Expanding Our Sea of Islands

In Our Sea of Islands (1994), Epeli Hau’ofa proclaims that in the Pacific, we are not defined by the smallness of our islands, but the greatness of our ocean. The Pacific being a unifying trait that connects us all, an idea that departs from the western gaze of islands as isolated lands trapped by the ocean. Moana, our grandmother ocean is the one that breathes mana (spiritual force) into us and is the source for our many ways of life. It is through her that I connect our sea of islands to Turtle Island.

(ALL RIGHTS) July 2013. Canoe families representing Native American tribes from around the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia, Alaska and Washington) travel from La Push to the Hoh River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula for the annual Canoe Journey. This year, canoeists paddled from their respective home villages and will finish at Point Grenville on the Quinalt Reservation. Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

(ALL RIGHTS) July 2013. Canoe pullers set out from LaPush on the northwest coast of Washington  Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

In Tongan culture, we practice tauhi , which translates to nurishing space. This space is cultivated by shared ancestors or kin-like relationships that bonds us together. In order to sustain for generations to come, our traditions tell us to perform‘ofa (love), faka’apa’apa (respect), and fetokoni’aki (mutual assistance) for one another.

As I’m becoming more involved at Grand Ronde, I notice the ways that the community here views the ocean, as important and powerful. This similarity between our peoples is something I cannot ignore because we share the same ancestor, the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, I must nurture that space between us. During the Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology field school, I have chosen to explore fishing and voyaging traditions at Grand Ronde to connect Indigenous coastal peoples of the Northwest to Pacific peoples.

Canoe Journey is an inter-tribal voyage centered around healing and recovery of culture, traditional knowledge and spirituality. Contemporary practices like Canoe Journey help Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest maintain ties not only  to their ancestors, but Moana herself. Practice is situated in time and place informing traditional lifeways that connect people to places as well as ancestors. (time) and(space) are essential components that Pacific cultures are anchored within. ‘Ōkusitino Māhina, describes tā-vā theory as “the plural, cultural, collectivistic, holistic and circular nature of [Oceanic] thinking and practice about time and space” in which, “people are thought to walk forward into the past and walk backward into the future, both taking place in the present, where the past and future are constantly mediated in the ever-transforming present” (Māhina 2010:170). In Tongan culture, we view vaka (canoes) as vehicles of connection both to ancestors and the sea. In conversation and dialogue with Moana through vaka, features or places are thought of as ancestors themselves. Therefore, a genealogy is created through practice.

I would like to extend this understanding of navigating the ocean to link both Canoe Journey and the Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) Hōkūleʻa as indigenous seafaring practices that bind our peoples together. Past participants of Canoe Journey have also included Kanaka Maoli and Māori as well.

As Maui cast his hook to pull up Tonga into creation, my research culminates the in the production of Indigenous hooks in order to forge stronger ties between our peoples.



Hau’ofa, Epeli

1994. Our Sea of Islands. The Contemporary Pacific 6(2): 147-61.

‘Ōkusitino Māhina

  1. Tā, Vā, and Moana: Temporality, Spatiality, and Indigeneity. Pacific Studies 33(2): 168-202.

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