Hokule‘a Crew Welcomed Back Home to Punahou

Camila Chaudron '08

October 28, 2014

“Thank you for being here to welcome us home,” said Nainoa Thompson ’72, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, to a group of Punahou faculty and staff. Over 60 people had gathered to greet three of the Punahou alumni that have returned to O‘ahu after sailing aboard Hokule‘a and Hikianalia, two Polynesian voyaging canoes. Many members of the Punahou community are participating in the Worldwide Voyage, a five-year international endeavor to circumnavigate the globe, initiated by PVS in May 2014.

The Worldwide Voyage’s mission is to spread the value of malama honua (to care for the earth). Punahou School, an early and committed supporter of the Worldwide Voyage, has continued to connect with its mission in a variety of ways, including: sending groups of teachers to Hokule‘a’s ports of call; developing curricular connections to the voyage; and hosting or supporting events related to the Worldwide Voyage.

The event, titled Ku‘u Home, also featured talks by crew members Linda Furuto ’97 and Maui Tauotaha ’97, who spoke of their experiences traveling around the Pacific Ocean aboard the wa‘a (canoes). It was held in Kuaihelani Learning Center, the Hawaiian Studies center on campus, on Oct. 20, 2014.

Ku‘u Home, meaning “our home,” is also a campus-wide theme for the 2014 – 2015 academic year, in which the School aims to reflect upon the community’s connection to home. Thompson’s message underscored the importance of establishing connections within the community, both at the school and throughout Hawai‘i.

“Punahou is a sacred place,” Thompson said, adding that the experiences he had at the School prepared him for “the larger journey of the last 39 years of sailing Hokule‘a.” The most important aspect of the Worldwide Voyage “is not the canoe,” he remarked, “it’s our ability to navigate change in education.”

Tauotaha also touched upon the importance of education and his lasting connection to the School, reminiscing about the times when he would hang out by the Lily Pond or on Barwick Playground. “Punahou is definitely a big home that I come from, and I’m happy to reconnect,” he said.

As a high school student, Tautaha had worked as an assistant in Punahou’s Visual Production Department – previously called ITV, or Instructional TV – which he credits as a “huge influence” in his decision to enter a career in film. He spent seven years working in the film industry in Los Angeles before returning to O‘ahu to work for ‘Oiwi TV, a news station providing exclusive coverage of the Worldwide Voyage.

“Everyone on the wa‘a has their own kuleana (responsibility),” Tauotaha remarked. His is to record the Worldwide Voyage to share the journey with a broader audience. At the Ku‘u Home event, he shared a short video he created of the crew singing Mele o Hikianalia as they approached land after several days at sea, which transported the audience to that triumphant moment.

His classmate, Furuto, who had previously spoken at an aloha ceremony Punahou organized prior to Hokule‘a’s departure in May 2014, addressed two ideas she developed while sailing: First, the importance of servant-leaders, who address the needs of others and for posterity before their own, and second, the wisdom required to be flexible in the face of adversity.

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Left to right: Nainoa Thompson ’72, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, stands with Linda Furuto ’97 and Maui Tauotaha ’97 in Kuaihelani Learning Center after the Ku‘u Home event.

“We cannot change the winds, but we can change the sails,” Furuto said, quoting one of her crew members. She cited an instance when the canoe’s trajectory had been derailed by inclement weather, which was initially perceived as a disappointment. However, the change in plan “was the right thing to do” and created new opportunities for learning and teaching.

She also mentioned an essential recurring question among the crew of the Worldwide Voyage: What am I willing to sail for? The values Furuto identified – courage, compassion, respect – are all values of the month posted on Punahou’s classroom walls. “We remember those values because you taught them to us,” she said to the crowd, among which sat some of her family members and former teachers.

“Punahou has been with us every step of the voyage,” she said. Thompson echoed her sentiments, adding that Hawai‘i’s schools must work together as a “collective hui (group) to prepare all children” to malama honua, because “that’s worth sailing for.”

After the returning PVS crew members had spoken, the event organizers invited a surprise guest speaker to the screen: Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau ’05, a Junior School PE teacher at Punahou who is sailing aboard both Hokule‘a and Hikianalia for the Worldwide Voyage, joined the gathering via virtual hangout from Tonga.

“It’s only been three days, but I’ve learned so much already,” he said during a Q&A session led by his mother, Marion Lyman-Mersereau ’70, an eighth grade social studies teacher and former Hokule‘a crew member. As he stood on the deck of Hikianalia, he told anecdotes from the recent voyage from Pago Pago to Tonga, mentioning that a baby whale had swum alongside both wa‘a – significant because the whale is the aumakua (guardian) of Hokule‘a.

The younger Lyman-Mersereau also spoke of reminders of home, including his teachers and colleagues, such as the late Ka‘au McKenney ‘83, a former Punahou seventh grade social studies teacher who was also a captain and navigator of Hokule‘a. McKenney’s old guitar is stashed aboard Hikianalia and the crew sang a mele in his memory.

The Ku‘u Home event served as yet another point of contact between the expanding School community and Hokule‘a, as faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni continue to build emotional and social connections to the Worldwide Voyage. “So keep doing what you’re doing to malama honua,” Lyman-Mersereau entreated the audience before going offline.

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