The Legend of the Canoes at Olowalu
By Daniel B. Martin
August 22, 2016
***Audiobook version also available FREE @ https://soundcloud.com/daniel-martin-991936102/the-legend-of-the-canoes-at-olowalu***
The First Departure
Before the break of dawn one by one dirt covered pickup trucks pulled up and backed their way in under the Kiawe trees. Each driver hopped out of their truck and started untying the fasteners which hold tight their vessel to their vehicle. Once all the straps are removed each canoe is carefully placed about the shoreline. Next pole by pole the rigging is set up to the fisherman’s preferences and then it is placed about one of the many pole puka’s about their canoe. Before any one of them is finished setting up their 5-8 line system, another has pulled up and carried himself in a similar fashion. By the time all four of them had arrived and set up their canoes and poles it was still very late in the night and the sun had not yet peaked its way over the West Maui Mountain’s which sat behind them.
For the past 25 years these four old Hawaiian and Portuguese uncles would meet at this exact spot every Sunday. Skipping out on the more traditional ideology that churches are buildings, they created and attended to their own services in their canoes’ out on the open ocean. They knew the reefs well, and were familiar with the best routes to take out to Molokini Atoll where they were likely to catch the best fish. Each sets up their lines and canoes in their own style and carves about the ocean their own slightly unique path. The similarities and differences are similar to the same differences experienced at sunrise. The same sun rises over the West Maui Mountains every day giving a similar but toujours nouvelle experience of that particular sunrise.
As the sky went orange and pink they began to push the vessels out into the water where they boarded them and began the long paddle towards Molokini. In the grand scheme of the ocean they might as well have been stacked one canoe on top of each other. Yet from the view on the beach where they had launched their vessels from you could see them spread out- appearing slightly stagnated in distance and apparent pathway across the reefs towards the atoll. Each had to stop periodically to pull in a line, check the contents and decide whether the catch would be best released, used as bait, or if it is one of the prize fish they are looking for. These men are wise and know that you don’t want to keep everything you catch.
This knowledge directly correlates to the number of poles each fisherman is trolling. The more opportunities, the more chances, the more likely it is that you are spending your time, and the energy it takes to paddle so far out off the coast of Maui all the more worth it. The men have become the legends that they tell. These uncles are the stories of the old days, sea monsters, and the tales of the best and biggest fish which lay way out in the deep and open ocean- some which they were able to catch and others which slipped away from their skilled hands. Regardless of these uncles names the ocean they sail upon, the technology they use, and the drive which propels them with each stroke of the paddle and each setting of a line is itself timeless.
Dan’s ears had heard of the legends, though he always arrived too late to the beach to see them clearly. They had always taken off and placed themselves far out on the horizon so that all that could be seen of them from the launch spot on Olowalu was a little black dot floating on the horizon. Dots which could always be found somewhere in line between the beach and the little atoll of Molokini. He pulled his canoe off of his car, and set his two poles about it. The sun was already a ways over the ridge and the tides had picked up slightly from the early morning calm of the rising sun. Furthermore, it is important to note that Dan knew of the legends, yet he wanted to be one without truly knowing them. This is a complicated feat to achieve on one’s own.
He set out late, and did not paddle out very far. He had been trolling his two lines along the closer sections of the reef for a few minutes before he got his first bite on a line. He reeled the line in and found a small perch on the other end. He decided that it was a good idea to use this one as a bait fish. So he kept it alive and strung it onto his line before tossing them back into the clear blue ocean below him. Again, he started paddling, running parallel to the shore along the reef. It was not long before he felt another tug as his line. He reeled that baby in and he found at the end of his line a Manini fish, the exact same size which had eaten his bait fish and gotten itself tangled on his hook. He was baffled at how he had caught a fish the same size of his bait. Yet he continued fishing. Stopping every now and then to gaze over the horizon, at those four legendary dots- another hour later with no luck, he decided to call it a day. He had a small fish to eat, but was slightly less than satisfied and surely by no means was his days journey legendary.
The Legendary Catch
Church was going well for the uncles. Way out in the deep blue sea they paddled and trolled their many lines along the route for Molokini. On the way out they had caught many small fish, but none that were quite what they had set out for and so in being good stewards of the ocean they carefully unhooked and placed the little and less tasty fish back into the ocean to survive for at least a few more moments and not to meet the end of their short lives at the hand and knife of our four legendary uncles. They were in no rush, and they worked through every struggle and pain of their existences on land with the ocean.
As the salt exfoliated them it scrubbed their soul’s clean, and as the legend goes by the time they reached Molokini they were the ocean. They started working the same routes on their way back, still without what their hearts were longing for, but with absolutely no negative expectations as to the long paddle back to the shores of Olowalu where their trucks sat in wait to take them, their poles, their canoes, and the days catch back to the hungry mouths of the Kama’aina who depend upon them and their legendary greatness for their own subsistence.
The return paddle takes a lot of energy. One has to fight against all the currents and by this point the sun is shining high in the sky, it was almost noon, which flows into the hot part of the day. Though they had caught nothing worthwhile upon their arrival at Molokini, the way back was full of success. One uncle let out a loud “Cheeaaa-hooo” as he reeled in a nice big Ahi! They all smiled understanding without needing to see his catch to feel his excitement as it rippled across the ocean from his canoe unto their ears. Then another “Cheeaaa-Hooo” ripped across the tides as another uncle reeled in a fat, round, bug eyed Opah.
But wait, there is more! Like a delayed chorus another “Cheeaaa-hooo” came from another uncle, on another canoe who reeled in a Mahi-Mahi. Their hearts were at peace, and they were happy because they knew that they would come back with prize fish that would fill the mouths and bellies of their families and neighbors, with whom they lived close enough to consider ohana- or at least hānai.
They were almost all the way back, and still one fisherman had not yet caught anything. This did not bother him and his heart was amused with the breeze that was carried about by Makani across his face and the bow of his canoe as he split across currents and tides tirelessly plowing his 6 lines alone the edges of the trench dividing reef from more reefs. A big tug was felt one of his many poles, he pulled in the line and let out his own “Cheeaaa-hooo” towards his fellow legendary uncles signaling the closing hymn of their services. He had caught a big Ulu and was pleased with himself, that he too would have something to bring ashore, and furthermore that after reconciling with his pains and struggles of land out on the open ocean he would have something to give. He had what he knew he would; a way that he despite all that bullshit could still contribute- and it was pono.
Sure the fisherman got something out of this arrangement. They got the exercise of paddling and the spiritual connection of being on the water. They also received the psychological relief of becoming the ocean, of washing themselves clean with the polar opposite of their struggles about the land. But what makes them legends? The reason they are legends is because they were not doing this for themselves, they were doing it to feed the mouths of their community, and it just so happens that this whole legendary act was pono because it was done for their communities but in a way in which they also could receive total benefit. The equilibrium of universe, land, sea, man, and creature was obtained. And while the Kama’aina ate together and shared in the blessing of the legend Dan sat elsewhere on the island, alone watching TV, drinking his beer, and eating his small insufficient legendary Manini.
The End. Yet the children of their children are threatened by over-fishing and a lack of cultural understanding. When what is pono is forgotten there can be no more women-nor men truly worthy of being called legends.
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