[A quick disclaimer: The source here and throughout my blog for recounting of events and discussions is my own memory. While I’ve done my best to fact-check as much as possible, some details may be inaccurate. Additionally, the conversations to which I was privy were the temporary opinions of a few select individuals involved and are not intended to be representative of the opinions of the majority of the project’s players. Finally, I must point out that I was involved in this long-term project for only a few days, and as a visitor. It has been going on for at least 3 years.]
That night over drinks and curry with a few people involved in the documentary I was privy to some inside information and opinions about the project. It seemed that the party in charge was not entirely forthcoming and that despite good intentions, their methods were not entirely honorable.
I had originally been informed that the purpose of the film was to document the cultural renaissance of the Polynesian people with regard to their ancient sailing traditions. The six boats were crafted primarily by hand following the traditional building methods, the navigation was to be done primarily by the stars, and the crews, with the exception of the highly-experienced skippers, would be made up of members of six different Polynesian nations: New Zealand, Vanuatu, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti. Once the crews had been trained, tested and selected, each ship was to sail out from their home harbor to meet up in Kiribati. From there the six ships would embark on an epic voyage sailing north across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, where they would be greeted by a traditional celebration in their honor. They would then return home together, repeating the fabled drifting voyage of their original ancestors.
The film was to feature a Polynesian navigator, like Mau Piailug. Mau, recently deceased, was a master and teacher of traditional wayfinding methods for open-ocean sailing which rely on nature’s navigational clues such as the stars, winds, swells, and birds.
Sounds amazing, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. Until I heard some of the inside scoop. I was told the production was hiring Rawiri Paratene to star as the lead in a pseudo-documentary film about six Polynesian ships from six Polynesian nations with six different Polynesian crews sailing together to Hawaii to protest navy sonar use.
Now, I’m all for a good protest against the use of sonar frequencies in the ocean that confuse the hell out of whales and other marine mammals creating panic, dramatically alter their behavior patterns resulting in internal bleeding from their brains and ears, and lead them to beach themselves, ultimately ending in the death of record numbers of one of the most beautiful sentient species on this earth. However, I was NOT thrilled about the idea of training various groups of indigenous people to embark on a cultural reawakening without informing them of your principal goal. As I saw it that evening, these crews were being used and exploited for a political protestation.
Sure, they were getting the experience of a lifetime and sure, the project was helping to raise awareness of the cultural ancestry, origins and traditions of the indigenous populations of Polynesia. But they didn’t know that they were being used for a political statement. And they sure as hell didn’t know that the Hawaiian government was aware of this protest and was looking to block the convoy from entering its coastal waters. These people were facing potential detainment and arrest in a foreign country and were none the wiser.
That said neither I nor anyone else involved could yet comprehend the far-reaching effects of the project.
Fast forward to now: The initial struggles, frustrations, obstacles and complications of the project were eventually ironed out and the mission was transformed. People from around the world put their egos and cultural differences aside to collaborate on an extraordinary project that brought seven different Polynesian nations, and more, together to embark on an unprecedented educational and cultural reawakening. Their efforts centered on a remarkable voyage around our largest ocean, all in an attempt to raise awareness of how our lives have been, and remain today, tied to the sea and its health.
In April 2011, seven crews sailed from Aotearoa to Hawaii, then on to the west coast of the United States and down to Mexico. They are currently in Galapagos for their final stop before returning home. Along the way, they have taken part in various traditional ceremonies as well as the Kava Bowl Ocean Summit, and their experiences and interactions with one another and the sea have been documented on film, to be released as a feature documentary in 2013, “Our Blue Canoe.” [Edit: this film is no longer available, but a new film will take its place in Autumn 2017: The Starchasers]
The stories that follow are a personal recounting of the adventures I had over just a few days with this project. I am tremendously grateful for my experiences and am proud to have met even a handful of the people involved.
To be continued…