Seeking Samoa: A Voyage Home

Ten years ago at the age of 17 my grandfather, Tialavea Morris, the ali'i and high chief of Faleapuna, called my parents and I to his village in ʻUpolu, Samoa on what we thought was a vacation. Unbeknownst to us, his intentions were far different from that of a summer getaway. Instead, his purpose for bringing us there was to make me a Taupou by bestowing upon me the title of Tuloutele, a role that carries an immense amount of responsibility and expectation.

To be the official Taupou of the village, and therefore the head of its Nu’u o Tama’ita’i (all the women born into this village), the young woman must be the daughter (or granddaughter in my case) of the highest ranking Ali’i in that village. In addition to helping make decisions for the family (and village), those who hold these titles are seen as spiritual and temporal caretakers of all who fall under their authority.

Upon conferring me with the title, he declared that unlike other taupou whose life and duties are dedicated to one's village and family, mine's would be to return home to Hawaii to continue my education and “learn what I am meant to”. When he allowed me to do so, it came with one stipulation. It was that "there will be a time that I will call for you to return home. When I do, it is your responsibility to bring back what you've learned and teach your people.”

As my people were once great voyagers, my grandfather took much interest in the fact that I was learning Polynesian voyaging techniques from a Pwo Master Navigator. This traditional art of non-instrument wayfinding entails navigating open-ocean voyages without instruments, using observations of the stars, the sun, the ocean swells, and other signs of nature for clues to orientate ourselves while out at sea. Aside from the practicalities of getting from one point to another, wayfinding and navigation is symbolic of life - committing ourselves to a goal, making the necessary preparations to achieve it, persevering in the face of adversity and adapting to an ever-changing environment. It represents the highest level of teamwork that comes only when we trust in the our own abilities as well as those of our teammates. Wayfinding in its purest form is leadership.

Two years ago the phone call that I had been so anxiously anticipating finally came. My grandfather, whose health at the time was beginning to fail him, told me it was time to come home. However, in knowing that I learned navigation he gave me a requirement. It was that when I return, I must do so "by the stars”. This meant that I would need to navigate my way home on a wa’a, canoe, and also bring my navigator with me to be honored. I tried to explain how high of an order this was and why for so many reasons this was an extremely hard request. He assured me that "when the time is right, things will fall into place and you will return by way of the sea and the stars.”

And he was right, things did fall into place. In a recent series of amazing and very interesting events, an opportunity has come for to me to serve as a navigator’s apprentice aboard Hokule’a, Hawai’i’s famed voyaging canoe, as a part of its Malama Honua - Worldwide Voyage (visit to learn more!).

My goal is to join the Tahiti - Samoa crew at Aitutaki, Rarotonga as it is their last definite stop before heading to Samoa on August 7. However, the expenses of travel accommodations, cultural protocols and offerings, voyaging supplies, etc. is a cost that my family and I simply cannot afford on our own despite our honest and arduous efforts. Therefore, I am humbly requesting your support to help me make this journey home. This is my once in his lifetime chance to fulfill my promise to my grandfather and knowing that you are apart of it makes this unique voyage all the more special.

With sincerest love and gratitude,
Tuloutele Celeste Ha’o
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Celeste Manuia Ha'o 
Hilo, HI
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