NHC Perspectives: Connecting to Land, Language, and Practice

November 9, 2019
We are one people. I put the stick between Polynesia and Micronesia, and now I want you to walk the stick – Pius Mau Piailug, Grand Master Navigator
Mau was more than a navigator. He was a complete man and in many ways a prophet. He saw into the future – the challenges his people would face – loss of identity, health disparities, climate change, etc. He once said that he came to teach Hawaiians because one day we would need to reciprocate.  
Mau came at a critical time in Hawaiian history – we were lost, our eyes were taken away, and we could no longer navigate our canoes or even our lives! That time came to be known as the Hawaiian Renaissance. And today, this very day, we are once again reawakening and learning to see again. Native Hawaiians are once again picking up the ancestral cord and connecting to the land, language, and practice.
When I met Mau, I was 24 years old, young, full of energy, and eager to learn. At the time, I had no idea that meeting Mau and the voyaging canoe Makalii would be the force that would ignite a fire within me, which continues to burn to this day, twenty plus years later!
Our captain, Clay Bertelmann, was a no nonsense kinda guy. The kind of person who was rough on the outside and so full of knowledge – I just wanted to be near him and do everything I could to make a good impression on him, even though I was scared of him.  From him I learned many things, but one of the main lessons was how to take care of Mau. He taught us by example. I watched as he would constantly dote on Mau, making sure he had water to drink, food to eat, and that he was comfortable and well. Slowly myself and my crew mates started to take on the duties, trying to keep a few steps ahead of our captain.  
Sailing with Mau in 1999 onboard the canoe Makalii on the historic voyage, E Mau : Sailing the Master Home, was a once in a lifetime experience. Being with Mau in his element on his home waters was truly magical. To see his family, his community, the islands- it was like going back in time to an old Hawaii, we had only read about.
Mau gave us more than navigation, he gave us back our eyes. He gave us the ability to see ourselves in the world as a people of immense wisdom and courage, people of pride, and people with a responsibility to self, to family, to community, to land, to ocean – to each other.
“I make one big family” – Pius Mau Piailug

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