Published in Windward Oahu Voice, a Midweek publication, for the week of December 16, 2015
Ask someone close to him to describe Kaleomanuiwa Wong, and you’ll hear words like ‘olu‘olu and ha‘aha‘a (kind, pleasant, and humble).
There would also comparisons to PWO (master) navigator, Bruce Blankenfeld, and for good reason: Bruce has mentored Wong since he was a Kaiser High Student (as was Bruce), and in mid-December, Wong will fly to Cape Town, South Africa to join him as a navigator for the Hokule‘a on a journey to Brazil across more than 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean.
Wong navigated the famed voyaging canoe from Aotearoa (New Zealand) to Australia, where he was welcomed with hula and ceremony by his wife, Maya Saffery, and members of her her Halau Mohala Ilima. Last summer, Wong was the captain of the Hikianalia, and despite the availability of GPS on board, he helped guide the double hulled canoe using traditional navigation on a roundtrip journey from Oahu to Papahanauamokuakea – the marine national monument and location of many sites sacred to Hawaiians.
For Wong, the Hokule’a and Hikianalia represent a restoration of Native Hawaiian cultural practices, language, and pride. His life’s work on land has had a similar mission of restoration, with years of conservation experience in the Wai‘anae mountains as an O‘ahu Army Natural Resource Program Coordinator. Since then, he has focused on the Kailua community and can be found working in and around Kawainui marsh alongside local residents and students, restoring the fishponds and planting the terraced hillside below Ulupo with taro and sweet potato.
More important than the physical labor, however, his job is to bring the Kailua community back to the land. Over the past six months, he’s worked with more than 500 students and volunteers, sharing with them the mo’olelo (history and stories) of the area, and weaving them in with lessons from modern biology, botany, geology and hydrology.
Encouraging all ages to participate, Wong reminds us all of our ability to reconnect with the land, with the place where all Kailua’s food was once cultivated. It’s a huge responsibility in an era where more than 90% of our food is shipped in, and when nearly all species in the marsh are considered invasive.
One can understand why he sometimes admits to a preference to being on the ocean, rather than speaking in front of large groups.
While we wish him well on his upcoming journey, we will be thankful when returns home to continue nourishing and enriching our Kailua community.
Follow the Hokule‘a’s Worldwide Voyage online at hokulea.com
Photos from interview at Ulupo (top row) and ceremony (bottom row) welcoming Wong and the crew of Hikianalia to Kailua Beach on October 30.