When Hokulea leaves Tahiti for home in May on the last leg of her voyage around the world, she’ll be joined by a Tahitian canoe, and guiding that canoe will be Tahiti’s first navigator in more than two centuries.
About 41 years ago, 15,000 Tahitians blanketed the shores of Tahiti for Hokulea’s first arrival. Tahiti too, had not had a voyaging canoe for hundreds of years.
Today, Tahitians have a voyaging canoe, Faafaite.
They know how to sail, but they haven’t had a navigator, not for more than 200 years since Tupaia guided Captain Cook and Puhoro guided the Spanish, but now two men are about to change that.
“All over the Pacific we have navigators in Hawaii, New Zealand, Cook Islands but never never in Tahiti and that’s the first step for us to have now Tahitian navigators,” said navigator-in-training Jean-Claude Teriierooiterai, also known as the president of Faafaite Te Ao Maohi.
“I feel excited, but a lot of pressure as well because we have so much to learn, in such a few amount of time, but I feel honored at the same time,” said Matahi Tutavae, captain of the Faafaite.
As Hokule’a voyages home, Teriierooiterai and Tutavae will navigate Faafaite to Hawaii as well, a first for their canoe.
They spent the last week in Hawaii, training, studying the heavens with Hokulea navigator Nainoa Thompson.
“We have stars in Tahiti like north star, we have not that star in Tahiti,” said Teriierooiterai
“To get ready and more confident in ourselves because we’ll be sailing with a Hawaiian navigator coming up to Hawaii and sailing back and that is Nainoa’s wish that we sail back without any help from Hawaiians and do it ourselves,” said Tutavae.
“There’s a very deep committed obligation by us who are students of mau and students of Will Kyselka, that our job, fundamentally our job is to teach,” said Thompson.
But, it goes deeper than that.
“They’re not navigating just for themselves they’re navigating for the whole pride and dignity of a whole race of people,” said Thompson.
And can reach farther than that.
“The most powerful way and the most powerful experiences through the eye of the navigator is to pay attention to nature,” he added. “The navigators help us understand because they’re watching it all the time. And so the connections of this voyage of Faafaite is way bigger than a single voyage it’s about the future of our children.”
And it’s about gratitude.
“We owe everything to Kahiki Nui and to Tahiti and to the kindness and heart and the grace and the aloha that the Tahitians have shown us for 41 years and so this moment for me is personal because it’s a chance for me to give back.”