Tahiti – Hawaii 2000
By Sam Low
When Kahualaulani Mick was only four years old, in 1975, his mother took him to see Aunty Emma DeFries, a descendant of Kamehameha I and Queen Emma who was Kahu of a well known educational halau specializing in teaching Hawaiian culture.
“It didn’t matter to her or not if you had Hawaiian blood,” Kahulaulani says, “she would look into the soul of each prospective student to see if they were open to her teaching. Even though I am not Hawaiian – she took me into her halau and now, looking back on it, that was a turning point in my life.”
For five years, every Saturday, Kahualaulani met with Aunty Emma and her other students in an apartment at Queen Emma’s summer palace where she was a custodian.
“She took us all over the islands and she taught us a lot about Hawaiian culture and history. Although she passed away in 1980 I still talk to her. My decisions in life are still based on her teachings. “Among Aunty Emma’s gifts was Kahualaulani’s name which she translated as “fruitful branch of Heaven.”
After graduating from Kalaheo High School in Kailua in 1989, Kahualaulani went to Colorado State College in Fort Collins to study Animal Sciences. He lasted a year. “It was too damn cold and the surf was terrible,” he jokes about it now, but mainly like so many young Hawaiians who travel “away” to school – he missed the islands.
“They put me in a dorm with three other Hawaiians and all we did was talk about home. When people found out we were from Hawaii they always asked us ‘why are you here?’ After a while I asked the same questions and, when the first year was over, I came home.”
The next year he enrolled in the Hawaiian Studies program at the University of Hawaii to “make up for lost time. Being away led me to really appreciate being Hawaiian,” he explains, “and I think my decision goes back to the influence of Aunty Emma.”
In 1990, Kahualaulani first joined the Protect Kaho’olawe `Ohana and since 1992 he has attended every one of the annual Makahiki celebrations there. “Aunty Emma was one of the advisors to Emmet Aluli and George Helm in the early days,” Kahualaulani remembers, “and I think she knew I would one day become a member of the `ohana. She had Ike Papalua – foreknowledge. It’s hard to explain but even though so many years have passed I feel like she’s right here. The day she passed away, a night heron came and perched on a wall at our house in Kailua and so the heron has become a kind of family aumakua. I always associate Aunty Emma with that beautiful bird.”
Kahualaulani took the first navigation course taught by Chad and Nainoa and made his first voyage on Hokule’a in October of 1994 on an interisland trip to Moloka`i. In 1995, when Hokule`a went into dry dock, Kahualaulani showed up to help. Later Dennis Kawaharada asked him to be a teacher in PVS’ ho`olokahi program.
“That was a really different experience,” he recalls, “I was really green. I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t know enough,’ but somehow I did – and being a teacher taught me a lot.”
For three months that year Kahualaulani virtually lived on the porch of the school at Honaunau on the Big Island – teaching in classrooms some of the time and on the decks of the voyaging canoe E`ala the rest. During 1997, he voyaged aboard Hokule`a for five months during her statewide sail.
“We made connections with so many people. I could see it in their eyes when they came aboard. They all felt the same thing as I did when I first stepped on Hokule`a’s deck, a sense of awe – pure and simple – a sense of beauty.”
In addition to voyaging aboard Hokule`a, Kahualaulani has spent a great deal of time sailing with Makali`i and her `ohana. “I really like being on Makali`i too,” he says. “She’s a different canoe and I learn a lot being aboard – and the Makali`i family is wonderfully supportive. I’m honored to think I may be a part of it.”
“I remember the first day of the navigation class at U.H.,” he says looking back to the beginning of his experience with voyaging. “Nainoa came in and told us that navigation was not about sailing – it was about life – about having a vision of where you wanted to go and making good decisions. I knew then that studying navigation and sailing would change my life, and it has.”
Now, facing his first long voyage aboard Hokule`a as apprentice navigator, Kahualaulani admits to being “somewhat scared. But I’m going anyway. I’ve studied for this trip for five years. I’ve been teaching navigation and now this is my chance for validation – to actually do it, not just talk about it.”
Of the five separate legs of the “voyage to Rapa Nui” he feels extremely honored to be on this one. “There are three reasons why I wanted to be on this leg. First- it’s an ancient voyaging route; second – it’s the trip that all my mentors made when they were just starting out – guys like Nainoa and Snake; and finally, we will be going home to Hawai`i.”