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Wayfinding and the New Sun: Indigenous Science in the Modern World

Wayfinding and the New Sun: Indigenous Science in the Modern World
by Pamela Colorado
Note: The last few years have seen a re-assessment of the knowledge held by the indigenous peoples of the world, and a desire to understand traditional ways of life and the wisdom they contain. One of the most exciting possibilities to emerge from this revival is a synthesis, a real dialogue between ancient and contemporary modes of knowledge. The following article is one such contribution to that synthesis. It is adapted from a talk between Jane Carroll of Beshara magazine and Pamela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network (WISN).
Pamela Colorado was born an Oneida Indian, meaning “people of reality’ (called by white settlers the”Iroquois”) of the tribe of Ongwehahwe (“the people of the long-standing rocks”), and was brought up on a reservation in Wisconsin. She was one of the first Indian women to attend an American university and completed her doctorate work at Harvard University where she started her attempt to integrate within herself Native and Western systems of knowledge. This led to the founding of WISN, with participation from tribal elders, scientists, artists, and others; its purpose is to forge links between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples throughout the world, revitalizing ancient forms of knowledge. Of special interest are the great migrations of pre-history, and correlating the oral accounts of these events with modern archeological discoveries.
Adapted with permission from Beshara, Issue 13, Summer 1991.

My thoughts concerning indigenous science first came to me while I was completing my doctoral dissertation in 1977. At that time I was having great difficulty communicating with my doctoral committee. I had excellent instruction and a thorough curriculum, but I just could not communicate in the way that was expected. One day I was sitting in my apartment in Cambridge, and it came to me that it was not just that, as Native people, we look at life differently. Even the way we come to knowledge and present that knowledge is totally different from the Western way. The I heard myself say out loud: “It’s almost as if we have a science of our own!” And as soon as I thought it, or heard myself say it, I realized that is what needs to be said, because up until that time it was only the West which “had science”.
Of course, a lot of what is in the Native American worldview, or indigenous worldview, falls beyond what would normally be thought of as science in a Western sense, although there are some things that are directly parallel–for example,the knowledge Native people have about the environment. But because I felt our view is so much broader I thought it a good thing to call it “science”. Some people have called it natural science, others have called it life science, some have called it woman science. But for my own purposes, I go back to sciens/scientia, which meant “to know” in its largest sense Native science is a way of bringing people to a higher knowledge, and one of its goals is to bring us to the Gii Lai–“the still quiet place”. Ind other words, our religion and our spirituality are built into our science. And Native scientists, through their rituals, songs, dance, are working all the time with energies–the energies of the Earth–in very precise ways.
Now in 1977 it seemed quite radical to think that tribal peoples would have anything at all to contribute to Western knowledge. And indeed nothing much happened until several years ago. By that time, the environmental crises had deepened, threats to the survival of tribal peoples had sharpened, and attention to environmental issues like the rainforests had to some extent focused the world’s attention on tribal peoples. Then in 1987 along came the Bruntland report. It is rather weak in its understanding of tribal peoples but at least the commission’s report says, in effect, go and learn from indigenous people, because they are the last reservoirs of knowledge of how to live sustainably with the environment. They did not do anything to ensure this would happen or make any suggestions about how it could come about. But it was from this that the inspiration came for the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network.
The Dark Sun
Had I tried to do this work before now, it would not have happened because in tribal peoples’ view, at least in the Americas, it wasn’t appropriate to talk about certain kinds of knowledge. These things were considered secret; we just didn’t share them, not among tribes and definitely not with the Western world. Oral tradition says there was a very definite decision made, at some point, not to talk, not to share our knowledge. Recently I discovered that one such policy originated in Mexico at Tenochitlan in 1521.
People knew then that we were entering a time they called the Dark Sun, which was predicted for 468 years.During this time consciousness would go through darkness. Prior to the arrival of the Dark Sun, the spiritual and scientific community prepared the people for what was to come. These preparations were four- or five-fold. The first was that the sites of knowledge–the pyramids and petroglyphs sites that dot the Americas–the traditional “universities” would be closed. The knowledge would no longer be recorded, neither written by Aztecs and Mayans, nor enacted in the big centers of ritual like the pyramids. This is why, when the white people came, they found so many of the ancient sites apparently abandoned.
Secondly, the people were told that the ancient teachings would have to be preserved withi family structures, and moved to the personal domain of our own hearts. Thirdly, Native tribes would stop their cycles of international gatherings and, as a result, the knowledge would become scattered to all the directions.
Many people still assume that the Native peoples of the Americas always lived just as the new wave of Europeans in the 1500s-1600s found them. But that is not true. What they found were people who were under attack, and who were implementing the instructions they had been given for survival through the Dark Sun. For instance, at the time of contact, many of the Native communities had become palisaded, stockaded villages, and people weren’t mixing with each other anymore. When they did mix, the contact was often hostile.
Before this, according to our oral history, there had been many, many conacts, not only between the different peoples of North and South America, but also across the Pacific Ocean and across the Atlantic Ocean. There were established trade routes, and ways of exchanging knowledge. The contacts began to be different in the 1500s. For instance I comre from a northeast tribe and my people used to go to Mexico City for what we might today call “conferences”–policy-making sessions–about every six years. These meetings were attended by peoples from all over the Americas, and also by tribes which came across the Pacific Ocean by boat. They stopped after 1521.
So at the time of the Dark Sun, it was said that only two things would stay open. We would keep our languages alive, because so much knowledge of our ancestors is in that,. Secondly, we would keep our spiritual contact with the Great Spirit, and that would saty open always. It was understood that this layering of activity would encode teachings on our consciousness, just as the ancients carved their knowledge into rocks. And like the rocks, the knowledge or consciousness can be entered into, now, only with the correct “key”.
I have a document which records this prophecy, which I found just recently in Mexico City. In it are the words of Cuautemoc, one of the last Aztec chiefs. Cuautemoc had the job of standing in front of the thousands of people and delivering the horrific prophecy of the Dark Sun, telling them this is how they were to live, how they were going to survive for the next 400 years:
Our sun has hidden.
Our sun has disappeared from sight,
And in complete darkness
it has left us.
But we know that it will return again.
That once again it will emerge
and will shed its light on us anew.

But while it is there in the place of Silence
let us quickly reunite,
let us embrace one another.
And in the center of our being let us hide
all that our heart loves
and which we know to be a great treasure.

Such a document exists because it was recorded by a Spanish Catholic priest already present at the gathering. It is written in Spanish and Nahuatl, the Aztec language.
All this is in our oral history. Evidence of this, in addition to the written documents, is the reading of wampum belts. These are beaded belts, several thousand years old, made out of shells. They are mnemonic devices, used to trigger the mind, and they’re memorized; people who read those belts are trained from early on to be able to do it. After I heard about the Dark Sun prophecy in Mexico, I visited one of my chiefs in the north and asked whether it was true, and whether there was the degree of migration and contact which I have described. He said, “Yes, it fits.” I was very happy, because I had validated this in a traditional way.
From All the Directions
It was also said that after the 468 years, according to the Aztec calendar, there would be a new sun–which started in approximately 1987. Other Native peoples have a similar prophecy. They may not have put it in mathematical form, but they’ll tell you in another, maybe symbolic, fashion.
What is prophesied as the end of the Dark Sun is that the condor (that is, the land of the South Americas) and the eagle (the land of the North Americas) will be re-united, and the knowledge of the Earth will re-emerge and the knowledge that we have will become whole. When we say “the Earth’ in our language, we don’t mean just the physical Earth, but rather something you might call “energy”. During the Dark Sun, the knowledge became fragmented. This ancient knowledge will rise again, only this time the key to it is integration, and we have to do it with “all the directions”.
One way of understanding all the directions is that these are the colors of the races of humankind. As the fragments of knowledge start to come out, we will meet people and each will have a certain piece, and as we put them together they will start to become whole again. Many people today don’t realize that the different tribes do not understand each other any more. While I can understand most of the Iroquois people, for example, I cannot understand our neighbors, the Sioux, except for a few words. And yet all of our languages (more than 1000 in North America) contain “universal” words, as well as unique local words. Indians love to hear each other’s language, because it gives us the chance to discover how, by what kinds of words, we are united and how we are different.
The Overview Effect
How might this integration occur? Some while ago I read about an intriguing phenomenon described by space scholar Frank White. In his boo The Overview Effect, he talks about what happened to the astronauts when they went into space. Some of them had what I suppose would be called profound spiritual conversions. White describes the experience of looking down on that which we think of as separated things, and seeing it is all one, “the universal insight”. Then he goes on to talk about “the overview effect”, your simultaneous recognition that you too are a part of what you are seeing. He wonders if we could find some way of creating the possibility for human consciousness to be transformed to this state without blasting everybody into outer space.
Combining this with things I have read from Thomas Berry and other environmentalists, I have come to feel that the biggest problem we face in terms of the Earth, and the whole of humanity, cannot be tackled by technology. We already have the technology to do the job, to heal the Earth–but what matters is the attitudes we carry in our minds and in our hearts. A transformation in worldview needs to occur.
So, how to provide opportunities for large numbers of people to achieve “the overview effect” and “the universal insight”? That is the question if the the Earth is to survive. Again, clues come from Native science.
Between the Worlds
Our oral history, which we would estimate goes back more than 30,000 years, describes four periods in the past when the Earth was created and destroyed. One was destroyed by fire, another by wind, another by ice, and another by water. This information is recorded on teh petroglyphs in the Americas, for example, as well as in story form. The petroglyphs give rise to two interesting questions–when were they made and why were they made?
In each of the four periods or “worlds”, there arose a situation from which humanity had some great lesson to learn–and every time there was a mistake made.Sometimes there were warnings. Sometimes people could see they were making a mistake but were unwilling or unable to rectify the error. And so nature herself made an adjustment. The greatest thing we can accomplish in our science and in our lives is to be in balance with the universe. But each time, in each of these four worlds, people were unable to maintain that balance–they made mistakes which led to the destruction of their world.
I have done some research into these four worlds in association with Hanson Ashley, a Navajo medicine man and a transpersonal psychologist. We wanted to know how we could begin to talk about the concept of worlds to the West, and developed the hypothesis that they could be described as the evolving consciousness of humanity.(When I say “evolving”, it has to be understood more like a “revolving” consciousness, because as Native people we don’t look at things linearly.) We also wanted to be accurate in what we said; we didn’t want to distort knowledge in an effort to communicate across cultures, so Hanson spent time talking to several elders about the nature of the worlds. He now has a detailed history of each of them–and this includes the specific teachings or learnings which were of each world.
The elders agreed that you could, indeed, think about the worlds in terms of human consciousness. But the situation was more complicated than we had thought, for Hanson also found out that the people did not learn the most important lessons within the worlds–but between the world cycles. “Between the worlds” was the time when humanity had to do things to put itself in accord again–in accord with life, or with the natural world, however you want to say it. The four worlds were not the worlds of “man”, but were worlds in which nature herself went through her growth, challenges, transformations and realignments to come into balance.
So if we are interested in discovering how to create a shift in attitude, which is necessary now in order to save the planet, and how to integrate Native thought, we also have to understand what happened between those worlds. What happened that somehow saved the day and permitted humanity to move into another world–or, one could say, another form of consciousness? And how did our ancestors’ choices accommodate or block the Earth’s natural evolution?
The Wayfaring Mindset
Many things happened “between the worlds”, but one of the primary events was a journey or migration. These journeys can be described as wayfinding, and it was during these great movements or migrations that knowledge of how to live in balance with the Earth was recorded in the original rock carvings and petroglyphs.
This was a time when people physically moved around on the Earth or on the water. They moved in a patterned way; it wasn’t just any old way, for they knew they were going to some place for a specific reason. They were usually led by someone, one who had the inspiration or vision of where to go. As the people moved about, there were lessons they learned, mistakes they made, risk they took, and out of those experiences they learned rituals, songs and strategies that prepared them for movement into the next cycle.
One of the things the Indigenous Science Network is working on now is to recreate some of these migrations. Our focus is not so much on recreating the exact journeys, but rather the recreation of the protocol, the mindset that came into being as a result of lessons learned during the migrations. We are inviting our white brothers and sisters to join us in this because we believe this is something we are meant to be doing.
Bridges to the West
To communicate with the West we need “bridges”, models of migrations. One good example comes from the Polynesians:
In 1976 the Polynesian Voyaging Society was established and its first task was to recreate a traditional double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe, the “Hokule’a”, that would be capable of trans-oceanic voyages. But they soon discovered there were no Hawaiians who knew how to navigate in the traditional way–without instruments! as they searched they eventually found Mao Piailug from Micronesia, an elder who still knew the traditional methods of non-instrument navigation. He was brought to Hawaii to work with a young Hawaiian native, Nainoa Thompson. Nainoa drew from Western and indigenous sciences: He studied satellite weather charts and astronomy, and then he studied with Mao, who used stones to teach what our ancestors had known.
The result of this integrated education was the 1976 voyage of Hokule’a from Hawaii to Tahiti. This voyage was accomplished without the benefit of any instruments or charts. In 1985, on a subsequent voyage from Rarotonga to New Zealand, a distance of 1700 nautical miles across open sea, Nainoa steered a course which was only 100 miles farther than the shortest distance possible between the two points. The only reason for the extra miles was severe weather conditions.
The interesting question is, how did he do it? Well, that gets to something mentioned earlier–the overview effect. As Native people, we learn to train our minds from the time we are children, to be centered where we are, grounded in reality, and see all the signs that are around us. For the purposes of navigation, it is necessary to see the roll of the waves, the movements of the fish, the birds, the winds, etc. Ind addition, you have to have the ability to project yourself out, “to see what it’s not possible to see”. I’m just learning this myself, but I know that it is an ability that our people have known for thousands of years, and still practice. Now our task is to see that this mental acumen, this capacity of “the good mind”, is not lost. So this wayfinding mindset, the ability to project ourselves out, is a knowledge that is necessary if we are to create a healthy relationship with the Earth.
A New Sun
Nobody said that the Dark Sun was due to the coming of the Europeans. (In fact there is evidence of much earlier contact with the Europeans; but then the relationships were different.) Who tells the sun how to move? Not the Spanish or the English!
We don’t like what has happened. We surely didn’t want it. On the other hand, that’s life–the cycles of life. Perhaps the best way to say it is that we really value accommodation as a universal principle. Accommodation to life is more important than judging what needed to have happened. Now what is important is that we are entering a new sun.

The Art of Human Navigation

The Art of Human Navigation
“For the earth is ocean. And rising everywhere in it are islands. Go find the islands…”
From An Ocean in Mind.

Karen Chandler

Such was Nature’s strong, persistent message for ancient Polynesian voyagers and native tribes of the Pacific Northwest Islands. Written in the stars, on flotsam, and in bird migration paths, came word of distant, undiscovered islands. Called seaward beyond the horizon clouds, native peoples of the Pacific Rim did indeed find islands scattered throughout a sea spanning half the surface area of the earth. Out they went and back they came, home again to Samoa and Tahiti, to the Prince of Wales and the Queen Charlotte Islands. How? asked western navigators centuries ago. Skillfully, the legends tell us, consistently tracking nature’s guideposts.
Without instruments navigation was a human act. The map was in the mind of the wayfinder, whose whole being had been trained and opened by chants, long hours of observation and elder’s patient teachings. He or she learned to recognize and interpret nature’s clues to judge direction, distance traveled, time and final landfall. Under sail in a circle of sea and sky, memory, awareness and the physical senses formed part of a dead reckoning system linked to ocean, atmosphere and sealife
Wayfinding was a well-developed art according to Will Kyselka, astronomer and author of a book on Polynesian wayfinding. For hi it was as precise as math and logic, with the magic of ritual and intuition. For Native American and social scientist, Dr. Pamela Colorado,founder of the Indigenous Science Network, it was and is, science in the full meaning of the word, “a holistic way of knowing nature, fully human, aligned with self, nature, and spirit.” It is proof, according to her and cultural anthropologists, of the intentional peopling of the Pacific through exploration, trans-Pacific gatherings and established trade routes.
For the ancient navigator apprenticed to the sea, wayfinding was a way of life embedded in his being. It was part of a culture that still watches, rearing seamen as meticulous observers of natural phenomena. These new wayfinders, schooled in modern astronomy and experienced in ways of the sea, are learning to trust their senses and their minds once again on a journey in search of the ancient mind. Their goal is to sense and feel their way back into harmony with nature, a state of being so needed, many claim, in a high-tech western culture trained to dominate, not cooperate, with nature.
Each ocean voyage began with two points on the navigator’s reference course. “You knew where you started, and where you wanted to go,” says Hawaiian steersman Na’ilima. He recently returned from a wayfinding voyage to Tahiti on the Hokule’a, a modern replica of an ancient sailing canoe. “Between home and that distant island may lay thousands of miles of open sea,” he says. “It did for us.” It did, no doubt, for the Haidas people of Prince of Wales Island. They sailed, Dr. Colorado tells us, to Japan and back. Along such a route, everything had meaning: ocean swells, the color and shape of the clouds, currents, and the pitch and roll of the canoe.
“Native sailors knew what to expect,” says Dr. Colorado. “They knew the wind and sea conditions all along the way from chants, personal accounts, and petroglyphs, or symbolic rock drawings.” According to her research, Indians of the northwest Pacific coast may have planned their trips using star maps and tidal clocks written in the changing pattern of tideline rocks.
Navigators, like the Nootka women of Vancouver Island, had songs and special rhythms keyed to the surface movements of the sea. “Everything we ever knew about the movement of the sea was preserved in the verse of that song,” writes Anne Cameron, quoting an elder in her historical novel on Nootka tribal history. “There was a song for goin’ to China and a song for goin’ to Japan. All she (the steerswoman) had to know was the song and she knew where she was.”
“We had the rising sun and the swells to steer by too,” says Na’ilima. “Like other wayfinders, we also knew where reference islands lay along our path. And most of all, we had the stars. They showed the way.”
According to Na’ilima and others, navigators set their course, their time, their latitude,and their distance traveled by the night sky. Each target island has its guiding stars, points along the margin of an imagined compass that was studded with other well known lights. In the center sat the wayfinder, watching and memorizing the patterns. The steersman nosed the “compass needle” along a predetermined path of successively rising or setting stars. In the mind’s eye of the crew, the sea and reference islands flowed past a stationary canoe, from beneath one star position to another. Synchronous pairs of rising or setting stars, charted just above the horizon, told latitude. Other stars at zenith marked the location of target islands like Tahiti and Hawaii.
At dawn the navigator read direction in the swells against the pattern of the morning sky. “We always knew where north was–our reference point for daytime steering,” Na’ilima explains. It was never more than a few handwidths away from a sun that rose just north and south of east.”
Wayfinding was very effective but less precise during the day. It required more clues and more concentration to assimilate and process them. But the swells were always there, and seasonal trade winds blew in consistent patterns written in the color and shape of horizon clouds. The wayfinder could estimate speed from the sound and feel of the canoe and determine currents from the shape and direction of waves. At times he or she just knew the direction to set–with or without external clues–drawing upon intuition, perhaps, or a subtle communion with the sea itself that was the essential mark of a seasoned wayfinder.
The final destination lay to windward of the reference track, surrounded by what Kyselka calls “concentric circles of life”, coastal fish and homing birds, land clouds, and wave defraction and refraction patterns. These diverse though predictable signs of a landmass could expand a small island into a sizable target or bridge island gaps in an archipelago, creating a large block to aim for. With a shift in focus to the nearfield, the wayfinder pieced together each island’s signature. Carefully, knowingly, the crew tracked the evening seabird flight paths and the directional streaks of transient deep phosphorescence.
That final destination, Dr. Colorado reminds us, is also a mindset. It is a way of seeing and being in balance with nature, gleaned from living a ceremonial life. Each wayfinding voyage, she points out, reminds us of our human potential to integrate analysis with intuition, and ritual with western science. “The greatest thing we can accomplish in our science and in our lives,” she concludes, “is to be in balance with the universe.”
Renewed interest in wayfinding presages a time when scientist and seaman alike are in balance and in open communication with nature. Recent voyages have proven that it can be done again. In Hawaii the Hokule’a has made three successful wayfinding voyages to Tahiti and back. The first was led by Mau Piailug, a traditional Polynesian navigator; the last two by Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson, one of the new breed of wayfinders. Na’ilima’s expedition, called “No Na Mamo” (For the Next Generation), symbolizes the intention of native peoples and organizations like the Indigenous Science Network, to share traditional knowledge. Other trips are planned. Canoes will gather from around the world on Vancouver Island in 1993 as native tribes convene to rekindle the art.
“We are still missing pieces of information”, says Dr. Colorado. “Some of the art remains hidden. Some may have been lost.” Or not yet found, at least by western culture. For we in the west may still not know how to ask the right questions or to understand the full meaning of each answer until our own minds begin to open and expand under the tutelage of elders and nature’s wise persistent teachings.
Author’s note–books cited or recommended: An Ocean in Mind by Will Kyselka; The Daughters of Copperwoman by Anne Cameron; and We the Navigators by David Lewis.
For more information on the Indigenous Science Network, contact Dr. Pamela Colorado, 573 Wainee St., Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.
Karen Chandler, M.S., is a marine ecologist and co-founder of Adventure Spirit Maui, a company which specializes in ocean awareness and wilderness expeditions. P.O Box 3104, Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738.


Applications of Indigenous Science: Mo`o Kiha Canoe Project

Application of Indigenous Science ~ Mo’o Kiha Canoe Project

My husband Keola is a Kahuna Kalai Wa’a or, a Medicine Man of the canoes. In 1975 he built the Mo’olele, the first ocean going, double hulled voyaging canoe made in more than 150 years. The re-creation of the big sailing vessels triggered a cultural renaissance in the islands. The hundred years of colonization, missionization and plantation life destroyed 90 to 95% of the Hawaiian population in less than one hundred years. The rapacity of conquest left scant opportunity for preserving or perpetuating traditional ways. When Keola decided to re-create the voyaging canoe, he had only a sketch by an 19 century French artist to go by. There were no surviving models of the canoes not Elders who had ever built or seen one. Yet without canoes there would be no Hawaiians for the canoe brought them to the islands and shaped both their characters and societies.

The word for canoe is, ‘Wa’a’. ‘Wa’ refers to a segment of time and ‘a’ is the name for the Sirius star system – the origin of Hawaiian people. Interestingly, when Elders Hale Makua of Hawaii and Dr. Erick Gbdossou of Benin met, they discovered that their diverse cultures have the exact same words for the most ancient aspects of the culture. Both refer to the companion star of Sirius by the same name! Yet, western science only identified this star in our generation.

A few years ago, Keola and I visited Bella Bella, an Indian Reserve on the west coast of Canada. There we met a man who had been a Mason and was an expert in sacred geometry. He mentioned a geometric ratio called, the Golden Mean or Phi Ratio and recommended, ‘Serpent in the Sky’ a book on Egyptian culture and mathematics. It took a while but eventually I found a copy (this was pre-internet). I will never forget what happened when I gave the book to my husband. It was about 10:30 at night, we were in bed reading when suddenly he spoke in a very intense voice. “Apela, I got it. Listen to this, if the Phi Ratio is the mathematical formula for how life expresses itself then probably the Ancient Hawaiians who lived on the seas and in nature would think like that too. They wouldn’t have called it Phi, they might not have called it anything at all but they would have thought that way. Just think. This could answer the questions we could not find out about in the design of Polynesian canoes. A fish is made according to Phi principles. If I could design a canoe and apply the Phi ratio in as many design aspects possible then it could be possible to create a canoe that would be a perpetual motion ‘machine’. Once it got under way and was sailing, it would surf its own wave and would require no energy to keep going! Oh, fantastic,’ he said, throwing off the covers and padding downstairs and outside to his shop to put together a scale model to see how the application of Phi would change the design of the canoes he had made twenty years earlier.

Three days later the model was done. It was sleek stunning and did indeed alter the shape of the canoe. We were in love with it but then sad reality hit. There were no trees left big enough to make such a canoe and even making it out of modern materials would cost more than one hundred thousand dollars. Who would fund such a project? In a few weeks, Keola packed up the small model and put it away. Nearly two years passed.

Keola and I went for a ceremony with my Oneida people. During that ceremony, he asked the Ancestors and the Morning Star, permission to help heal his people. Within a few weeks of our return, people started showing up, volunteering their skills, others brought wood one was even a canoe maker from the Coast of Canada. Our dream project – to build a massive double hulled voyaging canoe – one that would incorporate modern features within a completely traditional design allowing the vessel to pass U.S. Coast Guard regulations and which could sail independent of a support vessel (which Hawaiians don’t usually have) had begun!

We started where we were at which is the first principle of Indigenous Science – everything we need is present in the nature around us. We began the construction in the garage – shop outside our house. Keola had made the first canoe, the Mo’olele or flying lizard, there in 1975 but ‘place and spiritual power’ are important aspects of Indigenous Science too and our house is built on a sacred site. My husband’s Hawaiian family has lived adjacent to a pond sacred to the great lizard later known as the Kihawahine – the spirit woman of fresh water, genealogy and conception. As recently as the 1800’s thousands of people witnessed the last appearance of this 36 foot black lizard in the pond. Because fresh water is so crucial for ocean people, the Kihawahine was revered. To even drop a piece of litter near this pond was punishable by death. When the Europeans arrived, the trashing of the site began and the last Holy Guardian of the site conducted the ceremony to call the lizard – probably in an effort to keep Hawaiians strong and to convince the Europeans of the efficacy and power of Hawaiian spirituality. The lizard came and received the traditional offering of awa – a sacred herb drink. The lizard rolled around in the water with delight! But this did not stop the colonizers from diverting the flow of water from the pond to their sugar cane fields. Subsequently, they land filled the pond. Since that time, water shortages have become common, people have forgotten their identity and West Maui, described as the ‘Venice of the Pacific’ became the semi- arid land it is now.

We did not know it when we began but Keola’s shop was the perfect place. Despite no funds and very limited space, we began to build a 62.5 foot long double hulled voyaging canoe that would take the community and future generations of Hawaiians throughout Polynesia and around the world. The people would no longer be isolated from each other or the global community. They would pick up where their Ancestors had left off!

We’re building the Mo’okiha (the doubly powerful Kihawahine) canoe in a totally voluntary way. In the first six weeks, we had 3,000 volunteer hours. Imagine the excitement. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S. Most local people must work 2 jobs – all in the low paying tourist industry – the only employer on the island. Nothing like this has ever been seen, It isn’t only natives, we have tourists, people from every culture coming by to help, that’s how it’s catching on. Because of the unprecedented support, the State and the County turned over a small park, adjacent to the sacred pond and right on the ocean. The Kihawahine, fresh water spirit, is guiding and protecting us. She surely must. To get 13 acres of oceanfront property – some of the world’s most expensive real estate, would be impossible otherwise. As of today, we have

put 6,000 hours into the canoe- the hulls, one representing the male sun and the other the female moon are just about done. The bottom of the canoe hull is the ‘kua mo’o or backbone of the lizard. It also refers to a body of stars used in open ocean, non instrument navigating. Next we will start on the I’ako (the curvilinear supports that connect the two hulls and serve as a foundation for a central platform which is akin to the planet venus). As you can see, the canoe is not just a boat. The design embodies principles of star navigation, oral history and worldview and Polynesian worldview is very sophisticated.

Francis Warther, Hawaiian Archaeoastronomer, writes:

Where are we? Who are we? for the ancient Hawaiian, to answer the first question was to realize the answer to the second. The Ancient Polynesian considered a very select geographical area of our planet called the ‘Tropic Region’ almost entirely ocean – the largest in the world, a unique marinescape…. This region had a limit, 1600 miles north and 1600 miles south of the equator, called the “Navel of Wakea” and each half, the north called Kane, the south Kanaloa, WERE MIRROR IMAGES OF EACH OTHER IN TIME, SEASONS AND CALENDAR NAMES.

[Hawaiian Identity and the Tropic Skies, p.1 Warther, Francis]

Polynesia islands straddle the equator. The north and south regions are identical and opposite. Water, winds and weather move in opposite directions. Summer in the north is winter in the south. The canoe with it’s two hulls and central platform represent the tropic lines and the equator.

“Only within the Tropic property line limits will the sun climb to the Zenith (Lolopua) directly overhead twice a year for each Tropic island. The sun will be directly underfoot about twice a year at the nadir for each island.

This astronomical fact was the basis for the unity of Polynesian mythology and provided the cosmic connection, the imprinting as it were, of the Heavens to the Sea and its Islands. The belief of Mana, the cosmological generating power of life and renewal capable of infusing a person or thing with immortal sustenance, is I believe, directly connected to the position of place under Heaven and the primordial sea.

[Hawaiian Identity and the Tropic Skies, p.1 Warther, Francis]

These perceptions, singular to the members of the Tropic community have a profound influence on the thought process and values of the society and its regulatory rules….a distinct Polynesian logic has been shaped by this cosmic reality – that position in the world influences and directs ones concept of space and time and even more profoundly the logic of thought processes.

. [Hawaiian Identity and the Tropic Skies, p.4 Warther, Francis]

Roy Wagner shows how the canoe design emulates the inner workings of the ‘tropic philosopher’. “his apprehension of knowledge is dialectical rather than rationalistic.” The Polynesian philosopher creates and uses “ a tension of dialogue, like an alternation between two conceptions of viewpoints that are simultaneously contradictory and supportive of each other. As a way of thinking, a dialectic operates by exploiting contradictions, against a common ground of similarity rather than by appealing to consistency against a common ground of differences after the fashion of rationalistic or linear logic.”

Warther goes on to point out the limits of linear logic to resolve multi-faceted problems and notes that conflict resolution (Ho’oponopono) has been central to Hawaiian culture placing kin, community and leadership in a balanced relationship to cosmic and ecological cycles and who patterned their social, politic organization on what they saw as priorities of order of the astronomical heavens.

Warther concludes with the statement that the survival of humanity depends on our ability to become members of the “Tropic Club”. That is to respond adaptively to the “mental equations contained in the logic of non-linearity passed to us by the Ancient Hawaiian culture.”

As we build the canoe, we are also building identity. Elders like Francis Warther come to the new canoe Hale (house) to teach and to share their wisdom. Hawaiian Elder’s Auntie Mahilani Poepoe and Hale Makua stop by to offer cultural insights, encouragement and love. The more we work the more we are being integrated into the web of life – the Aloha of ancient Hawaii – and the more synchronicities occur. Two striking examples of this come to mind.

When Keola built the first canoes in the 1970’s he was fortunate to find the remains of a partially completed ancient canoe in an a shelter cave. The canoe was falling apart but to his trained eye, the aged pieces of wood were a university that told him how certain cuts were made, what lines to use and even answered critical design questions about ropes and how they were attached but some things could not be answered. Ancestors came to him in dreams. He would fall asleep with a design question and wake up in the morning knowing the answer. But some things could not be solved and he had to make an informed, ‘best guess’ – choices that haunted him. Keola had incorporated all the ancient design features he knew in his canoes. Often he was ridiculed as the features made no apparent sense. The Manu or upright tips at the ends of the hulls were a good example.

Keola and three other adults took a group of eight children out in the Mo’olele. Suddenly a 40 knot wind hit. Ocean swells rose to twenty feet – extremely dangerous. The canoe was moving so fast that she passed the crest of the wave and slid down into the trough. Water began pouring onto the hulls and pushing them down under the next wave. An ordinary canoe would sink in this situation. Suddenly the brilliance of the ancient design shone through. The curved, points of the Manu came slicing up through the waves bringing the rest of the hull along with it! The children and crew made it safe to shore and after that, no one ever again doubted the minds of their Ancestors.

Keola was determined to regain and incorporate even more of the traditional designs into the Mo’okiha and finding out about the Phi ratio provided a key to guide in the construction of elements where the traditional knowledge was absent. But what if this was not accurate? He posed this problem to Kauai archaeo-astronomer, Francis Warther who shocked us with his response. Not only did ancient Hawaiians know about Phi, but had built Malae, an entire pyramid dedicated to the teaching of both pi and phi. Warther then produced a diagram which he happened to have with him!


Incorporates the “cosmic proportion” of:



Six divided by Five equals 1.2
1.2 is Pi over Phi squared
Pi over Phi squared is 3.1416 over 1.618 squared

These two harmonic proportions drive the universe. Both are contained in the data bank of Malae.

Warther and Makua point out that the Malae also integrates astronomical information. In this case the site is oriented to the constellation Pegasus as well as heliacal rising and settings of various stars and planets.

Nearing the completion of the hulls raised the question of spacing. How close or far apart would the hulls have to be to conform to the Golden Ratio? Keola worked at this question in many ways including consulting with Elders. No one knew. We prayed and we worried. One day a young German man and wife stopped by the canoe house. They had lived in Fiji for six years because they were building a canoe and wanted to learn about traditional Polynesian canoe design. The Elders had refused to share their teachings so they built an essentially western canoe with obvious Polynesian design elements incorporated. They were very hurt and discouraged but sympathetic to the historic wounds which stood between themselves and the Fijians.

Keola, master canoe maker of Hawaii, shared openly with this young man as he does with all people but he also had a hunch. Sure enough. The next day, just hours before

departure for Europe, the German man appeared at our door. He confessed to Keola that as he prepared to leave Fiji an Elder took pity on him and passed on one traditional design secret. It was all this young man had and he wanted to keep it to himself. He said that after meeting Keola, and not sharing what he knew, that it kept him awake all night so he knew he had to pass on the information. What he said thrilled us – it was the ancient formula for joining the hulls and… it conformed to the Phi Ratio!

So this is a good example of the way Indigenous Science and the Ancestors work to help us when we dedicate ourselves to remembering who we are. Because colonialism is a global phenomenon, we find ourselves receiving guidance from diverse sources – books, guests from other countries, dreams, oral history – that is because our Ancestors always believed in sharing. This is another reason why gatherings such as Coumba Lamba are so important. As we meet, we begin to put together the pieces of the Great Knowledge that each of us has. In the Great Forgetting the Knowledge was disbursed so that no one tribe would have all of it and so that the only way to restore ourselves would be by coming together as was done in Ancient times.

Tonight at Coumba Lamba there will be a ceremony with water and your ancestors. It’s the same type of Spirit and way that has been guiding and empowering us. It is an African ceremony with it’s own unique cultural aspects but emanates from the same source. I encourage you to join us and to remember our indigenous science of relations, peace and Aloha – the turning of the face to God – our Ancestral Remembrance.

Choctaw Grandmother, Pokni, Mary Jones, will now close this session with a prayer.

Pokni Mary Jones

CONCLUSION; Grandmother’s Blessing

I can feel there’s something here, there’s power here. If it wasn’t the power and the Spirit’s power, we all wouldn’t be here. I am so glad that I know her (Apela). She don’t

know I know her but I do and I’ve been working with her for the last 11 years. It’s somebody I have never seen (before working together) and I didn’t even know who she was. But it was a dream that brought us together, it was a rock1 that brought us together, it was the Spirit.

Kowi anukosha,
A depiction of Marys Rock

I’m glad they did; I worked with her and worked with this indigenous science thing. I don’t know much about the science things, I’m not well-educated to know science, but I know my Choctaw science. So my science and Western science; we can compare and I still believe my science because things are just about the same – white people’s science and Native people’s science are just about the same thing. What I learned, I learned by spirit. I don’t learn from reading or nothing like that. I learn from traditional ways. So,

1 In 1990 I had a dream of a special rock. A few months later I visited Choctaw Chief Jerry Jackson in Louisiana. I related part of my dream to him. He interrupted and said we had to call his Aunt Mary as she was the Elder who knew of these things. When Mary came into the room I felt as if I knew her and she later said that she felt the same with me. I told her my dream and she was shocked. She said, ‘I can’t believe it. You just dreamt my rock’. We have been close ever since. Kowianukosha is a little person, a nature spirit with great powers. He is also a trickster who throws this sacred type of stone at people especially healers to help them in their work.

that’s the Spirit that’s with me and I’m so glad to be here with you all. I don’t know what I can do or what I can say but I hope and pray that the Spirit takes care of you all and bring you all back together and give you all what you want, what you all need to be here together today, this week, all this time that you all spend together. Something good will come out. It might not be next week, or next year, but something good is going to come out of this. And this day you all remember it for your next generation. I’m glad to be here with you all and bless you all. Somehow all this touched me and I know so I’m going to pray for you all, all of us together this evening.

(Prayer in the Choctaw language) This session is officially closed. Thank you.


Canoe joins tradition, technology

Lahaina, Maui – The newest addition to Hawaii’s fleet of double-hulled voyaging canoes is three-quarters finished in a shed on the Lahaina waterfront. The Mo’okiha O Piilani will be the biggest such canoe in Hawaii and probably the most controversial in the Pacific.

What’s controversial about it is a fusion of Polynesian tradition and modern technology in a way that blurs the distinctions between the two.

For example, this canoe asks the question: Is it in the old Hawaiian tradition of conservation to hew a canoe from logs when logs are in critically short supply?

“Today you cannot waste 80 percent of a log lo make a canoe,” said Keole Sequeira, the canoe builder, “That takes too much out of the environment. “The Hawaiians took a log and carved away everything that wasn’t a canoe. We re laking a space and filling it with a canoe built of modem materials. I’m trying to combine the best of Hawaiian design with modem technology”

Sequeira makes another controversial companion between what’s traditional and what’s modern.

Hawai’iloa, built on Oahu of traditional wood logs, was funded as one activity under a $3 million federal grant to preserve Hawaiian culture.

The Mo’okiha O Piilani will cost only $200,000 in modern currency. It will be built of space-age materials, but most of the cost will come in traditional currency – at least I0,000 volunteer man-hours.

That doesn’t count half again as much  contributions of volunteer help to put on benefit luaus and other fund-raisers.

Sequeira can even tell You how much traditional currency is worth. He said he built the smaller Mo’okiha in l975 tor $11,000 in cash and volunteer help. Today the canoe is appraised at $120,000.

The whole concept of Mo’okiha O Piilani seems to be a new way of looking at the ancient art of canoe voyaging. Or is it the other way around, looking at today through the eves of old Polynesia?

Mo’okiha O Piilani will be the first voyage canoe with jet propulsion engines. The engines run on diesel fuel that will serve the vessel a range under motor power of about 500 miles.

So what’s Polynesian about that? The ancients used paddles of auxiliary power. Sequeira points out that Hokule’a carries an outboard motor for safety when sailing among the treacherous South Seas reefs and that Hawaii’s voyaging canoes never go out without escort boats.

“Inboard engines are safer than outboards,” he said. Our canoe will be so safe we won’t need an escort boat .”

There will be state-of-the-art satellite navigation gear on board and a desalinization plant that can make 160 gallons of fresh water a day.

At what point does the Mo’okiha O Piilani stop being a Polynesian voyaging canoe and become a modern Yacht? that what the controversy will be about. More important, will she sail?