Human Journey

It’s About Time: Lesson From a Micronesian Navigator-Priest

A descendant of Hawaiian chiefs, English seafarers, and Chinese merchants, Elizabeth Lindsey was raised by native Hawaiian elders who prophesied her role as a steward of ancestral wisdom. Lindsey’s expeditions now take her to some of the most remote regions of the world.


Today as I was dashing through the usual busy-ness of life, I reflected on a lesson I learned while on an expedition in Satawal.

I’m with a six-man film crew on a remote island in Micronesia. The island is one mile long by a half-mile wide, about the size of an average American shopping complex. Satawal has a lush innocence about it. Here, there’s limited contact with the outside world, no running water, no power.

When the crew and I land, we discover a bit of a problem–there’s also no way to transport our 5,000 lbs. of provisions including medical supplies, food, water, and film equipment! The only thing with wheels is an old, rusty cart.

So I do my best clumsily maneuvering the wheelbarrow, now laden with film gear, along a narrow, dirt path. The guys have gone ahead–they’re hauling equipment by hand. We race toward the island’s south shore determined to photograph the severely eroded coastline before the sun fades. We may not get there in time. Exhausted, I’m stubborn and unwillingly to be the weak link on our team.

Aromai, the Micronesian palu whose words have stuck with an explorer for years. (Photo by Nick Kato/PIKO Productions)

In the next moment I look up to see an island palu, or navigator-priest, walking toward me. His stride is slow and deliberate like that of an elder statesman. By comparison, I’m anxious and unsteady.

What happens next stops me in my tracks.

It still does…

“Dr. Lindsey,” he asks, “why you go so fast?”

I explain that the crew is waiting for me. (I’m never comfortable keeping anyone waiting, including my dog.)

There’s a loooooooooong pause.


Finally, he shakes his head, looks me straight in the eye and says, “You folks have watches, but you no have time.”


I’ve never forgotten his lesson.

Whenever I’m rushing through airports,

rushing through email,

rushing through commitments, much like today,

I pause to think about that Micronesian palu.

His words still thunder.


NEXT: More Blog Posts From Elizabeth Lindsey

ייתכן שרוח הקודש להדריךאותךלשלום.
“May the ‘Holy Wind’ guide you to peace.”
The first Polynesian Explorer and female Fellow in the history of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey is an internationally recognized expert in the emergent field of cultural intelligence – a dynamic, holistic system of knowledge and wisdom based on indigenous science. Elizabeth’s keen insights and first-hand accounts from around the world have made her keynote addresses an inspiring call to action. A sought after speaker in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, her audiences have included: Oxford University, Harvard University, Stanford University, TED, YPO/WPO, the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian. Dr. Lindsey is an advisor to world leaders and global institutions serving on such boards as the Tibet Fund for his Holiness the Dali Lama and the United Nations Ambassadors’ Islands First. In 2010 she received the Visionary Award from the United Nations for her contributions in intercultural engagement and understanding. She’s preparing to sail on the voyaging canoe “Hine Moana” from Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands. And will be reporting from the ocean.
  • Commenter

    Well Dr. Lindsey, I’m sure he’s a very nice fellow but he doesn’t really have the same responsibilities as you do. I’m sure if he was a National Geographic fellow , he’d think differently

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