Pacific Voyagers Bring Opportunity to Share New and Ancient Traditions
• Ocean Conservation and the Interconnectedness of All Peoples Are the Focus of Malibu Visit
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Six vaka moanas—traditional South Pacific outriggers—sailed through the fog into Paradise Cove on the afternoon of Aug. 19.
The six boats, crewed by a diverse group of Pacific Islanders as part of Pacific Voyagers project, are on their way around the Pacific, starting in New Zealand, ending in the Solomon Islands, with stops along the way at Hawaii, San Francisco, Monterey, Malibu, San Diego, Baja California and the Galapagos Islands. Their mission is to raise ocean environment awareness and reconnect with Pacific Island maritime cultural heritage.
The voyagers were welcomed to Malibu by two Chumash tomol canoes—the Elye'wun and the Isha Kowoch. The crews were invited to come ashore by Chumash representative Maiti Waiya, who organized the Malibu visit.
The mariners' arrival was celebrated with a prolonged celebration that incorporated Chumash traditions, songs and rituals and brought together Chumash Elders and representatives from throughout Southern California.
The audience for the event included members of the Malibu City Council, a representative for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and many Malibu residents and beach visitors.
Those willing to swim out to the flotilla of canoes anchored offshore were welcomed on board and offered tours of the twin-hulled vessels.
The tomol captains presented the vaka moana captains with ceremonial gifts of blankets, tomol paddles and clapper sticks—percussion instruments that replicate the sound of dolphins, according to Chumash representative Luhui Isha.
All of the voyagers received white sage and abalone shells. Each boat also received provisions donated by local grocery stores and harvested from Malibu gardens.
Tomol Captain Marcus Lopez told the audience a little about the Chumash maritime tradition, and how the Chumash are working to revive the redwood plank and natural asphalt building techniques used to build tomols.
"We are making tomols a living culture," Lopez said. "14 years ago we had only one tomol, now we have six. You honor us [with your visit]. We are one people."
Frank Kawe, from New Zealand—or Aotearoa, the skipper of the Te Matau a Maui spoke for the visitors. "These canoes carry us, in this day and age, to our destination, but they also carry us into the past," Kawe said. "They carry us into the future, to bring the message wherever we go. We are going in the right direction, cherishing the things we have been given."
Kawe's crew presented Waiya with a stone from their homeland. "It is a piece of the land, a Maori tradition," Kawe said. "It carries the essence of the land, pays respect to people who brought history back to us. The canoe proved that this voyaging was possible—a real thing," he said.
The traditional Polynesian art of navigating, using the stars and currents, has been brought back from the brink of extinction in the last 40 years, the voyagers' website states.
The crews of the vakas still depend on astronomy to guide them. The canoes are equipped with sails, and paddles. The only electricity on board is generated by solar panels.
The Pacific Voyagers project was sponsored by German philanthropist Dieter Paulmann, who is the founder of Okeanos Foundation of the Sea.
Paulmann was in Malibu for the ceremony. "We are shaping it slowly," he said. "We are coming back to the wisdom of our ancestors. This journey was not made to see new countries, it is more to see with new eyes. It is unbelievable that these people did it. It gives us hope that we will make it. Everybody has to start looking to the future."
After the ceremony, the crews traveled up the coast to the Wishtoyo Chumash demonstration village, where the festivities concluded with a feast and the visitors reciprocated with a kava ceremony.
In the morning, the ships slipped out of the bay, back into the fog.
"It was like families reuniting," Waiya told the Malibu Surfside News after the event.