Te Matua’s Gift

Chief Kaveia with carving of his ancestor Lata

Chief Kaveia with carving of his ancestor Lata

Our aloha and condolences go out to family and friends of Paramount Chief Koloso Kaveia, founder of the Vaka Taumako Project, who recently passed away at his home. During his long and remarkable life, he touched many people in many parts of the world. In Solomon Islands, Germany, New Zealand, Hawai`i, England, Vanuatu, California, Fiji, and Japan live those who cherish his memory.  As befits someone with a wide network of acquaintances, Kaveia was known by many names; “old man”, “The Chief” (“Chief” for short), navigator, helmsman, etc. For us, however, he was and always will be “Te Matua”, our father.

 

Te Matua’s Gift

By Mimi George

Te Aliki Kaveia, beloved Chief of Taumako, died at home on 27 August, 2009. Weeping and wailing was heard throughout the thousand mile long Solomon Islands and beyond to the furthest island groups in the Pacific – wherever people who knew his kind ways and astonishing accomplishments. Those who knew him called him “Te Matua” – The Parent or Ancestor.

Te Matua is well remembered by people who met him during his three visits to Kaua’I – from the Fijian pilots who urged him to take the controls of the 747 that flew him to Hawaii (he did steer it through soaring turns), to Dr Larry Sherrer, his associates and staff, and Wilcox Hospital, who donated services to give him back his sight (his eyesight was better than everyone else from then on), to the hundreds of school children, volunteers, and cultural practitioners who came to watch him and his Taumako crew make the main hull of a voyaging canoe as a gift to the people of Kaua’i.

As a boy Te Matua survived a 1918 epidemic that killed all but 37 of over 2000 people who lived on Taumako. The British colonizers were coming, so Te Matua’s father sent him to his Aunt in the Outer Reef Islands where he became a bailout boy on voyaging canoes…then a precocious teenage steersman … then the captain of many far ranging voyages throughout his region. As a man he raised 16 children (15 of them adopted), and worked as Paramount Chief of Taumako for over 40 years. In 1996 he started the Vaka Taumako Project. His vision was that the wisdom of the ancients is every bit as important now as it was thousands of years ago. Te Matua stood as a link between the past and the future

Te Matua was born about 98 years ago in Kahula kainga, on the windward side of Taumako Island. Kahula was also the birthplace of Te Matua’s super-hero ancestor, Lata (known as Laka in Hawaii). According to pan- Polynesian legend Lata was the first person to build and sail a voyaging canoe. Lata was the personage who Te Matua himself referred to as “Te Matua.” It was the knowledge and wisdom of Lata that Te Matua dedicated his life to learning, using, and sharing with a new generation. He aimed to help his own people and all of humanity at the same time. He knew that the ancient knowledge was valuable to everyone.

Te Matua’s gifts to his students included authentic Polynesian knowledge that was thought by many to have died with Reef Islands navigator Basil Tevake in 1971 (We, the Navigators, U. of HI Press:1972). Thanks to the enthusiasm of Taumako children, the assistance from Kaua’i community members, and the efforts of dozens of sailors and admirers around the world, Te Matua spent the last fifteen years of his life doing his best to convey what he knew to a new generation in the form of the Vaka Taumako Project (www.vaka.org). He taught how to build, sail, and navigate completely traditional (stone-age) voyaging canoes using ancient methods that have never been documented or used in modern times (various Polynesian voyaging revival projects notwithstanding!). In the process of doing this he demonstrated ancient spiritual and social skills that are required for any who would venture over the deep blue sea to visit people on other islands, make friends, renew relationships, or explore where ancestors once roamed.

In the next issue of Pacific Journal the article “Te Matua’s Gift” will offer stories of the life of Te Matua … remembrances of his humor, wisdom, and never before revealed details of the Polynesian navigation system.

Tributes to Kaveia

I remember in 2000 when Te Matua was saying goodbye to everyone at the Kauai airport, he had tears in his eyes. I remember his warm welcome when I landed on the beach on Taumako in 2008. I remember, because that’s how he was.

Larry Williamson
President, the Pacific Traditions Society

I pay a big tribute to Paramount Chief Koloso Kaveia, his longtime effort to conserve the original Polynesian traditional navigation and seafaring culture. But we know that ancient seafaring knowledge of Polynesia is there to stay in Taumako now. No one can say it was lost.   I have been involved in the project to revive the traditional knowledge to use and preserve the SATOYAMA (forest beside habitation) in my own town Inagi since last year. Therefore I couldn’t do any support for VTP. But I never forget you. I will do something for the dream of Chief Kaveia someday. 

Kato Kosei, PhD
Part-time lecturer in Rikkyo University, Tokyo (Sociology / Minority Studies)
Official translator of the 2007 Hokule`a Voyage to Micronesia and Japan
Secretary of the Inagi Minamiyama Residential Satoyama Commons Society