Old Men of Tautira
at the Mayor's Office
could imagine a meeting like this occurring in a thatch-roofed canoe
house hundreds of years ago with the visitors' double-hull voyaging
canoe drawn up on the beach outside next to those of their hosts. In
this case, the meeting is in the white washed conference room of
Tautira's mayor -- Sane Matehau -- and the date is January 27th, the
year 2000. But the feeling is ancient -- timeless -- a sharing of
stories by friends from distant islands, a bonding together of a
wide-spread `ohana. Outside the conference room the setting sun colors
the clouds that gather over nearby mountain peaks and a cool wind washes
ashore over the reef. Insde, seated in a circle, are all the crew
members of Hokule`a and her escort Kamahele (Alex and Elisa are missing,
visiting their family in Mo'orea) and representatives of Tautira's
community including Kahu from the Protestant, Catholic and Mormon
churches. Sane has called the gathering together to celebrate the 25
year old union of Tautira's people with the people of Hawai`i.
first to speak was Tutaha Salmon, a native of Tautira and governor of a
large district including Tautira and 3 other towns. "It is an honor
whenever Hokule`a sails to Tahiti she lands here in Tautira,"
Tutaha tells us. "How many times have you come? I cannot count
them. But what's important is that you are now our family -- our
brothers and sisters."
a protocol that is ancient, Tutaha then spoke of his elders -- those who
began the enfolding story of Hokule`a's relationship with Tautira. It
began with "the old men", he explains, a team of villagers who
literally paddled their way into the history books not only in Polynesia
but throughout the world.
dream of cultural exchange was born twenty-five years ago," Tutaha
explains. "In those days the man I remember first is Puaniho, he
has now passed on but he led us and showed us the way. He was a quiet
man, but powerful. Then there was Mate Hoatua the steersman on the canoe
from Haleolono to Waikiki. He never changed. He steered the whole way.
You also have Henere tevae Nanua Vahirua who paddled the canoe. In those
days we called them "the old men" because their minimum age
was 50 years. This is our time to remember them, "Tutaha says,
"and to tie that rope tight to the mast."
old men" were the six man canoe team of Tautira's Maire Nui canoe
club who first traveled in 1975 to Hawai`i to compete in the Moloka`i
protocol, Pinky Thompson next rose to speak in response to Tutaha's
want you to know that we feel at home," Pinky says, addressing
Tutaha and Tautira's elders, "ever since you took a strange looking
Hawaiian youth into your homes 25 years ago, my son Nainoa. You
recognized immediately that he was a stranger in a land that was strange
to him and you malama-ed [took care of] him."
first came to Tautira as a member of Hokule`a's crew, a story told
elsewheee on this PVS internet site. He recognized immediately that the
"old men" of Maire nui paddled differently then any team in
Hawai`i. "There were so smooth," Nainoa recalls, "their
movements were fluid, no lost energy and tehir canoe seemed to leap
forward -- faster than anything I had every experienced. He wanted to
learn from them. In '77 he got the chance. In that year's Moloka`i race,
Maire Nui won the Koa division easily. During that race Nainoa's team
from Hui Nalu lined up next to "the old men." "They were
twice our age," Nainoa recalled, "and we were a pretty strong
crew but they left us in their wake, paddling easily." In that same
year Nainoa traveled to Marina del Rey to serve on a motor boat
escorting Maire Nui in the Race to Newport Beach, California. "They
finished the race, took a shower, and were drinking a beer before the
second place canoe arrived, Nainoa recalls. They beat them by an hour
and 4 minutes."
1978, Nainoa invited Maire Nui to stay in Niu Valley when they came to
Hawai`i for the next Moloka`i race and again in 1979 when they won for
the third consecutive time in the Koa division and retired the famous
cup from the shelves at the Outrigger canoe club to an exhibit case at
Sane Matehau's home in Tautira. Over the years the visits by the Maire
Nui club to Hawai`i and by the Hawaiians to Tahiti became part of a
larger but informal cultural exchange program. Puaniho built a Koa canoe
for Hui Nalu and later another famous Tautira canoe builder flew to Kona
to build six Koa canoes -- helping to inspire a renewal of interest in
traditional canoe building that thrives today.
the years Nainoa, Bruce, Pinky and their Hui Nalu colleagues studied the
Tahitian way of paddling and became champions themselves for a time.
remembered those moments in his presentation at the Mayor's office:
"You helped us to become champion paddlers in Hawai`i, but you did
much more that that. Over the last 25 years you have helped us to return
pride to our Polynesian people by restoring our native craft of canoe
building and paddling."
Nainoa added to his father's words: "The old men" taught us
what it means to be champs. It's not about outside appearance, it's
about what happens inside of us. They didn't talk much because they knew
that the mana comes from within. They did not think of themselves
representing just a club -- they represented all their people.