The Spirit and Voice of the Canoe

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

November 6, 2003
William K. Wallace III
Chair of the Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian Studies

Brothers and Sisters Aloha!  I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today at this Devotional.  I pray that whatever I say will be in accord with the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and acceptable to our Heavenly Father.  I also want to dedicate my message to my brother Captain Clayton Bertelmann of the Makali'i Voyaging Canoe who is currently recovering from a series of serious medical surgeries at Waimea on the Big Island of Hawai'i.  I have entitled my talk, "The Spirit and Voice of the Canoe," in honor of Captain Bertelmann.  Peace be with you my Brother, for I know that the Lord has a very special Mission for you to perform here upon this Earth and that your voyage in this life is far from being over.  To "Cap" mahalo nui for all that you have taught us.  To our Makali'i 'ohana mahalo nui for always being there for us.  We look forward to our future voyages together.  Now let us begin our journey together this morning at this devotional service.  Behold the work of thy hands.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Big Island of Hawai'i to assist with the towing of the voyaging canoe Makali'i from Kawaihae to Hilo for a special education program and for leadership training.  I had the privilege of driving the Alaka'i or the escort vessel during that first leg of our trip.  The Alaka'i help save me in the stormy sea.  The seas outside of Kawaihae were calm and smooth but this quickly changed as we came around the northern point of the Big Island called Upolu point.  At that time my brother Luther Waiwaiole told me, "look Uncle Bill and tell me what you see?"  As I looked into the thick darkness of night, I saw the salt air from the sea rising into the sky twisting in the wind heading directly towards us.  The seas became extremely turbulent with waves coming from all directions.  One such swell caught our escort vessel and lifted us high into the air then slamming us onto the turbulent seas below.  The force and turbulence of the swells were so great that I was lifted off my feet with my head smashing against the roof of the vessel then throwing me violently onto the floor and into the hatch of the vessel below.  As I lay there in great pain and agony the thought immediately came to my mind: "Master, the Tempest is Raging, the billows are tossing high! Peace Be Still, Peace Be Still."  With tears in my eyes the feeling of peace did come to me and I was able to survive those high turbulent seas.  As we came into Hilo Bay I gave thanks to Heavenly Father for preserving my life and allowing me to witness the power of nature for it helped me better understand my place in it and it filled my heart with sincere humility.

"Let the Lower lights be burning, send a gleam across the way, some poor fainting struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save." These are some of the words of one of my favorite hymns sung this morning by our Men's Choir.  How often are we caught in the storms of life and its many battles that we forget to look to the lower lights that are burning to find our way safely home?  It is to all those who journeyed before us that I wish to focus my remarks this morning.  For we were all there prior to this voyage of life, in the Spirit World with our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother Jesus Christ and we all chose to follow him and that all that we do here upon this Earth shall be to Glorify our Father which is in Heaven.  Our life here upon this Earth is indeed a voyage and we are all traveling upon the sacred wa'a or canoe called Papa Honua HÄ?nau Moku or Sacred Mother Earth.  All of our decisions in life will determine how well our journey will be and whether or not we make it safely to our final destination.  Each of us must be the Captain of our own wa'a or canoe of Life and we must endure all the trials and storms that may come our way over the many turbulent seas that we will traverse.

The Spirit of the Canoe

As I think about the Spirit of the Canoe, I cannot help but think of the Spirit World and the scripture found in Moses 3: 5-9 which says in part, "For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth...And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it.  And it became also a living soul."  This scripture tells us that the Lord God created the trees spiritually first before they were placed here upon this Earth and that the trees are indeed sacred to the Lord for they were made by him.  How many of us think about this when we are out walking through the forests or if we are simply sitting in our back yard looking out across the Ko'olau mountains or some other special site where we can enjoy the abundance of trees and nature that surrounds us?  This scripture has had profound impact on my life for it has taught me that the Lord God has an eternal plan and that his eternal plan includes all things that he through his own wisdom has created.  How grateful I am to be part of his eternal plan of Salvation.

Our Ancestors knew this truth.  They knew that the trees, the birds, the fish, and all living things were made by the Lord God and that they were therefore sacred.  As a child I was taught by my grandfather to pray while planting my taro plants and he always taught me that Ke Akua or God would always listen to your prayers being offered on behalf of those things which you are planting into mother Earth.  I cannot help but give thanks to our Kupuna or Ancestors who treated all things within their island environment with love and deep respect for they knew and understood the proper kuleana or responsibility and relationship that we as human beings had been given by the Lord over all of these things. 

Our Ancestors knew that the giant trees used to build their canoes came from God and they knew that these trees had a spirit and that the spirit of these trees would help them and their family journey safely from place to place throughout the vast expanses of ocean that separated them from their different ancestral homelands.  As a gift from God, the trees which are upon the face of this Earth are true symbols of God's love for us his children.  In the spiritual sense, the trees, the flowers, the birds, the creeping things and all other life forms are our older brothers and sisters and they have been given to us for our use and to be used wisely for proper purposes.  In the early stages of creation God said, "...Let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.  And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  And the evening and the morning were the third day." (Genesis 1: 11-13).  We have kuleana or responsibility to take care of the trees, to take care of the rain forests, and to take care of every living thing that surrounds us.

In addition to the spirit of the trees that is given to them by God, the spirit of the canoe is also reflected by the people from where the trees come from.  Sir Ratu Mara's gift of the Camakau to the people of Laie and the Polynesian Cultural Center can be felt by simply touching the canoe.  As you touch the Camakau pictures of sacrifice and love can be clearly felt from its inner fibers.  It is no accident to me that when the time came to build our own voyaging canoe that the spirit of the Fijian People would be called upon again to offer their service, their love, and their sacrifice as they met with our master carver Tuione Pulotu and allowed him to select for us the seven logs needed to build what would become our voyaging canoe Iosepa. The Dakua Logs used to build Iosepa came from the islands of Fiji.   Therefore, to the land, the forest, the people, their chiefs, and their ancestors, we say mahalo or thank you for these sacred gifts.  Iosepa lives because of the great work of many thousands of hands and spirits who gave of their time, of their substance, and of their well being in order for our canoe to be born.  These sacred gifts from Fiji bless our lives and have connected our people forever.

The Spirit of the Canoe is real and it is the culmination of everyone and everything that had contact with it.  It is the Spirit of the People that inspires the Master Carver to move forward with his work and to look upon these logs with great admiration and anticipation.  Constantly calculating in his mind, shaping with his hands, inspecting with his eyes the details of his work ever continuing in shaping the dream.  It is the history of our past, it is the record of our present efforts, and it will be the vehicle upon which the future will travel.  The spirit of the canoe brings people together from many different places to work on a common goal.  Artisans, cultural leaders, religious leaders, students, and community members feel the spirit and hear the voice of the canoe.  The Master Carver leads the way, giving us comfort in his work for his devotion is complete and his skill is guided by the voices of our ancestors to constantly reach out, to inspire, to share, and to serve.   The result is that we too like our ancestors of the past find ourselves with a vessel of curious workmanship a symbol connecting the past with the present a token of love from our ancestors a gift for future generations a testament of faith and a vision of where we came from, who we are, why we were preserved on these isles of the sea and a declaration that we are indeed counted in the fold of the Good Shepherd, even our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  "Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power thru-out the universe displayed; Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art!  How great thou art!  Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, How great thou art!  How great thou art!"  To Tuione Pulotu, Kawika Eskaran, Kamoa'e Walk, Ka'umealani Walk, the rest of our Iosepa 'Ohana, Captain Bertelmann, our Makali'i 'Ohana, and to all of our families...How great thou art!

The Voice of the Canoe

Here we are ready to launch, the union of land and sea, the fulfillment of a dream, the beginning of a life long journey.   All of us must have courage to venture forward to boldly go beyond the horizon, strength to endure pain and hardships, and faith to continue our journey and to follow our dreams. The voice of the canoe is the voice of the Good Shepherd and the voice of our Ancestors as well as the voice of all those who come into contact with the canoe.  It is their voice that is calling out to us to not forget them and to not reject that which they have given to us to help us in these Latter-Days as we continue our voyage in this life.  The voice of the Good Shepherd anchors us and keeps our canoe moving in the right direction.  He is the same Good Shepherd that led the Children of Israel out of captivity and bondage from Egypt and he is the same Good Shepherd that led Father Lehi Mother Sariah and their family from the Old World to the New World here in the Americas.  Our Ancestors heard his voice and it is time for us to not only hear his voice but to hearken to his words and to become more like him. 

We must remember that the Lord told us that we are his when he said, "And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (3 Nephi 15: 21).  And the voice of the Lord continues to tell us how important we are to him when says, "But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me." (3 Nephi 15: 24).  The journey to the waters edge is difficult.  It is sometimes easier for us to cancel the launch and postpone the sail.  But we must have faith, we must push on, for the voyage of life must continue.  From the experiences that we have had from our training with the Makali'i crew we know that there is much work to be done before the sail.  The canoe must be loaded with all of its provisions and the anchors and lines must be secured in its proper place.  We have had many including students and faculty members such as Mark James along with Kawika Eskaran help us to make sure that all needful things are loaded onto Iosepa prior to entering into the waters of Hukilau Beach. 

There is no doubt in my mind my dear brothers and sisters that we are true descendants of father Lehi who have been preserved upon these "isles of the sea" as stated by Jacob when he said, "And now my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off; nevertheless, we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea.  But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren.  For behold, the Lord God has led away from time to time from the house of Israel, according to his will and pleasure.  And now behold, the Lord remembereth all them who have been broken off, wherefore he remembereth us also." 2 Nephi 10: 20-22). 

This promise gives us a sense of security in our heritage and in our roots and gives us a firm place to anchor our lives.  For the sea may be churning and the sail may be difficult, but there is safety in the tow for it secures you and keeps you safe.  Though the winds may blow, and the waters may come crashing down upon you, you must never let go of the safety line which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We must hold on, we must be strong, and we must endure.  Like Jacob goes on to say, we too must, "Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves "to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life." (2 Nephi 10: 23).

The Rig which house the spar the boom and the sail must be securely connected to each other before it is attached to the mast and before it can help the canoe.  It is a lot like life in that our physical, mental, and emotional sides of life must be connected and in harmony with each other before our spiritual side can safely guide us through the storms of life.  It is my prayer that we will all choose the way of eternal life and that we will do all that we can to make our canoe strong in the words and deeds of the Good Shepherd, even our Lord Jesus the Christ.  Sometimes you need the help of others to secure your rig, to insure that your sail will be securely attached to the mast so that your journey will be safe.  The help of others is a blessing.  Laulima, many hands working together makes us stronger in all that we do.  In our voyage of life we must constantly check to be sure that all of our lines are secure and that the mast, the spar, the boom, and the sail are securely attached to the canoe and that they are one, together, united and ready to move forward together.  Like our voyage in life, with all secure on deck, the voyage can be made successfully, even with rising seas and gusting winds the canoe once secured will make its way across the sea and will arrive safely at its final destination.   As we are out at sea, we must always be watchful, be united, and be steadfast in the truth of our course.  With the temptations of the world surrounding us and with great whirlpools of sin waiting to swallow us up, it is ever more important that we be on watch at all times, less the evil one shall come and shall destroy our usefulness, bringing our journey to a tragic and painful end.  We must listen to the voice calling out to us, "Steady as she goes, hold the course, be true to the faith that our fathers have cherished," for they have all passed this way before.

 The skills to maintain a canoe must be practiced both in and out of the water.  It is much like life for we must continue to learn new things and refine those things that we already know.  The scriptures were given to our ancestors and they have been given to us today in these Latter-Days to help us gain salvation and eternal life.  And here is the promise and the blessings that will come from our obedience as stated by Moroni:

38.  For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made. 
39.  But behold, my beloved brethren, I judge better things of you, for I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness; for if ye have not faith in him then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church. 
40.  And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope.  How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? 
41.  And what is it that ye shall hope for?  Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. 
42.  Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope. 
43.  And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart. 
44.  If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity. 
45.  And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 
46.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth.  Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail. 
47.  But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. 
48.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
(Moroni 7: 38-48)

In closing, I testify that the spirit of the canoe leads us and our ancestors closer to the House of the Lord.  I close my devotional talk on the sacred words of the prophet Moroni, for it is in his words that the true Spirit and Voice of the Canoe is manifested.  And when our journey has ended, may we find safe passage back home, united again with our families forever.  I bear you my testimony that these things are true.  In the name of Jesus Christ, even our Savior and our Redeemer.  Amen.