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Our Oceania: Heeding the call North (Part 1)

There is a saying among Carolinian navigators, “Mwuril waa,” which, loosely translated, means “To know where you’re heading, you must know where you’ve been.”

It was with this sentiment that we embarked on a six-day voyage to Pagan on April 29; the sail, which involved a crew of mainly Carolinian and Chamorro descent, honored the Chamorro voyagers of the late 1600’s who, on Spanish orders, sailed 112 canoes north to convince the Northern Mariana Islanders to settle on Guam and Saipan.

Our modern voyage was a way of recognizing the skill of those sailors and the centuries-long burden that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific have suffered under colonialism.  It was also a nod toward a brighter future; the open ocean journey served as a training sail for the Okeanos crew, which was preparing to offer regular voyages to the Northern Islands to enable more consistent personal and cargo transportation across the entire Marianas archipelago.

Dolphins escorted the 40-foot monohull, Aoba, the 50-foot traditional Polynesian sailing canoe, Okeanos Marianas, and the 26-foot traditional Chamorro sailing canoe, Neni out of the Saipan Lagoon, a breathtaking sight made all the more significant by the belief of many onboard that dolphins carry the souls of ancestors – perhaps the very ancestors for whom the sail was an homage.

In 2015, the U.S. military released its first draft of the CNMI Joint Military Training or CJMT proposal, a plan to convert the entire island of Pagan into a live-fire training range where the military would deploy an arsenal of weaponry, including land mines, grenade launchers, rockets, mortars, missiles, and bombs weighing up to 1,000 pounds. The CJMT would also authorize the development of live fire training ranges on the northern two thirds of Tinian. Grassroots protests were able to stall the CJMT for the time being, but the issue remains unresolved.

Thirty-six hours after we left Smiling Cove, our small fleet arrived on the shores of Pagan. Black sand beaches are lined by coconut trees, dramatic rock formations rise out of the ocean, and ironwood forests surround freshwater lakes, all in the shadow of Mount Pagan, the island’s largest of its two volcanoes. Out of this stunning geography, life overflows: mango, breadfruit, coconuts, taro, wild pigs, cows, and goats, coconut crabs, fruit bats, lobster, and, of course, endless fish.

We were hosted by the island’s three inhabitants: Ken Kaipat, his wife, Maria Kaipat, and Ken Kaipat’s co-worker, Shawn Mettao. Kaipat and Mettao work as field officers for the Northern Marianas Mayor’s Office. Ken and his siblings Gus and Cinta wrote the popular song “Faluw kkaa Efang” or “Northern Islands.”

We celebrated our arrival with a tremendous catch —  in an hour of diving, we had enough lobster to serve breakfast and lunch to over 20 people. For another meal, we ate coconut crab cooked in coconut soup. We picked mangos, shaved coconuts, and shot and ate a wild boar.

After courageously recovering from a brutal case of sea sickness, Zenn Tomokane, prepared for our hosts a sausage made entirely of coconut crab, served in a deep fried pumpkin blossom.

We slept onboard the boats and in tents around our hosts’ living quarters, which are tidy, practical, and charming. An outdoor kitchen with a gas and wood stove sits in a corrugated metal, three-wall enclosure less than 50 yards from the beach.

Ten yards inland is a long table also meant for food prep, under which the Kaipat’s pet piglets like to lounge in the shade, waiting for scraps. A larger corrugated metal structure shades a sink, a kitchen counter for the dishes, a breezy picnic table, and a cabinet where the Kaipats keep supplies. Hanging from this larger rooftop is a painted sign straight out of a beachside restaurant; an arrow labeled “Beach” points left, toward the ocean. An arrow labeled “Work” points right, toward the untamed jungle.

The only four-walled structures are their bedrooms and an outhouse with a flushing toilet (though you do have to bring a bucket of water to flush it). On the roofs of their bedrooms they have a system of rooftop gutters and funnels for collecting rain water to drink and solar panels for powering lights at night.

(To be continued)

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/editorials/104448-our-oceania-heeding-the-call-north-part-1

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