2007 – Voyage to Satawal
By Sam Low
A generation or so ago two Bertelmann brothers married two Lindsey sisters and the trajectory of history in the Big Island town of Waimea shifted slightly. Glenn Bertelmann and Delsa Lindsey had seven children and Clay Bertelmann and Deedee Lindsey produced five – a tight family with deep roots in a much larger `ohana that thrived beneath the gentle catenary arc of Mauna Kea. In Clay and Deedee’s family, Pomaikalani was the first-born – on March 7, 1973, in Honoka`a. At the time, her father was a well known Parker Ranch cowboy, so it’s not surprising that young Pomai grew to love horses – in fact, animals of all kinds.
“I was basically raised on my family’s ranch and riding was a passion since I can remember,” Pomai says. “I also worked as a kid on Hale Kea ranch in Waimea, fixing fences, raking the arenas, exercising horses and taking care of the livestock.”
Waimea was less dressy in those days, an informal rural town where children could safely ride horses along the main street and in the surrounding empty pastures. They rode to the Dairy Queen drive-up window to order hamburgers, they staged informal barrel and baton races and played “musical chairs” in the vast empty prairie just outside town.
“A sense of community was second nature among us,” Pomai says, “there were kids from all the families – the Keakealani family, also Rebozos, De Silvas, Kimuras, Lindseys – a lot of Lindseys – Kainoas, Colemans, Kanihos, Kaauas, Bergins, Awaas, Purdeys and the Fergerstrom family – to name a few. All of us were kaukalio (riding horses).”
One of the biggest events in Waimea was the fourth of July rodeo organized by the Parker Ranch Roundup Club where cowboys from the ranch’s numerous divisions competed in various events – cutting, roping, racing.
“The cowboy life style was not exclusive of women, not at all. There were a lot of awesome women riders too. Lorraine Urbic sat a horse like no one else, and she won a lot of races. Then, just to name a few, there was Hoppy Whitehead, Val Hanohano, and Peewee Lindsey – all of them very strong people – great role models for us.”
But life in Waimea embraced more than the land-based culture of the Paniolo.
“One of my fondest memories,” Pomai explains, “was loading up the family Bronco with my mom and dad and the five of us kids and then picking up all my cousins and food and camping gear and heading for the beach. We went to a place called Wailea at Puako. There was no one there in those days. We had the place all to ourselves. Right next to where we used to camp there’s a telephone pole with the number “69” printed on it. Since then, things have changed. Malahini now call Wailea “number sixty-nine”. When you lose the real Hawaiian name, you lose a lot.”
At Wailea and other places, Pomai learned to dive with her father and she enjoyed fishing but never really grew fond of other water sports. As a youngster it was always the life kaukalio and with animals that attracted her most. But in 1975, her Uncle Shorty sailed aboard Hokule`a on her maiden voyage to Tahiti.
“We supported him as a family, and whenever the canoe came to the Big Island we helped care for her and her crew.”
During the series of voyages between 1985 and 1987, Pomai’s father Clay sailed often aboard Hokule`a.
“He was away at sea for maybe six months during those two years, and I began to wonder a little about the kind of life he was leading.”
Gradually, Pomai’s family was becoming more and more entwined with the sea. From 1989 to 1991 the Bertelmann family helped search the forests surrounding Mauna Kea for koa logs to build Hawai`iloa. They cooked and packed food for the searchers, walked side by side with them during long weekend treks – took a key role in the entire process. Ultimately, so devastated were Hawai`i’s forests, that no logs were found and the canoe was built instead of Alaskan spruce. But from this effort, Mauloa was born – the first traditionally made Hawaiian six man coastal canoe fashioned within perhaps centuries.
“We did find Koa logs big enough for a smaller canoe,” Pomai explains. “We went to Keahou to fell the trees and we lived there over a long weekend in tents.”
The canoe builders used adzes that they fashioned from stone gathered at the ancient Keanakakao`i adze quarry on Mauna Kea under the watchful eye of Mau Piailug. From 1991 to 1993, Pomai’s father Clay spent every weekend at Pu`uhonua O Honaunau working on the canoe.
“In traditional times women were not allowed to work on canoes so we supported the men,” Pomai explains. “Mauloa was built by the Na kalai wa`a – the canoe builders – from Koa and Breadfruit sap and sennit and Lauhala, her hulls were smoothed by stones and she was given a sheen with Kukui oil.
In 1992, Pomai went with her father to O`ahu to help him prepare for Hokule`a’s voyage to the Cook Islands. There she met a group of young people who were beginning to assume leadership roles – Moana Doi, Keahi Omai, Ka`au McKenney and Chad Paishon, who she would eventually marry.
“I began to think seriously about my life in 1992,” she remembers, “and as I learned more about the values involved in voyaging, I thought I wanted them in my own life. Voyaging gave me a sense of family – which was familiar since I had grown up in a strong supportive family – and it gave me a connection to my cultural roots. And when Mau Piailug began to stay with us I met a man who had done so much for our people – how could I not be excited?”
Next came Makali`i – the Big Island canoe built by a passionate community effort spearheaded by Clay, Shorty and Tiger Espere. Beginning work in January 1994, the canoe was finished the following December. In September, Pomai became – as she puts it – “a one woman administrative staff,” for Na Kalai Wa`a Moku O Hawai`i – The Canoe Builders of Hawai`i. She was hooked.
In 1995, Pomai sailed aboard Makali`i from Tahiti, through the Marquesas, and back to Hawai`i. “Then in 1997, Mau asked us to take him home to Satawal on Makali`i and, of course, there was no question about it.” In February of 1999, Makali`i raised anchor and set out on the voyage called E Mau – “Sailing the Master Home.”
“We sailed to many islands in Micronesia to honor Mau among his own people,” says Pomai. “On Satawal I saw Mau as a complete man for the first time – not just as a navigator – but also as a father, a husband, a fisherman, a farmer – you should see his taro patch. I have never seen him so happy.”
Soon after Makali`i returned from Micronesia, Pomai was once again deeply immersed in organizing the details of caring for the canoe and organizing it’s many educational voyages. Through the intimate grapevine of Hawaiian sailors, she learned of Hokule`a’s upcoming voyage to Rapa Nui. “I also heard that it might be Nainoa’s last voyage as a navigator,” she remembers, “and I was heart broken. I always wanted to sail with him. I thought I might never get the chance.” A short time later, Nainoa called and invited her to come aboard Hokule`a for the fifth leg – the voyage home.
“This is such an honor for me,” Pomai says, “to have a chance to not only learn from Nainoa but from the greatest sailors of the last quarter century of traditional voyaging – from Uncle Snake and Uncle Mike and Uncle Tava. I’m now sailing with the guys who started the renewal of our ancient voyaging arts and contributed to the beginning of the revival of our Hawaiian culture.”