“When you get the videos, phone me!” Sefo has been sounding like an impatient ten year old waiting for his best friend to try out a new video game.
Sefo, a grandfather who diligently keeps his family and close friends well versed in Rotuman tradition, has been phoning every day to see if the videos arrived in the mail. (Reference for Sefo: The Rotuma-Canada Connection)
“Sefo, they haven’t arrived yet.”
“But I sent them days ago! What’s taking them so long? You’ll love them! Phone me and let me know when they come.”
With every call, I have promised, yet here he was again…
The two videos are anthropological studies that came to the attention of a professor friend. When she described them, Sefo recognized an extraordinary opportunity to learn forgotten navigation skills used by his ancestors.
The videos record the knowledge and skills known by one elderly gentleman of Micronesian descent who lived on Satawal, a small island in the Caroline Islands north of Papua New Guinea. Papa Mau was one of the six remaining Master Navigators able to navigate the ocean without instrumentation. He was invited to Hawaii to share and record these skills. It’s more than using the senses. It includes using intuition. Though not a simple process, its procurement has now proven invaluable. Papa Mau died in 2010.
These recorded skills describe ancient abilities also used by Melanesian and Polynesian races for navigating open waters. Papa Mau’s knowledge confirms stories that island people traveled to other islands long before European ships began exploring these exotic lands.
Years ago when Sefo first described Rotuma to me, he explained that Fiji, the closest neighbour, was 400 miles south of Rotuma. I asked, “Besides the stars, how did your ancestors navigate the open water without instrumentation?”
“The ocean has currents. My people learned how to read them. Also, when we come closer to land, we can smell it.”
I had neither considered the ocean having streams nor the land having scent.
Yesterday, when the phone rang, I saw “Sefo” on caller ID. I hit the talk button and immediately said, “It’s not here, Sefo!” I felt impatient. Could he just ask how I was doing instead of talking about videos? A resentment was rising. Throughout these days of video-focus, his enthusiasm over sharing his ancestry quelled my desire to say, “Hey, I need to talk. I need our friendship. I don’t want to talk about Rotuma or navigation or which star to watch to read the weather!”
There was a pause, then the familiar laugh. “Sorry if I’ve been bothering you.”
“Well, Sefo…do you remember that you asked me to write my response to the videos? I said I would. I promised I would. Yet you call everyday and ask about the videos.” The tone had not improved.
“I wanted you to call so I could listen to my messages and hear your voice.”
“Are you being sarcastic?” I asked.
“No. I’m doing negotiations with clients right now. I’m meeting with each difficult client. So when I come out of one of those meetings, I need an anchor. I listen to my messages because even if you just said ‘hello’, your voice somehow calms me and gets the adrenalin back down to normal. When there’s no message, I go to my car and listen to Rotuman music. It’s how I come down. Just talking helps – no matter what we talk about.”
My soul took a dive into warm, fragrant, turquoise water. “Oh, Sef, I don’t know if I’m fit to be anyone’s anchor right now.”
“I just need to hear your voice.”
I knew what he meant.
A crack appeared in my heart’s veneer. How did I ever end up with a friend like Sefo? He teaches me that Love lives beyond all character defects. Love oversteps petty annoyances. Love forgives in the face of the minutiae and the monstrous.
I don’t have to see the videos to confirm this beloved Polynesian knows how to navigate currents, follow stars, and smell safety. He’s been surviving my storms for 25 years.