(from a photo by Sandra Okada)
Here is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, working title, The Spirit of the Voyage. Joseph and Napu are the boys who have escaped from Guam on a small sailboat when the war begins. The are now on the tiny atoll of Puluwat and, once again, need to escape the horrors of war. They are leaving in a traditional canoe with Puala, an old and blind master navigator, and his son, Lana.
The men and boys of the island gathered and, after Puala had been helped on board, the canoe was pushed down its path of palm fronds into the water. Joseph and Napu and then Lana, climbed on board. Lana sat on the honifot and took the helm while Napu and Joseph set the yard in its socket, tied it in with quick hands, and ran up the sail. The canvas gleamed pale white in the dim light as it filled with the evening breeze and, with Joseph holding the sheet and controlling the set of the sail, the proa moved quickly out of the inner lagoon and across the larger outer lagoon toward the channel that led to the open sea. When they reached the lagoon entrance, the boys who had been chasing them in their small paddling canoes, shouted farewells and turned around.
A moment later they eased out into the ocean and felt the swell beneath the hull. Joseph and Napu looked upwards. There was the now-familiar night sky filled with its billions of stars. The moon was still below the horizon and the dark night illuminated the broad streak of the Milky Way. The great stars of the navigators were there—Altair ,the Big Bird of the East, called Mailap, and Scorpius with its bright heart, Antares, and, far to the north, just a finger’s-width above the horizon, was Wenewenen Fuhemwakut—the North Star, the star-that-does-not-move.
Joseph watched the stars wheel overhead, slowly, slowly. He turned and watched Puala’s son, Lana, at the helm. He too was an ordained navigator—a pwo. He understood the song of the stars and how to follow their hidden paths and now Joseph and Napu found themselves looking up and studying the stars when he looked up and they looked at the sea when he studied the sea. They knew that Lana held the key to unfathomable secrets.
Puala’s words still burned in Joseph’s ears: You are beginning to understand. Now, though, he understood what the old man had meant. Out here on the dark ocean, setting out on a desperate voyage in a small and fragile canoe, Joseph felt overwhelmed not only by the immensity of night sky and the vast water that surrounded them, but by the unimaginable dangers they would face. When he could sit as quietly and calmly and steer a canoe through a treacherous unknown as Lana was now doing, then he, too, would understand.