a story from the voyage to Rapa Nui
by Sam Low
Makanani Attwood is one of Hokulea’s kupuna. He has voyaged aboard her – or on the escort vessel (it makes no difference to him how he serves the mission) – always providing his gift of support. Everywhere he goes, he brings gifts’s that he fashions by hand.
A few hours before our departure from Mangareva, I am riding in the back of our host Bruno Schmitt’s Land Rover with Makanani Attwood, a crew member of the first leg from Hawai’i to Nukuhiva who has continued on as a crew member of the escort boat. We carry a two foot by three foot sandstone slab, with strange symbols etched into its surface. Makanani is an elfin man in his forties, with a pointed beard and a gleam in his eyes, which seem to explode with mirth when he speaks, which he does now in non-stop commentary on the meaning of life, the voyage to Rapa Nui, his ancestors, and the significance of the slab we are conveying to a garden in front of Bruno’s house.
“This is a traditional way of recording of a historic event,” Maka explains. “It’s a petroglyph which I carved to give to Bruno in return to his hospitality in Mangareva. It’s a mo’olelo, a story, which could easily be oral, in an oli or chant, but in this case, it’s carved in stone.”
As the truck bumps along Rikitea’s main road past the gendarmerie and the post office, Maka runs his finger over the design he has etched into the stone. “Here is a representation of Hokule’a , and this is Kama Hele . Here is a mano, a shark, which represents one of our ancestral guardian spirits, an ‘aumakua. I chose the mano because it is an ‘aumakua that is common to many of the families of crew members sailing on the two vessels. The mano was chosen for another reason: when Hokule’a passed through the reef surrounding Mangareva, a number of crew members saw a shark swim directly in front of the canoe…Timmy Gilliom saw it clearly. The shark seemed to be guiding us through the reef and as soon as we got through safely, it disappeared.”
The Land Rover now bumps over the final dirt road leading to Bruno’s house. We pass by the technical school created by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and arrive at Bruno’s bungalow which is set on an ample lot bordering the ocean . We unload the petroglyph, and the three of us struggle to lug it to its space in Bruno’s garden. With Bruno and his wife present, Maka continues his explanation of its significance: “I also carved a mo’o, a lizard, which is a land ‘aumakua. The mo’o lives in freshwater streams on land, so now we have here both a land and an ocean ‘aumakua, a lizard and a shark which represent the fact that all life depends on the land and ocean, which is a typical way that all island people think.”
Now maka points to a checkerboard of depressions, sixty-four of them. “This is a konane board. Konane is an ancient game of kings, which is equivalent to chess. Konane is symbolic of wisdom; it makes me thinks of the need for our leaders to plan carefully to care for our land and our ocean, to malama our natural resources. One goal of our voyage to Rapa Nui to encourage all of us to respect our natural world, the sea we sail over, the islands that we sail to.”
For a time we all sit quietly, admiring the petroglyph and the garden, and listening to the chickens in a nearby henhouse and Bruno’s sheep bleating in a pasture a short distance away. Maka, a man who is usually in constant motion, seems serene. The petroglyph is the last of many gifts he has presented to our Mangarevan hosts. Since his arrival on the island, he has carved about three dozen nose flutes which he has given away to children all over Rikitea. He also made a konane board for Bianca and Benoir, a couple who hosted a reception for the crew. From the crooked branches of trees he made and gave away a lomi stick–a traditional implement to massage the body.
“I don’t have money for tee-shirts to give away, so I make things on every island we visit. These gifts are what we call makana, an exchange from one seafaring family to another, meant to memorialize and enhance our cultural integrity. They are given in simple appreciation for the hospitality we have received. They are a part of our ancestral protocol of meeting and greeting one another as a family of seafaring people. Our voyages are also what we from Hawai’i offer as our gift to the islands we visit. Voyaging is about the spirit of exploration and the renewal of our culture. The people we meet say we have not forgotten our Polynesian heritage; they say onipa’a stand fast.”
I recall these words now as I sit quietly in Bruno’s garden, sharing a moment that transcends time. Maka’s petroglyph memorialize both the heritage from our past and the hope for our future as island people united by an ocean we all share and a common urge to sail upon it. In about an hour, we will rejoin as a crew, offer a prayer for the success of our voyage and go aboard the vessels and head out to find Rapa Nui .