In my life I have been privileged to meet many spectacular people. They have been spectacular for different reasons and meeting them has changed my life. My wife changed my life and is still changing it daily. I met three Generals (world-wide leaders) of The Salvation Army who impacted me deeply. I met former President Bill Clinton while serving disaster services after a flood in Southwestern Washington State. As a musician, Lenny Kravitz (solo artist), Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top), and even Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) changed me in small ways. Last week it was Dr. Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey who changed my life but not for the reasons I might have expected.
I was excited to meet Dr. Lindsey when I was invited by FSM Telecom to have dinner at Orchid's with her and her crew on the 23rd of February. What warm blooded 44 year old man, married or not wouldn't jump at an opportunity to have dinner with a former Miss Hawai'i turned award winning film maker? Dr. Lindsey was in Pohnpei along with her logistics crew, one of whom is the famous Hawaiian and surfer, Buffalo Keaulana who was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame in 2005 and was also the steersmen for the historic passage of a double hulled canoe from Hawai'i to Tahiti.
The crew is on a stopover on their way to film an hour long documentary in Satawal for the Public Broadcast System and the National Geographic Society. The one hour documentary entitled "Ancient Light" that will see airtime internationally will feature the only grand master navigator in the world, Pius "Mau" Piailug. The film crew will also cover the impact of global warming on the Micronesia atoll that is one mile long by only half a mile wide.
Neither during our dinner, nor during the two hour interview the following day at the Village did Elizabeth mention that she was once nominated for an Emmy for her role in the TV Series, "China Beach". Neither did she mention that she was a co-star in ABC's The Byrds of Paradise. I had to go to her website (http:// www.elizabethlindsey.com) to find that out. She never mentioned that she was selected Woman of the Year, Hawai'i Island in 2004 either, but she was.
Dr. Lindsey, who, to the best of her knowledge is one of only three native Hawaiians currently holding a doctorate in Anthropology, specializes in ethno-navigation and studied under Mau for nine years. Though she attracts awards and honors in the same way that honey attracts flies, talking to her one discovers that those honors only serve to further empower her to do the work she loves so much. It is obvious that Elizabeth is passionate about her commitment to the conservation of indigenous knowledge.
She said that when she was a young girl, the native Hawaiian elders who raised her prophesied that she would become a recorder of ancestral knowledge. Her Hawaiian name means "Heart of Heaven" and from all observations she is living up to both of the mission statements given her by her elders and her late father, Henry K. Lindsey who had the serious task of naming her. Henry Lindsey was an esteemed college professor, genealogy expert and as columnist, Jeanette Foster put it, "all around Renaissance man". Lindsey, when asked why she took an interest in anthropology said that anthropology means to, "bear witness and to suspend judgment."
On Monday, February 26th, Dr. Lindsey gave a talk and screened her award winning video "And Then There Were None" at the SPC Conference room as she has done at many venues. Washington D.C.'s Capitol Hill, Oxford University, and the American Museum of Natural History are but a few of the venues where Dr. Lindsey has appeared along with her film which was released in 1996. Employees at Hawai'i's Ritz Carlton, Kapalua on Maui are required to view the film as part of their training before they can receive their first paycheck. The film is screened there weekly for guests as part of its Sense of Place encounter.
In 2002, she did a live narration of her movie along with a simultaneous performance of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. She said that letters to the editor appeared in the newspaper for a month afterward. Along with letters congratulating her for attracting a larger crowd of native Hawaiians to the Symphony Hall than had ever been there before, the praetorian (old guard) members of society wrote in to criticize her movie as unnecessarily harsh on the white community that runs most of what makes money in the state. In our interview, Dr. Lindsey told me that her friend, Roger Ebert (of "Siskel and Ebert" fame), who was present that evening and watched the exodus of the upper crust said, "It was like being in Mississippi in the 1940's and having Rosa Parks as the special guest."
Perhaps a young boy sitting on his mother's lap said it best during the film screening. He asked, as the archival images flashed on the screen, "Where are the Hawaiians?" It was the point of the entire presentation. Where indeed, are the Hawaiians and what happened to their culture? What, in fact, will happen to other indigenous cultures throughout the world as we move headlong into globalization and economic "betterment" possibly without a thought about what has come before and the cultures that might be left behind if they are not carefully guarded?
The theme runs throughout the 26 minute documentary which left most of the small audience in the conference room speechless and full of emotion. Micronesians spoke of their fear that what happened in Hawaii may be happening in their home. I could not help but wonder, as an outsider in Micronesia if perhaps I am contributing to the process. Perhaps those reactions are what have won the film so many awards throughout the world.
On the topic of the documentary on Mau, one person spoke in hushed tones about having met him in Satawal while traveling on Government duties. Satawal elders harshly criticized Mau for sharing his knowledge with Hawaiians. The art of instrumentless navigation had been lost to Hawaiians and would have been lost completely if not for his sharing it. Mau is dying of diabetes. Dr. Lindsey says often that it has been said, "When an elder dies, a library is burned."
Because of Mau, new master navigators are making a historic journey from Hawaii to Satawal in a double hulled canoe guided entirely by the elements and passed down knowledge. The Hokul'ea will return to Hawaii but the Maisu, which was built as a tribute to Mau from the people of Hawaii will stay in Satawal. Both vessels arrived in Pohnpei on March 1st on their way to Satawal. Leighton Tseu of Matson Navigation in Honolulu was one of the recipients of Mau's knowledge. He said that because Mau came his children now speak fluent Hawaiian. He spoke in a voice thick with emotion, "One man came back to our kingdom to remind us of who we are."