office and possibly hotel units in tall, thin buildings designed as "sails" attached above twin canoe-shaped hull structures." Andy Anderson is a Hawaiian activist who ran for Governor in the Democrat primary of 2002 on a platform that included a call for Hawaiian independence, backed up by a lengthy essay on Hawaiian history written by the independence radicals. And Kamehameha, owning the land adjoining Anderson's, is the school system that has a racially exclusionary admissions policy, supports the Akaka bill, and sponsors the "red shirt" marches.
It seems clear that Hokule'a's sails and twin-hull canoe will be used as a trademark, logo, or icon for Hawaiian nationhood. Just as Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Athens has the Parthenon, and commercial-tourist Hawai'i has the Waikiki view of Diamond Head, so the Hawaiian nation has Hokule'a. And the Hokule'a image is actually proposed as a design for a huge new waterfront development on land owned by leaders of ethnic Hawaiian activism.
But Hokule'a makes a viable logo or icon for a race-based tribe or nation only if Hokule'a is culturally authentic. The public in general, and ethnic Hawaiians in particular, need to be convinced that Hokule'a and Polynesian voyaging are genuinely Hawaiian, so the image will evoke ethnic pride and be accepted as an emblem of ethnic identity. That's one reason why Ben Finney's book, and its lengthy arguments for collective racial memory, are so important at this time in the creation of Hawaiian blood nationalism.
Honolulu Advertiser, Thursday, July 8, 2004
Voyaging canoe Hokule'a may sail to Japan in 2006
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer
The voyaging canoe Hokule'a would sail from Hawai'i through Micronesia to Japan in 2006, under a plan being discussed by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Japanese Cultural Center.
Polynesian Voyaging Society chairman Nainoa Thompson said the more than 5,000-mile trip has been in discussion for several years, but details are still preliminary. A tentative plan would have the canoe leave Hawai'i in February 2006 on a sail with many stops and many crew changes, ending in Hokkaido, Japan, in July of that year.
The Hawai'i Tourism Authority in committee backed the idea yesterday with a $200,000 commitment to assist the project in fiscal year 2005. The full board is to vote on the money today as part of a $1.24 million budget for sports, cultural and other proposals. HTA documents suggest Hokule'a's Japan voyage could cost $1 million over three years, although the HTA is committing only to $200,000 of a $300,000 budget for fiscal year 2005.
Two major goals are to visit the island of Satawal in Micronesia to honor navigator Mau Piailug, and to visit the villages of early Japanese immigrants to Hawai'i to honor Japan's role in Hawaiian history, Thompson said.
Eric Martinson, of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i and chairman of the joint PVS-JCC committee on the Japan trip, said another goal would be to mark the 125th anniversary of the meeting between Hawaiian King David Kalakaua and Japan's Emperor Meiji during Kalakaua's historic world tour.
Documents provided to the HTA suggest visits to Hawai'i's sister states in Japan. A tentative route calls for visits to Okinawa, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Ehime, Ise, Kamakura, Yokohama, Tokyo and Hokkaido.
But Martinson warned that "it would be premature to get too heavy into a description of the project."
Thompson said the initial legs of the voyage would take the canoe westward through the Marshall Islands into the Federated States of Micronesia, to Piailug's isolated island of Satawal.
Piailug, a Micronesian non-instrument navigator, taught traditional navigation to Thompson and other Hawaiian sailors in the early years of the Voyaging Society, after they were unable to find any living Polynesian who could teach them the ancient art of wayfinding.
Now, with its mission of exploring the outer reaches of Polynesia behind it, the canoe needs to sail to Piailug's home island as a gesture "to honor him for the gift of navigation, and to honor his whole culture," Thompson said.
Last month, Hokule'a completed a 2,500-mile trip through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and later this year will sail its 100,000th mile. He said the canoe has a new mission of education and environmental awareness, but he also hopes the vessel can promote peaceful interaction between cultures.
Cementing the connection with the Micronesian culture for its role in restoring Hawaiian voyaging traditions is a part of that, and the Japan trip is another part, he said.
From Satawal, the canoe would turn northeast to Okinawa.
"The Japan trip is about building peaceful bridges with other global cultures that have deep historic traditions in seafaring. It is to honor other cultures," Thompson said.
"Many Japanese immigrants were taken into Hawaiian families when they arrived, and many remained here. They were people in poverty who were taken care of by people who were also in poverty. We want to better understand those relationships," he said.
On September 1, 2004 the Honolulu Advertiser published an article describing a Kaka'ako redevelopment plan proposed by D.G. Andy Anderson. His plan is relevant to the political aspects of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, because Anderson's design includes "a nearly 300-foot-high Pacific Rim business trade center made to look like a giant version of the Hawaiian sailing canoe Hokule'a — with residential, office and possibly hotel units in tall, thin buildings designed as "sails" attached above twin canoe-shaped hull structures." The fact that Anderson wants to make his huge project look like Hokule'a is also interesting because in 2002 Anderson was a candidate for the Democrat primary election for Governor, and he had a secret platform document calling for Hawaiian independence. He kept his proposal for independence secret from the general public, circulating it only among Hawaiian activists. Ken Conklin "outed" Anderson's independence proposal by publishing it on Conklin's website and in the on-line newspaper "Hawaii Reporter", whereupon Anderson then felt compelled to post it on his own campaign website a day later. To see Anderson's extraordinarily radical platform proposal calling for independence, go to:
It's probably no coincidence that Anderson's plans for Kaka'ako are announced at the same time as Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate is also announcing its intention to begin development of the same area. Honolulu Advertiser published an article about the new Kamehameha intentions on Thursday, September 2, the day after Andy Anderson's plans were unveiled. It appears that large ethnic Hawaiian landowners are planning major development projects for the Kaka'ako area, and will use Hokule'a as a sort of signature image. For the article about Kamehameha plans, see:
Here's the Advertiser article announcing Anderson's proposal for Hokule'a Kaka'ako:
Honolulu Advertiser, Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Voyaging canoe Hokule'a inspires Kaka'ako plan.
** Photo caption: This is a detail of developer D.G. "Andy" Anderson's proposed Kaka'ako complex, which would resemble Hokule'a.
Courtesy of D.G. "Andy" Anderson **
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
Goodbye Ferris wheel, hello sails of Hokule'a.
Almost five years after a state panel killed an ambitious plan by D.G. "Andy" Anderson to redevelop state land along the Kewalo waterfront, the restaurateur and former politician is back with a new proposal.
Out is Anderson's old idea for a 130-foot-high Ferris wheel surrounded by retail shops and restaurants.
The new project's focal point is a nearly 300-foot-high Pacific Rim business trade center made to look like a giant version of the Hawaiian sailing canoe Hokule'a — with residential, office and possibly hotel units in tall, thin buildings designed as "sails" attached above twin canoe-shaped hull structures.
Retail shops, restaurants, a farmers market, underground parking, an outdoor concert venue and space for another developer's aquarium also are part of Anderson's revised plan, which he hopes to publicly present to the state agency controlling development of the area in October.
The proposal — dubbed Hawai'i Pacific Trade Center, The Sails of Hokule'a — includes demolishing and rebuilding Anderson's John Dominis restaurant, as well as previous Anderson ideas for a miniature golf course and carousel.
Anderson's last proposal failed to win support from the state, and he blamed then-Gov. Ben Cayetano for nixing it. Anderson said he believes he has a better chance under Gov. Linda Lingle's administration.
"Hopefully it's going to be accepted," he said. "I'm in love with what we came up with. I think it's gorgeous. I give you my best shot. If it gets rejected, I can live with that."
Anderson also is asking the state to approve him as master developer of several waterfront parcels at the 'ewa edge of Kewalo Basin in Kaka'ako.
Last month, the company negotiating to develop an aquarium and ocean science center in the area teamed with giant retail developer General Growth Properties on a competing proposition.
That plan, headed by Kajima Urban Development, would expand the aquarium and ocean science center plan to also include residential units, retail and entertainment space, a parking structure and possibly a hotel.
Anderson's proposal would incorporate KUD's aquarium and science center.
"I'm looking for a marriage," Anderson said yesterday. "I'm not trying to throw them out."
Anderson, in his written proposal, did challenge a couple of the aspects of KUD's larger plan, including building residential units around a centralized parking structure, and offering space for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as an area anchor tenant.
Anderson questioned the wisdom of housing government operations on valuable waterfront property, and said residential units would be better located away from the core of retail and entertainment activities.
Both the KUD and Anderson proposals, however, are conceptual and subject to refinement.
The Hawai'i Community Development Authority, the state agency overseeing redevelopment of the area, got a copy of Anderson's proposal Monday.
The agency said it could not respond yet because it is in the midst of a 60-day review of KUD's aquarium plan. The authority also has not publicly commented on KUD's larger proposal.
Land makai of Ala Moana between Kewalo Basin and Ho-nolulu Harbor has been the focus of the state's most important redevelopment effort since Aloha Tower Marketplace in the early 1990s. The effort got a boost two years ago when construction began on the University of Hawai'i medical school, which is being built by an affiliate of KUD, a subsidiary of Japan-based construction firm Kajima Corp.
The recent interest from developers follows a decade of difficulty in state efforts to facilitate private development of much of the land because of a weak economy and questionable projects.
One of the biggest controversies involved Anderson's original plan, called Kewalo Pointe.
The $138 million Ferris wheel-anchored project was tentatively selected in 1999 over eight competing plans that included an indoor snowboarding center, high-technology park and several entertainment/shopping ideas.
But after months of sometimes contentious negotiations between Anderson and the development authority, as well as the replacement of two key Kewalo Pointe supporters on the board, agency directors voted 7-2 to reject the project in December 1999.
The board said Anderson underestimated construction costs and inflated revenue projections.
Anderson at the time argued that his project was supported by consultant feasibility studies, and said that if financial lenders were willing to back the project the state shouldn't have rejected it.
Anderson, a former state senator and Republican Party leader, said the plan was rejected as political payback by Cayetano, a Democrat with four officials in his administration on the agency board. Anderson later switched parties and ran for governor as a Democrat in 2002.
Cayetano yesterday said that Anderson's allegations are not worthy of a response.
Five years ago, then-agency executive director Jan Yokota defended the board's decision as one that independently assessed Anderson's market study and agency staff recommendations.
Yesterday Anderson reaffirmed his belief that the rejection was "pure down-and-dirty politics. It was a political decision, and I can live with that."
Anderson, who five years ago vowed not to invest another dollar in Hawai'i under the previous administration, said Lingle's Republican administration gives him more confidence his second attempt will receive fairer review.
Anderson's son Brian Anderson, a Big Island-based real estate developer, also is working on the Kewalo project.
Andy Anderson is the company's managing member. Others on the team include Architects Hawai'i principal Joe Farrell and real-estate consultants Brad Lofgren with CB Richard Ellis in Los Angeles and Yoshi Takagi of Cosmos Australia Pty. Ltd.
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