Captain Punua and Moana Tamaehu
Le Lagon Vert, Rangiroa
Recently, Nāwa‘a (Randy) and I were very fortunate to spend some time with our friends Punua and Moana Tamaehu. Their heartfelt home, as well as their Tuamotu-style Pension Punua et Moana (Pensions are family-run bungalows or B&Bs), is located on a motu just across the 200-meter wide pass from Avatoru, Rangiroa. Punua’s family land is situated on the shores of “Lagon Vert” or the “Green Lagoon.” The splendor of this rich lagoon full of life, reverence of the ancient Paumotu culture (Paumotu is the ancient word for the Tuamotu atolls and its people), and gentle friendship we experienced here was extremely difficult to capture on my camera, and I feel I have committed injustice as to what was actually presented before our eyes and soul…
If you ever have a chance to come to this heavenly refuge then please take the time to visit their pension (www.manihi.com/tostay.html (689) 96.84.73). Moana is a gracious loving hostess and her energy is ceaseless. Punua is also an excellent dive-guide, along with multi-talents (some of which are discussed further below – please read Nāwa‘a’s reflections of him), as well as various Rangiroa municipal duties. Numerous divers from all over the world seek him here for his expertise of these pristine atoll waters. Moana and Punua, along with their two children, have constructed a beautiful traditional Tuamotu home and pension with their own creative and resourceful hands, and continue to do so today.
Moana also shared a bit of her family’s genealogical history and is a descendent of the Tahitian Chiefess Pere (Pele the Fire Goddess in Hawai‘i). Punua also shared that one of his ancient family names is “Heiau” which is a word we still use today in Hawai‘i for ancient temples. Listening to their stories we, as well as they, quickly became aware of many associations that are linked between them, this ancient land of the sea, and our home of Kaua‘i.
Both being deep-sea mariners, Nāwa‘a and Punua quickly became friends and they have now spent many hours discussing various aspects of voyaging. Punua was also onboard a Nautor Swan-65 sailing yacht for 12-years and so Nāwa‘a and him share an extra-special gleam and brotherhood. When Nāwa‘a first mentioned his own Swan ”Rizaldar,” as well as voyaging with our traditional Hawaiian canoes, their bonds were genuinely tightened.
More importantly, Punua recently completed an amazing historic four-month voyage last year (July 27-Nov.22, 2010) from Tahiti to Shanghai, China on a traditional 50-foot sailing-outrigger (va‘a motu nui) as Captain of the “O Tahiti Nui Freedom” (http://otahitinui.com/vaa/en). This project, designed by Hiria Ottino, was to “retrace the history of a migration which commenced six millennia ago” but in a reverse direction. (Ottino, Hiria. Te Ara Tupuna. April 2010 "Te Ara Tupuna pdf"). Eleven island countries were visited before arriving in China (from Tahiti to Avarua, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Santa Cruz, Solomon, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Philippines). I understand the canoe is currently on display at the National Museum in China. (and please excuse my ignorance in an earlier post about the canoe being sailed back to Tahiti – that’s what happens when one does not triple-check information, as well as “lost in translation!”).
Punua is also in the process of creating the “Rangiroa Voyaging Society” (please read more about this in Nāwa‘a’s writings below). To our many voyaging cousins around the Pacific, especially those in Hawai‘i, he could certainly use any help you might be able to kokua. Supplies are extremely rare here, as well as decent marine quality, and the costs are extraordinary, as many of you already know. Simple supplies (for us) such as quality marine rope, sail cloth, even sewing materials for repairs, etc. are greatly needed to help make his vision a reality. If you are able to contribute to this cause then please let us know and we will arrange shipping.
Nāwa‘a has written his reflections about this incredible Paumotu man and generously shares some of them below. The two of them have many philosophical commonalities with Polynesian life and especially the sea… Anyone who knows Nāwa‘a or Punua can imagine the extensive on-going discussions about these subjects.
Captain Punua Tamaehu of Rangiroa, Tuamotu
When we first met each other at the Marina of Avatoru, I was struck with Captain Punua’s unassuming air and his quiet reserve. I could tell a part of his mind was deep at sea observing nature unfold itself. This is a man, I told myself, who lives with a different sense of time than most humans I’ve encountered as he has the patience to calmly watch the movements of tide, currents, and stars, yet also a resolve that once motivated to action can be very dangerous. Prone to lapse into silence on occasion, he reminded me of Papa Mau Piailug (Traditional Master Navigator from Satawal in the Caroline Islands, Micronesia, for the Hawaiian voyaging canoes - Hokule’a, Hawai‘iloa, and Makali‘i), in that his silence spoke volumes to anyone with the ability to shut their mouth and open their mind and senses to what was happening around them. Any relationship with men like this takes time to develop, and if you offer any pretentions whatsoever you will be cast-out and deemed an inferior never to be given a second chance.
The people of Rangiroa are very proud of him as in 2010 he was chosen to captain the “O Tahiti Nui Freedom,” a 15-meter (50-feet) sailing outrigger designed by Hiria Ottino and built by Teraupo’o, on an epic voyage from Tahiti to China. Every day the Tahiti newspapers carried the story of this journey on their front pages, much to the delight of Rangiroa who now feel their atoll is finally recognized for something important.
Today, Captain Punua dreams of returning the ancestral age of Paumotu traditional sailing and to reclaim Rangiroa’s proper place in Polynesian history as master navigators and canoe builders. The Paumotu people still live and die according to the rhythm of the sea, and everything they do, everywhere they go, involves numerous observations of the deep sea and their vast shallow lagoons as the weather patterns dominate every decision they make. Unfortunately, in a way, the outboard motor now rules the day and the sight of sailing canoes is no longer common, something Captain Punua intends to do something about.
His plan is deeply layered, as all good plans must be. Start small by building the fare va‘a (canoe house) and then a 10 to12-meter lagoon sailing outrigger canoe in order to begin training the people of Rangiroa. Then as momentum and resources accumulate, to build an offshore voyaging double-hull canoe and range-out over the Pacific. His mind is constantly working-out all the various aspects of safety, education, fundraising, government involvement, and International support necessary for this undertaking.
His base of operations is the “Green Lagoon,” already cloaked in tradition and history, and spoken of by the people of Rangiroa with awe and respect for its sheer beauty and as a natural doorway to the lagoon and the open sea. This mythical place also happens to be the ancestral family lands of Captain Punua who lives here with his wife Moana and their children. A better place for his endeavor would be impossible to find.
It is one thing to be driven by dreams, yet it is the resolve to work each day, ever so patiently with sacrifice that makes a dream a reality. I can see in this man all the psychological elements, the experience and the fortitude necessary, along with the charisma that will attract and hold good men and women with conviction to take back their history. To be part of this give added meaning to their lives and a feeling of belonging to something important.
There are many difficulties imposed by such dreams. Rangiroa is on the edge of a world with very little resources as everything either comes from the sea or must travel on ocean roads to get here, sometimes at considerable expense. Wood is scarce, cordage is of poor quality, material for sails nonexistent, let alone the means to purchase all the safety gear required to stay alive, just to name a few challenges. Yet, what worthy enterprise is without challenges? It is a matter of time as bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, the materials needed are patiently gathered that will transform and rejuvenate these atolls with the pride of once again reclaiming their ancestral place in Polynesian history.
It is hard to resist the idea of once again witnessing the sailing outriggers venturing upon this vast lagoon and beyond, their white sails a testament to a proud maritime heritage reclaimed. To be a part of this, to help make this happen, I can think of no greater gift to the people of Rangiroa.
Capt. Randy Nāwa‘a Wichman, of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i
Written at Tiputa Village, Rangiroa