A Fleet of Voyaging Canoes Arrives in Honiara

An early morning on the first day of July 2012, silhouetted sails color the horizon; slowing approaching the shores of the Solomons against a back drop of distant offshore islands appearing like mirages but rooted into the sea beneath towering cumulus clouds. We are here in the Solomon Islands for the Pacific Arts Festival, a gathering place for artists, dancers, musicians, carvers and many more weavers of spirit and beauty from across the Pacific.

Arriving ahead of the fleet of deep sea voyaging canoes, we await the opening ceremonies and watch local life unfold. Children are leaping from old, large tree trunks emerging from the ocean and bathing in rivers, their skin glistening in the afternoon sunlight. Thatched homes are being woven, bananas are being sold, and old trucks are passing by, utterly overflowing with colorful and diverse people.

A fleet of seven voyaging canoes known as Pacific Voyagers is nearing landfall in Honiara where Sea Shepherd’s Bridget Bardot is anchored. The image of vaka moana on either side of the sleek vessel is a juxtaposition suggestive of a quiet revolution… subtle voices and quiet paddles nestled around vocal, visible activism. Once ashore, the voices of Pacific Voyagers grow loud and powerful, passion and emotion filling the air as they perform a haka.

Keala Kahanui and Pua Case of Hawai’i stand on a distant peninsula, a quiet place as close to the sea as they can be, to call in the canoes with ancient chant. I can see them from afar, raising their arms to the sky.

One by one, the canoes reach the shore, welcomed by local Solomon Islanders dancing and filling the winds with the sounds of pan flutes. The bamboo flutes create distant melodies that send souls drifting as clouds might, reminding us of what has always been and inspiring us as to what could be. The men playing these finely tuned instruments wear beautifully woven mats around their lower bodies, and around their ankles are strung nuts for dancing. They all wear a necklace marked by the symbolism of the great frigate bird , a guide to find fish. The people of the Solomon Islands are beautiful, and remain captured in my mind with their eyes closed, playing flutes in rapture.

As crew members come ashore, they are greeted by ecstatic song and dance, and also by fruits of their voyage, their hearts, and their message to raise awareness about the plights of our oceans. Banners decorate the yacht club, each telling a story unique to a particular canoe and Island Nation, a story of ancestral knowledge, responsibility, heritage and hope. At their center hangs an art piece painted in earth tones depicting balance of light and dark, land and sea, and surrounded by posters with powerful imagery and slogans such as “nurture our lands: cherish mother nature and what she provides, defend our whales: protect the keepers of our ocean knowledge, respect all ocean creatures, guided by the stars at one with the universe, our blue canoe watched over by our ancestors, treasure our reefs”.

Amongst messages of hope, there is dancing, beauty unfolding in human expression and laughter, all before the vast sea, our mother. The arrival of the fleet is only the beginning, for what awaits is immeasurable cultural exchange of artists from across the Pacific, sharing their artistry, song, and dance, in a remarkable kaleidoscope of beauty and hope, under the embrace of this festival of arts to honor, “Culture in Harmony with Nature.”

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