Monday, August 26, 2013

The Vessel: Reflections on my World Adventure

Interactive Map of my 2012-2013 World Canoe Building Adventure

Am I really home? After a year of traveling the world, living amidst indigenous communities, upon their waterways, building their canoes, I find myself asking, is my adventure really over?

The canoe is a vessel. Around planet Earth's diverse environments, traditional canoes literally carry the life of people whom depend on them. Yet these vessels carry much more than goods and bodies, they carry a way of life, a world view born of a particular ecosystem. In this way, the canoes of traditional cultures are storytellers, vessels carrying important lessons, insights, inspirations, ideas, and meanings across time.

The idea of listening to these storytellers, through the wood's grain or the bundling of reeds, was the wind which thrust strongly at my back as I made my first few steps this year.  As I look back on notes, photographs, memories, and friends, as I hope you will on this site, the synchronicity of my journey illuminates. There's so much more in my heart to unravel, so much more to these stories I don't yet understand. What epitomic words can I say to you, you who have taught, followed, connected and supported me?

I will say thank you, but I will also say find your passion, that which you love and are inspired by in all honesty, and purse it, in which ever way works. Your passion is sacred. It is sacrelidge to ignore or fear it. Thank you to all of my teachers this year for showing me this. Thank you to this world these gifts and for you.

Am I really home? Is this adventure really over? Maybe I never left home. Maybe the chance to follow my passion was finally coming home, an initiation into understand what home means. Now, I see that adventure is an approach to life, a certain story that commands the way it is lived. Adventure is not other countries, the exotic, or anything contextual. It is the excitement, the interest. Our passion is simply what carries them. Here's to an adventure, a homecoming. To the vessel.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Ainu Canoe

Distinct carved designs of an Ainu river canoe

I found home away from home. On the far northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, I went to visit friends I had made in New Zealand, the Sekine and Kaizawa families, who are descendants of the Ainu people, the first nation of Japan. The Ainu are diverse artisans, carvers, weavers, and craftsmen, keeping alive thousands of year old traditions marking their relationship with nature and each other. 

Master carver Shigehiro Takano

Maki and Kennji, my host parents, introduced me with great kindness to the language, arts, and way of being of the Ainu people, including mind blowing food. Maki is a renowned artists, particularly carver, who taught me basic patterns. Her daughter Maia, my host sister, is also quite skilled in these arts as well as a storyteller. Kennji, my host dad, works in the timber industry and showed me his knowledge of the forests and creeks on an Ainu language outing with local school children. It was a complete immersion and I felt as if I was home already, no matter which side of the Pacific I was on. 

Carving traditional patterns

The Ainu have various styles of canoes, having traditional lands upon oceans and river. I was in the village of Nibutani, on the Saru River, where dugout canoes, often with intricate carvings were used. These dugout canoes face the same method of carving as on many other world traditions, using axes and fire, though chainsaws are new members of the tool kit. 

The ocean going canoe, just one built in recent times,  is a sewn, single hull, plank canoe using intricate lashing systems and tree nails. 

Digging out the canoe, Ainu Culture Museum

An important artistic tradition in the Ainu world is the sacred offering of Inau. Inau are river trees, often willow, that are carved to make spiraling shavings, which bundle together to for intensely beautiful patterns that seem to come to life in the craftsman's hands. Some such Inau are placed on the front of traditional canoes as offering to gods which may help its voyage. 

Inau for a canoe

The Ainu Museum of Nibutani houses many canoes as well as treasures of the past and present. The museum does not act as a grave for lost arts but rather a sacred place of protection of knowledge and arts so that living Ainu people and others may enjoy and learn from them. This museum is right along the Saru River within the Ainu community of Nibutani.

Learning to carve Inau with Kaizawa Momoru

Ainu culture lives. Its resilience is astounding, as are the more than giving, more than kind, people whom have welcomes me into their homes, shared their food, taken me hunting and fishing, and made me feel like family. A story telling culture, I had the opportunity to read, listen and learn such stories. In a meeting house created at the museum, I listened to two elders share traditional stories while eating fresh deer meet caught by papa (on the right) with whom I had went hunting that morning. 

Community elders storytelling

My quick assimilation into family has much to do with the incredibly wonderful Grandmother Kaizawa Yukiko, mother of many of the artists with whom I have been learning, including my host mother Maki. Yukikosan gave me amazing Ainu meals of lilly dumplings and fresh deer meat while showing me the deeply important bark textiles she weaves into traditional clothing. I am humbled to have been in her presence.

Kaizawa Yukiko, master weaver of the bark textile

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moments in HaLong Bay

Sunset from Cat Ba Town

An overland journey from Laos brought me to the incredibly maze like city of Hanoi, Vietnam. From there I went for some kayaking and exploring in the massive limestone wonderland of Ha Long Bay on the Northern Vietnamese coast. In Ha Long, a different typo of bamboo boat exists. They are large oval baskets rowed with two oars used throughout floating island fish farms in lost sea shore canyons of green covered cliffs. 

Floating Islands of Lan Ha Bay

It was a relaxing week, as I make my journey homeward after a year of true, wild, adventure. I took a boat to the island of Cat Ba, the largest in Ha Long bay, the majority of which is national park and rugged vegetation midst impossibly steep cliffs. 

Bamboo boats tied together for living

It feels as if almost every nook and cranny of this place, covered in steep dark cliffs hiding from the VIetnamese sun is a mystical place waiting to be explored. With a kayak or the calm sway of the bamboo boats its east to find yourself moving through arch gateway cliffs of clear and untouched water or in secret bays, any of the million.

Resting bamboo bats, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

From Cat Ba, I explored Lan Ha Bay, where villagers live on floating islands made mainly of plastic containers. There they farm fish that they catch in the bamboo boats. Other than experiencing a few moments on the bay, it was a relaxing, unbusy, last week in Southeast Asia. 

Lake of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

My final week on the Watson journey, will be spent with the Ainu, the indigenous of Japan, in the northern island of Hokkaido. I am going there to visit friends Kennji, Maki, and their daughter Maya Sekine. I met them in Waitangi and they told me of their canoes, traditional carvings, weavings, and other beautiful traditions. This will be a meaningful place to end such a journey, and begin new ones.