Voyaging Smart Cities


The great Polynesian sailors and navigators sailed round the Pacific without any traditional instruments, no metal – a stone age people, yet had attained vast ancient knowledge. Today this culture is being reintegrated into society via a number of mechanisms including publishing, movies, reenactments and various youth programs teaching traditional sailing.

The phenomenon of the Voyaging Canoe is growing significantly. Groups like The Polynesian
Voyaging Society have “inspired a renaissance of Pacific island navigation.” There are now
reportedly, “25 canoes, 21 voyaging organizations and 1,000’s of active voyagers throughout more than 11 Pacific Island nations.” Youth sailing is growing as well in numerous places around the Pacific and especially in Hawaii. The Makalil’i voyaging canoe family & YMCA youth sailing program at Kawaihae harbor on the Big Island is one group exposing children to voyaging canoes and the life at sea. I want to mention Makalil’i because its “family” needs funding. In fact, I’m doing what I can to help them.

One thing I’ve done is to write a series of children’s books that features a young “island” pig called Kai who is befriended by a voyaging “Navigator.” The books are the building blocks for an animated series which is now being marketed. I hope to be able to contribute as this project gains momentum. If you‘re interested in contributing, you can reach them here; http://www.nakalaiwaa.org/

In the series, a Navigator builds a Polynesian Voyaging Canoe to sail around the world. The initial book explains more about how to construct a Voyaging Canoe and offers children the ability to “build” their own canoe via a “cut-out” illustration.

A real version of this canoe – the aforementioned Makali’i – was built by Na Kalaiwa’a (The canoecarvers), under the leadership of Clay Bertelmann, a veteran crew member of Hokule’a and a captainon the 1992 voyage to Tahiti. He captained Makali’i on her maiden voyage along with his olderbrother Shorty, a navigator of Hokule’a, who guided Makali’i on her maiden voyage.

Other builders included Billy Richards, a captain from Hokule’a’s 1992 voyage and a crew member ofthe original 1976 voyage to Tahiti; Tiger Espere, a veteran surfer and Hokule’a crew member; Chadd Ka’onohi Paishon, a Hokule’a crew member and currently a captain and navigator of Makali’i; and Pomai Bertelmann, Clay’s daughter, a crew member and navigator in training.

The interest in Polynesian voyaging and in these canoes in particular, is far larger than the sailing itself. The canoes were part of a larger lifestyle that was as powerful as it was profound. The overall methodology was called “wayfinding” and had to do with techniques that allowed the navigator to figure out his direction and location via observation of the water (waves/current), sky(clouds/sun/ moon/stars), birds, etc.

Skilled navigators sailed around the entirety of the Pacific, from Asia to New Zealand, Alaska to Chile and east toward Easter Island and back up to the centre at Hawaii. The techniques mingled the deepest forms of natural interaction with the necessity of practical transportation.

Often these techniques were supported by a kind of trance in which an always-wakeful navigator would exist for several weeks, not ever really sleeping yet always in charge of whatever arose.

From the website Pacific Voyager: “The voyaging canoe is a powerful model of intergenerational learning and cross-cultural legacy, with tremendous potential to inspire pride in our common heritage, and to motivate change as we navigate towards a worlds of ecological suitability.”

At the most profound level, I’d suggest that the Voyaging movement is even more than a “model of intergenerational learning.” Let me suggest – as startling as it sounds – that it provides an alternative to the worlds’ current cultural direction – the establishment or for it’s rejection.

Essentially, the world has grappled for thousands of years with two kinds of cultures. Call these cultures “urban” and “tribal.” Today, urban culture is ascendant but thanks to the Voyaging Canoe movement and other kinds of increasing tribal awareness, this global urban approach is increasingly coming under question.

A great facilitator of this questioning is the Internet itself, which has presented alternative cultural approaches in an increasingly comprehensive way. Because of the
Internet, we can now visualize the broader sweep of “tribalism” as it hasn’t been seen before. As well, we can identify not only the historical relevance of this sort of culture but its ongoing applicability. People usually think of tribalism as a precursor to urban “civilization” but what the Voyaging canoe movement and other tribal presentations are showing us is that “tribalism” is a distinct lifestyle and cultural approach.

For instance in North America, the Great Plains Indian tribes made a conscious decision to live a survivalist lifestyle. They hunted what they needed but as a general rule didn’t seek to store much food for later. Additionally in general, they didn’t practice extensive farming but adopted a nomadic lifestyle that allowed them to roam through the lands they identified as their territory.

We can see the same sort of pattern in Australia where new DNA data and archeological exploration is increasingly revealing the complexity and ancient age of the native culture. In fact, relatively recent DNA discoveries show definitively that the out-of-Africa theory is likely wrong and that modern human beings emerged from Australia.

Like Native Americans, Aborigines tended not to store food or practice extensive farming but instead hunted day-by-day. Territories, before the advent of modern Australia, were well-defined and thus “owned” by individuals or by the tribe.

A good deal of – extensive – spare time was spent on perfecting dances and chants that recited an increasingly expansive history going back tens or even hundreds of thousands of years.

The Aborigine tribal culture may indeed be the “original” tribal construct. It is significant that it shares so much with other tribal cultures around the world including Polynesian cultures.

These cultures have lasted for tens of thousands of years. To portray them as “primitive” or “preurban” is not accurate. Tribal culture in its most powerful formulation is a cultural decision not just a random evolution.

Australian Aborigine culture could have created modern urban environments over time and in fact there were elements of urbanity in Aborigine culture and tribal culture generally. These would haveincluded common events and gatherings for purposes of trading and marketing. Ancient abandoned cities have been found in Australia as well.

What is not fully understood yet, but will be, is that the modern resurgence of tribal culture is no way sentimental but potentially transformative. As the full spectrum of tribal culture emergences we can see the paradigm is not merely a precursor to “civilization” but an alternative that is in many wayspreferable to what we have currently.

Modern urban culture is innovative and entrepreneurial. But it is also controlling and impoverishing. It tends to doom large masses of people to a kind of dull, hemmed-in drudgery. Additionally, modern urban culture is often intensely warlike, run by individuals who maintain social control by creating or sustaining cold or hot wars.

Urban culture is also pyramidal, organized with an elite that overtly and covertly gathers under its control most available resources including monetary ones. Today’s urban environments especially, offer this control via central banks that serve as state-run monetary monopolies.

Tribal societies, on the other hand, are in many ways a good deal less hierarchical. They are not necessarily anti-entrepreneurial but the simplicity of daily living mitigates against large-scale, ongoing concentrated control.

In fact, tribal culture can produce “high tech” achievements in various areas. Necessity is the mother of all invention. There are plenty of ancient evidences of high-tech that rival or surpass what can be achieved today. The ancient Australians drew star maps on a kind of manufactured rock melted inlayers that we can’t currently reproduce.

The tribal paradigm often offers informal justice and informal, collective leadership. It de-emphasizes warfare and monetary control, certainly in terms of what we see in today’s urban culture. It places a good deal of emphasis on cultural displays and encourages music, art, painting, storytelling and dancing.

It is a mistake to believe that tribal culture precludes urban environments. Tribal culture is what it seems: a cultural- more humanistic approach. The problem with urbanity is that it gives rise to other opportunities that offers covert control.

But one can maintain the benefits of tribal culture within urban environments. Early cities have been discovered for instance that show clear signs of tribal organization. Such cities are built in a clustered format so that familial “tribes” lived together, yet in separate spaces.

Today because of the Internet, we have a unique opportunity to reintegrate the power of tribalism in an urban context. For instance, towns and small cities can be connected by a broad and pervasive gamut of Internet communications that can allow a virtual urban reality that nonetheless preserves tribal advantages.

These “smart cities” if properly integrated, are surely the wave of the future. They may offer the benefits of urban innovation while retaining certain tribal signatures with regards to a reduced level of monetary control, lack of militarization, etc.

Blockchain technology, smart-city connective technologies and a resurgence of tribal enculturation could produce what many would see as a superior societal paradigm going forward.

These smart-city cultures might value the benefits of natural harmony as well as technological innovation. Such technologies would exist side-by-side with modern technological achievements and advance with user governed and created solutions.

The tribal societies that produced Voyaging culture valued nature and the utilization of natural resources through the accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of learning. The promise of today’s technology, when married to the ongoing rediscovery of tribalism, can provide us with the proverbial “best of both worlds.”

Being aware of this incredible promise and realizing that it has not yet been fully identified, let alone acted on, I am doing what I can to dedicate my professional life to its realization. This includes funding – raising money for various tribal-oriented activities – as well as activities that support smart city technology worldwide.

We are on the verge of a profound societal revolution and I hope you will
join us in helping to realize its most productive and positive consequences.

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