The Canoe Is An Island, And The Island Is A Canoe

There’s something about Hawaii that is mesmerizing. Different. Something in the air. I am sitting in my hotel room in Honolulu and listening to the dull moan of traffic. Lanai door open to the city. Open to the whispers of the island. It’s busy, yes. But not the same busy as any standard city on the mainland.

The air outside my balcony smells of ramen and sea salt. It’s humid, but temperate. And blissful. Such a melting pot of culture, food, people and heritage.

The heritage. It’s something you cannot fail to notice here. That is, if you take the time to step outside the tourist hustle and bustle and interact with the locals.

As a conservationist working here, I feel the privilege of being exposed the natural heritage of the islands; for nowhere in the world have I experienced this level of ingrained cultural love, sheer respect and symbiotic human relationship with nature.

Consider this ancient Hawaiian concept… a small canoe – a Polynesian double-hull, outrigger canoe. You are sailing upon it, using only the stars as your guide – as the ancient Polynesians did.

Your world is that canoe. Every resource upon it, scarce and precious. It is your job to sustain it. To sustain the resources, water, people. To use every available item in a responsible manner. Because to do this, is to protect the people aboard and your own survival.

Hawaiian heritage can be considered a melting pot of sorts. But indigenous, native Hawaiian heritage, is strictly Polynesian. Sailing, “Voyaging” and the natural world are integral parts of that natural heritage.

The Hawaiians have a saying, “He wa’a he moku, he moku he wa’a,” which translates as “the canoe is an island, and the island is a canoe.” Upon first hearing this saying, one might not glean its meaning, but picture once again, yourself sailing upon that canoe.

Every resource you have is a necessity. Every person an asset and contributor. Every item you can take from the sea for survival, a gift. Every rainstorm, a source of life.

And so it is with our Earth; because the Earth is, in a sense, an island. An isolated vessel with limited resources, floating in the ethereal nothing. And it is ours to care for. And there is no other canoe – no other vessel for us to evacuate upon or to appear for our rescue. It’s our canoe to sink, or guide.

It’s ours to recognize for its power in voyaging us toward the greater good, or steering toward a stormy and careless abyss. We can chart our course to protect our Island Earth for generations to come, or . . .

“Malama Honua” is a cherished Hawaiian concept taught to the next generation: Caring for Our Island Earth. There is no greater place to which I feel that connection than here on Hawaii; in its oceans, rainforests, green valleys and even traffic-filled city streets. As a part of the WPS team, I look forward to working with our Hawaiian friends toward Malama Honua.

Consider how you can do the same in your day to day life, even in the smallest way. Choose one thing – recycling, energy reduction, riding your bicycle once a week – one way in which you might make a bit of movement to care for our Island Earth.

With Aloha mai e,