Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
“Okinawa is such a beautiful place, not just the ocean and scenery and culture, but the people. I’ve been treated well and taken care of by many people here in what has become ‘My Hawai‘i.’” — Colin Sewake
Last month, over 800 Hawai‘i Uchinanchu, Uchinanchu-at-heart, family members and friends attended the Hawaii United Okinawa Association’s 70th installation banquet. Outgoing president Jocelyn “Jo” Ige turned over the leadership reins to 2020 president, Lynn Miyahira.
I met Lynn for the first time in Okinawa in 2007. She was working for the Okinawa Prefectural Government at the time and her section was planning for the April arrival of the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokūle‘a, which was scheduled to dock at Itoman Harbor, its first stop in Japan. Hoküle‘a and its crew were en route to Okinawa after having visited several islands in Micronesia, including Yap, where they paid their respects to their master teacher, Mau Piailug, at his home in Satawal.
My Sewake cousin, Gwen Fred, was a teacher for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools when she heard about planning meetings being held at the Itoman Shiyakusho (city office), so she called to let me know. I, in turn, informed several other Hawai‘i friends. We would drive down to Itoman from the Kadena area bearing chocolate macadamia nut candies and other snacks to share — along with our input regarding receiving and hosting Hokūle‘a and her crew. I remember that Miyagi-san (I don’t remember his first name — he’s wearing the orange göyä kariyushi shirt in these photos) — was in charge of the mission. I also remember attending our first meeting and being introduced to Lynn. We were thrilled to meet each other, fellow Hawai‘i keiki o ka ‘äina in Okinawa.
Unfortunately, Hoküle‘a’s arrival coincided with a readiness exercise at Kadena Air Base, where I was stationed, so my friends and I weren’t able to greet the crewmembers. Although I don’t have any photos of Lynn from back then, I know for a fact that she was there to greet Hoküle‘a and her crew at Itoman Harbor in the middle of the night.
We were able to meet everyone at a private party planned for them at the Zukeran Elementary School cafeteria on Camp Foster, a U.S. Marine Corps base. It was nice to hear traditional and contemporary Hawaiian songs played by the crewmembers, including Tim Gilliom, the brother of singer Amy Hānaialiʻi Gilliom. I especially remember Tim’s rendition of “The Hurt,” one of my favorite songs by the local surf rock group, Kalapana. I also met navigators Nainoa Thompson and Chad Kālepa Baybayan. We were treated to a performance of a traditional haka dance before the evening ended.
Several days later, I drove down to Itoman Harbor to help the crewmembers load their bags back onto the canoe in preparation for their departure. It was rainy that day. Hoküle‘a’s escort boat, Kama Hele (Traveler), was docked nearby, ready to accompany the canoe to its next stop, Amami Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, before continuing on to mainland Japan. Japanese crew member Kanako Uchino was being interviewed by a local television station. Takuji Araki was another crew member from Japan.
I was invited to step aboard and wait on the canoe while the crewmembers continued with their preparations for departure. What an experience it was to be aboard a canoe that was similar to one my own Hawaiian ancestors had sailed on their journey to Hawai‘i centuries earlier. I walked up and down the deck, taking pictures of their narrow sleeping quarters, canoe sails and rope, and other parts. Cousin Gwen and I sent back updates and pictures throughout the week to Nainoaʻs wife and then-KHON news anchor Kathy Muneno, who was also a Polynesian Voyaging Society volunteer, so that people around the world could follow Hokūleʻa’s voyage.
Over a decade has passed since then and Lynn Miyahira is now HUOA’s president — 30 years after her father, Wayne Miyahira, served as president of the same organization. Congratulations to Lynn and this year’s officers and board. More memories are sure to be made in the years to come!
Colin Sewake is a keiki o ka ‘äina from Wahiawä, O‘ahu, who was assigned to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in December 1994 to fulfill his U.S. Air Force ROTC commitment. He met his future wife, Keiko, within a month and decided to make Okinawa his permanent home. Colin retired from the Air Force and more recently from the Air Force Reserves. Colin and Keiko have two children and make their home in Yomitan.