"MICRONESIA CONNECTIONS, CONNECTS"
By: Kat Lobendahn (VP/PR for PISO)
“I have laid a stick that connect people together. Now it was up to you, your generation and the generations to come, to build upon that stick a bridge that will ensure the free sharing of information and teaching between the two peoples until the day we become united again as a single people, as we were once before; before men separated us with their imaginary political boundaries of today’s Polynesian and Micronesia.” Grand Master Navigator Dr. Pius Mau Piailug aka “Papa Mau.”
If ever a day resonated and conjured up in me the impetus words of the late Grand Master Navigator Papa Mau, it was today April 14th, at the Micronesia Connects event at Kapi’olani Community College, facilitated by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Micronesia Connections Club (MC). Under the leadership and guidance of Dr. Lola Bautista, Professor of Pacific Islands Studies at UH Manoa, and her team of student officers, and hosted by KCC’s Pacific Islands Students Organization (PISO). Their tireless sacrifice and efforts, and months of planning have not come to naught, but have created a boon for future such events.
The sun was just ascending over Leahi (Diamond Head), and gentle breezes rustled through the trees cooling the officers and members of MC, PISO, et al as they worked together in setting up the Manele building in preparation for the day’s events. Amidst the usual strains and stress of putting on an event, it was most pleasing to me to notice the camaraderie and oneness in which everyone worked to make the day a success. I thought to myself, this is what connecting is all about – having a common purpose in bringing people together, to inspire and edify one another to pursue lofty goals that are not impossible to achieve. After all, we were all descendants of those that have colonized and populated the largest ocean in the world. Collectively, we, Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia are the largest nation on earth with over 6 million square miles. Our descent is from a common ancestry divided by foreign political boundaries as mentioned in Papa Mau’s quote above. Today, there were no boundaries – we the people of the Moana (Pacific Ocean) were one people again. Today was a day of many more to come. Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia was represented today in a common effort to stand and unite with one another, as in the days of yore.
Upon the arrival of KCC’s Chancellor Dr. Leon Richards, everyone gathered on the lawn on the makai side of the Manele building for the official opening of the day. And as if bursting through the sky like Kanaloa, the resounding voice of the ancient’s seemed to descend upon us with the welcoming oli chanted by Kumu Kawika Napoleon, reciprocated only by the beckoning chant of Kumu Joe Yoshida at the entrance to Manele. Everything seemed to stand still at this moment – no one dared to disturb this sacred moment, it was surreal, and for me it seemed that our ancestors were smiling down upon us – elated that we have reconnected and were one again. From on high, we were blessed with favorable weather - the sun was shining, the sky was clear and the trade winds wafting gently set the tone and mood for the rest of the day. And, everyone looked great in his or her “Sunday best.”
With everyone now seated, the formal program of the day was about to commence. One of the things I was most impressed with was the Micronesian national anthem introduced by MC President Paulino Balagot after his opening speech. I was thinking to myself, we don’t even have a Polynesian national anthem, and so this was inspiring for me to perhaps consider looking into composing a regional song or prose. Among the distinguished guest speakers, were KCC Chancellor Dr. Leon Richards, Dr. Amy Agbayani, Director, Student Equity Excellence & Diversity (SEED) at UH Manoa, Kristie Souza Malterre, Counselor at KCC, Ku’ulei Arakaki, Financial Coordinator at UH Manoa, and Mak Porotesano, Director of Student Activities & Leadership at Chaminade University. These VIP guest speakers sowed value into today’s venue with their time, presence and expertise in their contribution to raising the bar and standard for Pacific Islands students. Dr. Richards was very gracious and generous that he had extended an invitation for this event to be held at KCC annually. He also proposed looking into putting together an AA program in Pacific Islands Studies at KCC. It was mentioned to me by Professor Mary Hattori, that Dr. Richards normally leaves after delivering a speech. However, the kind Chancellor stayed for the entire mornings program and sent his Vice Chancellor Dr. Louise Pagotto to stay for the second half of the day, which consisted of lunch provided by KCC’s culinary students; and fun and games was the agenda for the rest of the day. The time to socialize was here, and everyone was ready for it.
After lunch, everyone was given an opportunity to fill out a survey, and those that filled out the survey were given free t-shirts with the Micronesia Connects logo on the front and back. Nearly everyone changed into more sporty and casual attire, donning their new Micronesia Connects t-shirt to participate in the fun and games. I was happy to receive mine. Games consisted of tug-o-war, relay, coconut scraping, weaving, Micronesia trivia, etc. Teams were divided into colors of red, yellow, black and green. Everyone was in a jovial mood and the camaraderie was truly a thing to behold; I watched in amazement as I saw several Pacific Islands doctoral academics really being present with the students, enjoying one another’s company, participating in the games, eating together and just having a grand time, as well as just lounging under the shade of the surrounding trees. There was a lot of friendly competition in the games, and I could not help but think back to ancient times, when this was a normal part of life.
I have come away from this event feeling a greater connection to my Micronesian cousins – knowing, that we were on the cusp of an even greater movement to unite our people of the Moana. I saw Papa Mau’s vision come to be today, it is a vision I often think of and desire myself. I am grateful to Dr. Lola Bautista who took on the challenge when asked by some of her students to form a club. I am certain, that it was a daunting task putting a club together and working with many different personalities, let alone coming to a consensus to putting on an event that will bridge the gap between Pacific Islanders. My hats off to Dr. Bautista and all the officers and members of the Micronesia Connection Club for taking the lead in gathering and connecting with your fellow islanders. Cheers and all the best to each and every one of you in your future endeavors. I can’t wait till next year.