Aloha e nā hoa makamaka. Last month, the narrative ended at our arrival to Nīhoa. Friends, let’s continue from there. The lines of one of Pele’s migration chants come to my mind for this article, “ʻO Nīhoa ka ʻāina a mākou i pae mua aku ai – Nīhoa is the shore that we first landed upon.”
Nīhoa is an imposing presence with sheer pali, cliffs, that are rugged and uninviting. The side that has bays and green sloping hills looks inviting from afar, until you are inside the washing machine-like water, which constantly tries to push you into its embracing jagged rocks or twist your anchor line in the unseen boulders below the ocean’s surface.
Thousands upon thousands of birds flew past or hovered above on the crazy updrafts. Curious sharks and monk seals swam around the vessels trying to figure out who we were and why we were invading their space. The Kupuʻeu members quickly ascended onto the shore to conduct their first reintroduction of leo Hawaiʻi and kānaka presence to Nīhoa.
Shortly after, they returned to the Hōkūleʻa before the sun set below the western horizon. We spent the night at Nīhoa and left the next morning before the sun rose over the horizon. Our vessels set out, going back in time sailing towards Mokumanamana to reclaim our history.
Reflecting back now, akua forms were everywhere. Cloud formations escorted us all along our way reminding us that we were reconvening with our ancestral memories. The further away from Nīhoa we got, the wilder and more intense the environment became truly testing everyone’s personal limits.
We arrived to Mokumanamana two days later on the summer solstice. The bird sounds were deafening. The marine life was huge and indifferent to our presence. There’s a simple code on akua lands: decide if you are friend, foe, or edible. You learn right away that humans are not the apex predators there.
Where Nīhoa had imposing tall cliffs, Mokumanamana’s sites taunt you to make a mistake. The entire moku, island, is old and fragile comprised of remnant hills where the footing is almost never solid. Low bushes, sprawling succulents and grasses are its only vegetation. Every sense of your being is overwhelmed.
However, that night, under the light of the akua moon with moving shadows of birds flying over us, we conducted our ceremonies flawlessly. The birds contributed as if they had also been training for the rituals. Standing alongside or hovering over us, they added their voices to ours as if they were reacquainting themselves to their own ancestral memories when kānaka and poʻe manu together presided over ceremonies on that ancient moku.
The ceremony secured our relationship to the moku akua extending the size of our pae ʻāina o Hawaiʻi. Our collective consciousness merged our genealogies once again to the moku akua as we reclaimed the northwest islands back to modern Hawaiians to continue having active relationships in our collective evolution, which brought me back to the meeting I was sitting in with the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group.
Our cultural working group actively participates in permit reviews and policy making. We also contibute towards new knowledge of Papahānaumokuākea through research and by providing new Hawaiian names to rediscovered organisms and geological features.
It’s a challenging and humbling group but we are at the table, participating in the discussions with others who also love Papahānaumokuākea. I suppose some day I’ll share in detail about the ensuing research we conducted in the following years. But until then, I wish you all profound reflections. Aloha.