The Worldwide Voyage has a powerful aura that is difficult to describe. From children who swim out in the water to touch the hulls and walk on the decks, to adults who stand and stare and weep when they see the red sails pulling into their shores, to the bystander who tilts her head, curiously pondering the significance of these canoes, the voyage means many things to many people. As crew members, we carry the mission closely with us wherever we go. This mission—Mālama Honua, caring for Island Earth—is as grand as the idea of a sail around the world itself.
I’ve always found it fascinating how different people connect to Hõkūle’a in different ways. For me, the canoe has always been a symbol of freedom and hope. It is a vision of what the Earth could be and how life should be: a balance between modern and traditional, between generations and cultures.
This past week, after sailing a windy passage to the UN Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Apia, Samoa, I witnessed just how Hōkūle’a and Hikianalia touch lives beyond the traditional audience of Polynesians. Seeing people like Dr. Sylvia Earle continually come aboard in different parts of the Pacific and then joyfully help to deliver the message of Malama Honua is very humbling. Additionally, getting to sail around Apia Harbor with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and hearing how he is willing to rally to get global leaders to support the conservation of oceans, was another eye-opening reminder that the mission of the Worldwide Voyage has gone beyond the shores of Hawai’i and even the waters of the Pacific.
However, the most profound experience for me in Samoa came when we went to the residence of the Head of State of Samoa, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi. During this gathering, he showered us with traditional gifts of tapa cloth and fine mats, and we all shared the gift of music. In essence, it was a graceful-yet-subtle way of letting us go on our way, as all voyagers should. But before he did, he shared with us some his profound thoughts about the Worldwide Voyage that will stay with me well until after this voyage has ended.
In this message, His Highness connected Mālama Honua to the deeper understanding that we were put on this Earth, not to rule it but take care of it. We humans act as if we are the masters of the Earth, but our actual responsibility is to be the stewards. In all we’ve done to change our planet, we’ve lost our connection with the notion of stewardship. Thus, through the mission of WWV and connecting with communities around the world, we are getting back to the sacred conversation between humanity and our Creator as to the very meaning of our existence. This message, coming from the spiritual leader of Samoa, left a profound impact on us in such a way that, regardless of our beliefs or background, each crew member felt the gravitas of what His Highness Tuiatua was saying.
As we continue our journey to new places and distant shores, I am excited to see how the significance of this voyage will evolve and how these canoes will continue to touch lives along the way. Leaving Samoa, we humbly carry the gifts and the lessons we’ve learned here with us. Personally, I will pay closer attention to the voices of the ocean when we sail (so that I can position myself a little closer to the majesty of nature) and to how I can ultimately be a better steward for this Island Earth.