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A Maori Quote…

April 24, 2009

He toi whakairo he mana tangata

Where there is artistic excellence there is human dignity

I thought it would be appropriate to begin this blog with a reflection on a Maori quote about learning, respect, pride, recognition, and freedom of expression.  I do not claim to know too much about Maori life, modern or otherwise, but I can imagine the parallels between Hawaii islanders and our fellow Polynesian culture to the south.  For the modern pacific islander, there are many political and socioeconomic issues that are expressed when we speak of the marginalization of island cultures.  Sovereignty, gathering rights, access to the land and sea, education, homelessness, cultural alienation, and, urbanization.   These are some of the themes of cultural survival.  Certainly these ideas are important.  Often, these topics have led us into camps and factions, where divided, we squabble over constructs and ideals that seem to make us smaller and diminish our dignity.   While they solicit passion, they can be incendiary, and divisive as well.  An urgent passionate voice can turn to frustration and fear when faced with poverty, racism, deception, and victimization.   I don’t believe we can forge creativity, respect, and honor from a place of fear.         

Step back from the flames a bit and pause to reflect on the most exemplary and uplifting aspects of Polynesian culture.  We cannot help but be unified by honor and self worth by doing this.  We will become larger, and dignity will be established through love, respect, and aloha.  One example of this has been the rediscovery of the voyaging tradition taught to us by Papa Mau Piailug.  This unpretentious man from the small and remote atoll of Satawal has done so much to restore pride and unity into modern pacific island culture.  I am hard pressed to come up with an example of a single person who has done more to instill pride, and dignity.  Ultimately his teaching reunified the cultures of Oceania and has become part of the lore of the rejuvenation of Polynesian culture.  Through his teachings, one can see how a people have become transformed.  The process of learning the traditional art of wayfinding has been a path to dignity for Polynesians.  In this way, dignity is in the initiation of wisdom.  Pwo, the master navigator ceremony that took place on Satawal for the Hawaiians has taken place again for New Zealander’s as well.  Polynesians are re-inheriting their culture through the teachings of a single man from a small atoll.   The words paradigm shift are often considered cliche, but I believe that through Papa Mau’s teaching of the art of wayfinding, a keystone has been placed back into Polynesian culture that was missing and thought to have been lost.

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