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The Sandwich Islands

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I know this might sound like a crazy thing to say, but I'm going to say it anyway:  Explorers make me sick.  (Is that mean?)

Not all of them and not all of the time (I'm not that crazy), but definitely some of them and definitely some of the time.  I'm talking specifically about the explorers that sailed ships across the seas in search of the New World and then planted their flags on the populated mainlands and islands of indigenous folks and named the newly discovered lands after their brethren or whomever.

The Tahitian Princess Poedua,
daughter of Orio, Chief of Raiatea
Portrait painted in 1777
on Captain Cook's Last Voyage
by John Webber,
National Maritime Museum, London
Like Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (yep, I said it) who - after landing on an island in the Bahamas - named it San Salvador when the natives called it Guanahani.  And like British explorer Captain James Cook who in the 1770s named the Hawaiian Islands after one of his supporters John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and called Hawaii The Sandwich Islands.  Really? How about communicating with the people that were already there and find out what they call their island home.  You some respect, some manners.  How about that?

Please don't get me wrong.  I'd like to think of myself as an explorer of sorts.  Not the sail-across-the-seas-in-search-of-New-Worlds type, but I dunno...a mini-explorer...of culture and travel and such.  I also don't want to sound ungrateful about world history, world discoveries and the world's explorers, but I don't have to agree with how everything went down, do I?  Nope.

Look, the truth is that I just got back from the island of Kauai and found myself getting emotionally immersed in Hawaiian culture (as usual) during my week-long stay.  You see, there is a cultural appreciation component to the travel camp program I run and I also have a personal passion for learning about and sharing what I learn about indigenous cultures wherever I go.  So after watching the Lua'u Kalamaku performance at historic Kilohana Plantation last week, the wheels inside my head started spinning. 

Scene from Luau Kalamaku
The performance story at the luau was about a Tahitian father's journey to the new land of Hawai'i (pre-European period) and how his daughter Orama must stay behind until the land brings its first harvest.  Using only the stars and ocean currents as their guides, the men journey by canoe towards uncharted waters through Polynesia lifted by the Spirit of the Sea, Ka Uhane o Ke Kai.  And yes, I was enthralled. 

Scene from Luau Kalamaku / Photo:®

Scene from Luau Kalamaku / Photo:®

Scene from Luau Kalamaku / Photo:®

Because I am a sucker for folklore and the mystery of history (not to mention that I think I'm Polynesian sometimes), I couldn't help but wonder how different the Hawaiian Islands might have been had they been left to evolve without European or American involvement.  Ultimately, my thoughts circle back to how rare it is for time not to have had an impact on the mixing of cultures; how explorers are curious by nature and might have actually loved immersing themselves in other cultures and foreign lands as much as I do; and that the act of exploration is important, and eye-opening and quite necessary.  

So maybe some explorers* don't make me so sick after all.  Without them, my life...all of our lives...would be remarkably different (and yes, I realize that is an understatement).  But The Sandwich Islands?  I still can't get with that. 


* For the record, any explorers that injured, killed and/or displaced the indigenous do indeed make me sick.  All of them.


ebonyblu on: June 29, 2011 at 10:21 AM said...

I love your blog Tracey. You always put me in the mood to travel.

Niurka on: June 29, 2011 at 11:21 AM said...

I love that you post about different native brown girls and their history.

ebonyblu on: June 29, 2011 at 11:31 AM said...

Explorer's were very disrespectful to the native people. Take this country for example and how we well not we but certain people totally displaced them and confiscated their land. You are right it would not be the same if the explorer's had not come but I don't know maybe it would be even better than it is now. Pure and not tainted by the explorer's culture.

Unknown on: June 29, 2011 at 12:41 PM said...

I wonder, ebonyblu, if there is such a thing as "pure" anymore? I like the idea of celebrating indigneous cultures, but many of us are a mix anyway and I find that worth celebrating just as well!

Kim on: July 1, 2011 at 1:04 PM said...

Tracey, I like the way you think. You are spot on.

Unknown on: July 1, 2011 at 3:28 PM said...

Thanks, Kim! Sometimes I think too much though. LOL #brainpain


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