Spotlight on Humanity’s United Side

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu has been a friend of the Polynesian Voyaging Society for years. (Photo by Dan Lin)

“We’ve come halfway around the world and still haven’t left home yet,” mused Hōkūle’a captain, Nainoa Thompson, as he reflected on the similarity between South Africa’s welcoming spirit of ubuntu and the aloha that we receive back home in Hawaii.

He said this one morning as we sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town, our destination, was just ahead and Desmond Tutu, a friend of our project and one of our hosts, was awaiting our arrival. The thought that we were nearing the end of the latest leg on the Wordwide Voyage sparked a long nostalgic conversation about the past couple of months in Africa. 

(Photo by Daniel Lin)
South Africa is a long way from Hawaii but the people of these two lands have a remarkably similar welcoming spirit. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

Cape Town Arrival

Arriving in Cape Town marked the culmination of a sail plan that had been a long time in the making. For years leading up to this moment, words like high risk, rogue waves, piracy, Antarctic winds, and shipwrecks were frequently used to describe this particular leg. For the two months that it took to complete this leg, there was never a moment where the captain and crew let their guard down. Even with the best laid plans and plenty of guidance from local sailors, we were still aware of the very likely possibility that the winds and seas could suddenly turn against us. It truly was an epic (and stressful) ordeal.

And yet, when reflecting on the memories of these past two months, one of the first things that came to mind for the crewmembers was not the harrowing journey across the Mozambique Channel and down the “Wild Coast” of South Africa. Rather, it was the incredible warmth and hospitality that we received in every port that we visited.

View from the deck of Hōkūle'a sailing to Cape Town with the majestic Table Mountain in sight. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
From the deck of Hōkūle’a as it sailed to Cape Town, the majestic Table Mountain loomed in sight. (Photo by Dan Lin)
Sam Kapoi blows the pū (conch shell) to signal Hōkūle'a's arrival into Cape Town
Sam Kapoi blew the pū (conch shell) to signal Hōkūle’a’s arrival into Cape Town. (Photo by Dan Lin)

Among the first people that greeted us in Cape Town upon arrival was none other than the radiant Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Having sailed aboard Hōkūle’a when he and his wife, Leah, visited Hawai’i in 2012, it was his invitation for us to visit South Africa that ultimately led to this particular moment, three years later.

It was nothing short of an honor to simply be in his presence, knowing fully well what he has done for his country and the world. But his demeanor towards us was one of familiarity instead of formality. His smile and laughter were infectious, his dance moves were impressive, and above all his mere presence carried a great deal of grace and mana with it.

Archbishop Tutu dancing with young student performers at the arrival ceremony for Hōkūle'a in Cape Town. (Photo by Dan Lin)
At 84 years of age, Archbishop Tutu can still dance, as he did with young student performers at the arrival ceremony for Hōkūle’a in Cape Town. (Photo by Dan Lin)

Ubuntu Found, Aloha Shared

Prior to departing on this sail, I expressed a strong desire to find the linkages between ubuntu and aloha—guiding principles of South African and Hawaiian cultures, respectively. I realize now that we never had to look hard to find this warm and well known spirit. Everywhere we went, we were sure to be greeted by smiles and laughs. From yachties to tourists to police officers, people of all ages and backgrounds treated us like we were old friends rather than complete strangers. We were invited to attend ceremonies, speak at conferences, and eat at countless “braais” (a meatier South African version of an American barbecue).

Students from St. Mary's School react to seeing hula dancers performing. (Photo by Dan Lin)
Students from St. Mary’s School reacted enthusiastically to seeing hula dancers performing. (Photo by Dan Lin)

My favorite memories, however, came when we got a chance to share our voyaging story with youth in both formal and informal settings.

Though it wasn’t always easy to explain the scope and significance of our voyage kids, there was never a shortage of a sense of wonder. It exuded from the youth of South Africa whenever they saw Hōkūle’a or even just learned about Hawaiian culture. In fact, one of the most notable moments happened when we visited St. Mary’s School in a nearby township to present gifts of Tutudesks (portable desks that provide students with a hard surface to write and learn on, a luxury that many schools in South Africa do not have) and engage in cultural exchange. It was remarkable to watch as 700 elementary school students got to experience a small glimpse of Hawaiian culture for the first time, as students from Hawaii performed hula in the middle of the school yard (read more about Ke Kā o Makali’i).

Hawaiian students from Kamehameha Schools and Hālau Kū Māna Charter School performing hula in front of 700 elementary school students at St. Mary's School, near Cape Town. (Photo by Dan Lin)
Hawaiian students from Kamehameha Schools and Hālau Kū Māna Charter School performed hula in front of 700 elementary school students at St. Mary’s School, near Cape Town. (Photo by Dan Lin)

To me, this is the real magic of the Worldwide Voyage. It is so much more than an epic tale of crossing oceans and navigating by stars. It is the realization that the numerous oceans that divide us are actually part of a singular body of water that connects us. Most importantly, this is not just the physical voyage of a vessel sailing across vast distances, but rather the voyage of hearts and minds and cultures coming together to find the most simple, yet profound truth: we are all one big family on this island we call Earth.


Read All Worldwide Voyage Posts

More photos from the voyage: Dan Lin Photography



Meet the Author
A photographer and National Geographic Young Explorer, Dan has spent his career trying to better understand the nexus between people in remote regions of the Asia/Pacific and their rapidly changing environment. Dan is a regular contributor to National Geographic, the Associated Press, and the Guardian. He believes firmly in the power of visual storytelling as a vessel for advocacy and awareness, which helps to better inform policy makers. In 2016, Dan started the Pacific Storytellers Cooperative seeking to empower the next generation of storytellers from the Pacific Islands. Additionally, Dan is a crewmember for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a Fellow of The Explorers Club, and a member of the IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas. He received his Masters Degree from Harvard University