At the sacred historical site of Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau, I felt as though I had stepped back in time to the days when the original inhabitants of Hawaii managed and cared for the land. For several centuries, this area formed one of the primary religious and political centers within the Kona district.
Now, only remnants of that moment in time remain, but it is well preserved. Inside a beautiful thatched hālau, Charlie sat and carefully made shells into lures and hooks that resembled little canoes and continued his compelling story. He told me that in old times, Hawaiian elders would demonstrate a concept by challenging children in the community. They would show them a globe and ask them what they saw. Was it a globe they saw? Did they see the canoe? Did they believe that they lived on a ball? Did they see the ocean and land around them? What had they been programmed to see - a colorful ball? The elders said that someday a few of them would understand, but many would not. He reminded me of the spiritual significance of the canoe in Hawaiian culture.
Charlie began to talk of the eight Hawaiian islands as canoes. He spoke of the whole planet as one canoe, and that we all live on it together. He said 'It's a challenge to survive on a canoe - how do we do that?'
'Some people have the concept of going green, recycling, saving mother earth. These things will only work if one element is included. It does not matter if you have the strongest, most beautiful canoe or the strongest paddlers. If you do not have this one element you will not survive.'
He paused for a moment whilst concentrating on the intricate artwork he was creating. I wondered what he was going to say. He looked up at me with a stern look in his eyes and said: 'We've gotta get along!'
'The canoe was here before us. We cannot stop or change the canoe. The canoe will change. We are programmed to believe we live on a coloured ball. Those who ride the canoe only ride it for a short time. We cannot change the canoe we can only change the crew.'
Charlie spoke about self-responsibility. He said that Hawaiian culture was largely not about the individual but about the community, and that we need to get back to that. 'We need to care for the ocean. We need to care for the canoe.' He spoke of the fact that people think they are going to be here forever, and yet resources are disappearing.
'Canoe has, always has and always will be. All different cultures, same concern.'
I felt utterly privileged to hear Charlie speak of his cultural roots and that struck such a deep chord within me. My intellect did not completely understand what he was saying, but in my heart and soul, I knew exactly what he was saying. I had studied aspects of Hawaiian culture for many years but I had never heard the deep philosophy of the culture described so eloquently and yet so simply that a child could understand. Isn't it true that the most profound concepts are the ones that every child teaches us if we watch closely enough?
But something had been left unsaid. How on earth do we all get along?
He said 'It's simple. We share. The spoken word continues. But when you speak it in words it disappears - words go to the wind. When you speak of things and it turns into a song - well that will live forever. Just like we learned our ABC's in school. That is how the song - 'ke mele' - lives on.'
I thanked Charlie, shaking his hand. I continued on to explore the rest of the historic site and felt so blessed to have come into contact with possibly some true roots of Hawaiian culture. I would never again see a simple canoe in the same way.