Some Contemporary Resonances
Abstract and Keywords
This epilogue discusses several aspects of Pacific maritime history and heritage that are manifested in the islands' contemporary cultural milieu. First are regional festivals, as well as revivals of oceanic canoe building and long-distance sailing, as a way to remember the great voyages of the ancestors. Second is the employment of island seafarers on foreign ships, reminiscent of trends in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sailors from the Pacific Islands are now, as then, recruited to overcome the reluctance of people in the traditional ship-owning countries to follow careers at sea. Finally, there is the transmission of sexual infections to island communities, although now in a more virulent form and being dealt with to a greater extent by women.
THE DEPENDENCE OF the Pacific Islands on sea trade has continuously increased over time, and multiplicities of social and economic activities are related to the cargoes and the people flowing through island ports. The sailors who are engaged in regional and international shipping are now less visible, as the old “sailor town” enclaves have given way to tourists. Apart from cruise ships, most vessels berth at distant secure terminals, and many sailors travel overseas to and from their ships by air transport. Nevertheless, island people are aware of maritime links and of numerous aspects of maritime history and heritage. Several features of this history and heritage, which have been outlined here, are manifested in the cultural milieu of the contemporary Pacific.
At the level of remembering the great voyages of the ancestors, there have been regional festivals, as well as revivals of oceanic canoe building and long-distance sailing. In the 1960s this was led in Hawai‘i by Ben Finney and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. It resulted in the voyages of the double-hulled ocean canoe Hokule‘a in 1976 and 1985–1986, which included seven archipelagos between Hawai‘i and Aotearoa. The sea-kindliness of the craft was tested, and navigation was by traditional methods derived from the knowledge of Mau Piailug of Satawal. He passed this on to the ultimate navigator of the Hokule‘a, the Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson. David Lewis was likewise engaged in his seminal work on indigenous navigation from 1965 onward and was accompanied by the Micronesian navigators Tevake of Pileni and Hipour of Puluwat. Similarly, in 1999 Mau Piailug navigated the Makali‘i (Eyes of the Chief) by traditional methods some 2,300 miles between Hawai‘i and Majuro and onward.
These vessels and others were crewed by Pacific islanders, including four women on the 1999 passages.1 They were welcomed with pride by people throughout the Pacific as remembrances of the achievements of (p.208) their ancestors. Another sort of revival has revolved around overcoming the restrictions of colonial times, which curtailed movements between island groups. This includes the unification of maritime training, mobility in crewing, and the operations of the Pacific Forum Line.
The employment of island seafarers on foreign ships replicates periods in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pacific sailors are now, as then, recruited to overcome the reluctance of people in the traditional ship-owning countries to follow careers at sea. The Pacific sailors take their places within multinational crews on worldwide services. Because of rapid port turnaround, they spend long periods at sea. This has resonances with the days of sail, but without the compensation of time in port. This disadvantage adds to the loneliness and stresses of modern ships.
As in the past, there is also the transmission of sexual infections to island communities, although now in a more virulent form. Unlike in the nineteenth century, this is being dealt with to a greater extent by Pacific women. Sailors’ wives have had to take over several traditional roles of their husbands during long absences. As a result, many are becoming more confident and assertive and are supported in health and behavioral campaigns by new local and regional organizations of women. These differences from the past are also accompanied by successful demands for greater gender equality in seagoing employment.
The maritime history of the Pacific peoples is recognized as part of the shaping of Pacific societies but is also a basis for comparison in making changes for the future. Not least is the possibility of a renaissance of commercial sail under changing economic relationships between distance, rising costs of fuel, environmental concerns, and the always available Pacific wind systems for assistance in ship propulsion.2