Chapter Seven – The Sea People
[ Viewable in PDF format at: 08-TheSeaPeople.pdf ]
David Helmares guided his voyaging craft slowly through the reef
passage into the quiet lagoon. With the trade winds at his back, the return
voyage from Ka’unua had taken but two days. He could see Taveka standing
at the water’s edge, his white hair and broad smile in sharp contrast to his dark
brown skin, holding his weathered hands high above his head in greeting.
David’s eyes filled with tears, and for a moment, he could no longer see
his mentor. The tears turned to laughter, as David remembered the first time he
had sailed through the passage into this lagoon when the welcome had been
* * *
“You do not have permission to land here. You do not have permission to
anchor in these waters.”
The spry and surprisingly strong Polynesian was standing knee-deep in
the still waters of the lagoon and holding firm to the bow of the fiberglass
sailboat to keep it from touching the shore. From the lines on his face he could
have been sixty or seventy years old. Yet his physique, half-hidden by a
traditional lavalava wrapped around his waist and up over one shoulder, was
of a man in the prime of life. He spoke in the voice of one who had
commanded others for decades.
“What do you want?”
“My name is David Helmares, and I want to learn from the sea people of
Marulea,” he replied from the cockpit near the stern of the boat, “And your
“My name is Taveka. Who are you, Captain Helmares?”
The deeply tanned Helmares was wearing sunglasses and a visor to
protect his eyes from the glare of the ocean. He was bare-chested, and his
surfing trunks were as sun-bleached as his hair.
“I’ve just sailed over three thousand miles and - - -“
“Captain, that is not what I asked you.”
“Sir, uh, I mean Taveka, I have everything you need right here. This bag
contains my passport, ships’ papers, and all my documents.”
He began to walk forward from the cockpit, only to see Taveka raise a
hand in a clear signal to proceed no further.
“Please just stay where you are. I am not interested in your documents.
Now, Captain Helmares, what did I ask you?”
The question was posed in a quiet, patient voice that nonetheless
demanded a response.
“May I at least come forward and speak to you more directly?”
“Tie your helm down so your boat does not drift. Then come and sit on
the bow. And take off your sunglasses.”
The young sailor did as he was told. He sensed the man standing before
him had all the authority of a customs agent, a harbormaster, and more.
“I was born in the United States, in the state of Texas, in - -”
“Texas? Well, you are a long way from the Lone Star State, partner!”
Taveka looked straight into David’s eyes.
“Just one minute please, Captain. I think others will want to hear this.”
He turned and waded through the shallow water to the beach and
continued to walk across the sand.
“Remember,” said Taveka, calling to the unexpected visitor from the trees
fringing the beach, “Do not drop anchor under any circumstances!”
Within minutes a crowd of people gathered on the beach. They were
wearing sarongs, canvas shorts, traditional loin wraps, and muumuus in bright
yellows, reds and blues that contrasted with their rich brown skin. There were
strong young men and women, many with children of all ages and sizes. There
were older couples hand-in-hand, and the people up front made way for them
as they sat down near the water. Only when they were seated did everyone else
sit down, though some of the young children could not contain their curiosity
and went swimming around the modern sailboat. There was a lively murmur
of conversation, and David could pick out words in English, French, and a
dialect that he had not heard while sailing throughout Polynesia. A small
group of elders appeared behind the crowd and did not sit down. Taveka
emerged from that group and walked through the crowd to the water’s edge.
“Captain David Helmares, we are impressed you were able to find us, and
for that you have our respect. Now, who are you?”
David was about to begin when a voice came from the middle of the
crowd. “And be brief – we have to go fishing in a few days!”
Everybody laughed, except for the elders and Taveka.
“I’ll do my best. I was born in Texas, but my father died when I was only
“What city in Texas?”
“What day were you born?”
“Was your birth painful to your mother?”
“Do you remember him?”
There was so much curiosity in the air that Taveka did not try to tame it
for almost a minute. Then he slowly raised his hand and the questions stopped
“First he must present himself to us.”
David Helmares realized he was in a truly foreign place far, far from
California in more ways than one.
“Of course, I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions. I’m not going
“That remains to be seen. Although I am the chief navigator for our
people, the decision about you is not entirely mine.”
One precocious boy about ten years old just couldn’t wait.
“I want to know how did he get here from Texas?”
“Yes, and why did he find us?” said another youth, possibly six or seven.
“Did you build your boat?”
“Can you catch fish with it?”
“Are you married?” That question came from a blushing young girl,
barely a teenager, sitting near the water.
“Yes, are you available?” asked a large woman seated in the middle of the
crowd. A wave of laughter rolled through the crowd as David blushed. Taveka
suppressed a smile and raised his hand. This time the quiet would not be
“He does not have permission to land. We do not know who he is or if he
is welcome . First he must present himself to us.”
The chief navigator turned to the young man sitting on his fiberglass craft.
“First you must present yourself to us. Then we will council and decide if
we want to ask you any questions. If so, we will all take part in questioning,”
said Taveka, eyeing the children starting to splash and laugh in the water
again, “even the young ones if they so choose.”
He turned and looked across the crowd. All were seated and silent. Only
the elders stood their ground.
“Now, Captain Helmares, look me in the eye. Who are you?”
“Yes, thank you. May I say one thing to you all before I begin? I have
been through many countries and across many borders, and I have never been
through anything like this.”
“Of course not. That’s why you came here. Please continue and do not
“I was born in Texas - -”
“Yes we know that!” said a teenager.
“Let him speak! Let him speak!” said voices from around the crowd.
“I don’t remember much about living in Texas. We had a nice house. My
father died when I was only three and my sister not quite one. I don’t think of
myself as being a Texan and I don’t remember my father or his death.”
The crowd was silent. Some of the children and their parents moved
closer to each other as David talked about the early years of his life.
“After my father’s death my mother moved us to New York and we lived
with my grandparents on Long Island. The ocean was right down the street. I
do remember clearly going to the beach with my grandmother when I was
maybe four or so. Then my mother got a job in New York City. We had to
move and for a long time I never saw the ocean again.”
“That’s really sad,” said one of the children, “How did you ever grow up
without the ocean?”
“I don’t know, maybe I’m still trying to grow up!” Helmares laughed, but
he noticed Taveka was not laughing. He resumed his story with a serious tone
to his voice.
“We lived for four years in an apartment building made of bricks.” David
soon found himself recalling things he had not thought about in many, many
years: going to school for the first time, sledding down hillsides in the winter
and falling out of a tree when he was seven years old. He remembered his best
friend with whom he traded baseball cards and going to Yankee Stadium with
his grandfather and learning how to swim at the YMCA.
“My mother met a nice man who would take us places on weekends. They
were married, and next thing I knew we left New York and moved to
California. That’s when the most important thing in my life happened.”
“And what was that?” asked Taveka.
David related the story of waking up on his first sunny morning in
California and seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
“Are you sure that’s the most important thing that ever happened to you?”
asked an elder. David had been so proud of his story that he was at a loss to
answer the elder’s question for almost a minute.
“Yes, I think so. We lived in a city called Santa Monica and my new
father took us to the beach all the time. That’s when I first learned to bodysurf,
next to the Santa Monica pier. My dad - - -“
“Your dad? But he wasn’t your real father, was he?”
“No he wasn’t my real father, but to this day I can hear his voice when
I’m not doing my best. I learned a lot from him, especially when he would
take us fishing. One Saturday he took us to a pier up the coast in Malibu. The
fishing wasn’t that good and he said, ‘Why don’t you go over to the beach?
Maybe you’ll find something to do.’ I did, and that’s the first time I saw
“Right away I wanted to be a surfer. But my parents were not going to
make it easy for me . In fact, I had to buy my first surfboard with my own
“They were good parents to you,” said an elderly woman sitting in the
middle of the crowd.
“Yes, they were. I was the only one of my surfing friends to get a
university education because of them. Had I not listened to my parents, I don’t
know what would have become of me because, except for my education,
nothing could distract me from surfing, not even girlfriends.”
“You were crazy!” came a voice from one of the men, and laughter
rippled through the Maruleans.
“Well, not so much crazy as enthusiastic. Even when it came to my career,
I chose to study history at university because the schedule of the required
classes gave me more time to surf.”
David laughed to himself and made eye contact with Taveka.
“Don’t interrupt yourself, please,” he said, and once again David looked
into eyes that spoke of timeless youth and ancient wisdom.
“When I graduated, my parents asked me, ‘And now what?’ My hair was
bleached blond and I was working at a surfboard shop. But I had a good
answer for them.
“‘I’m going to be a history teacher!’ They were always supportive as long
as I kept my word. They even let me take time off from university to go to
Hawai’i and Australia, although my dad made a deal with me. I could go with
his blessings, but I had to pay for the trip myself and I still had to get my
teaching license on time.”
“Did you keep your word?” asked Taveka.
“Yes, I did. And the strange thing was, when I came back from that trip, I
was more stoked on education - -”
“Stoked? What is stoked?” asked a young man with a fishing net over one
“Don’t interrupt him!”
“That’s ok. Stoked? I guess it is being crazy, enthusiastic, and very
rational about staying that way.”
“Sounds like you were just short of being a fanatic,” observed Taveka.
“Let him talk!” said a teenager. Taveka covered his mouth to hide his
“My parents became resigned to my passion for surfing, although my
mother often expressed her worst fear that I would become ‘an educated
drifter, an itinerant vagabond never to have real roots in his life’, to use her
Helmares sighed at the memory.
“I can still see her at the kitchen table, asking my dad to please do
something about what surfing was doing to me. He just said if that was what I
wanted to do, he wasn’t going to stop me. He knew surfing gave me energy
and inspiration. He was very wise and trusted me - and that’s how I learned to
People from various parts of the crowd stood up and began to leave,
apparently having to get back to something important. They waved at David as
they left. He waved back, and then looked at Taveka with questioning eyes.
“Oh don’t worry, they’ll be back.”
“Ok, where was I? Oh yeah, teaching.”
“And surfing,” added Taveka sternly.
“Uh, yes,” said David, a bit chastened, “I got my credential, and found a
job right away. I really loved my profession. Yet, within a few years I started
to think about leaving Southern California.”
“The waves were more and more crowded, and tension in the water
started to ruin surfing for me. Getting good waves required more aggression,
more cunning, and a selfishness that changed me in ways I did not like.”
“I was good at it. Surfing taught me a lot about determination, planning
and facing challenges. But after several years at an inner city junior high, I
realized I was no match for the endless stress of L.A.’s city schools . And so I
“You became a sailor!” said a young teenage boy sitting up close,
listening to David’s every word.
“Yes, I became a sailor. I spent three years designing and building this
boat. She has a retractable keel for sliding through shallow passages just like
this one,” he gestured back at the lagoon behind him, “and I named her the
David was lost in thought for a moment. The sailors in the crowd knew
why: it is a special thing when a builder names his ship, almost as important as
when a parent names a child.
“The day came when I said goodbye to my students and handed my letter
of resignation to the school principal. He said good luck, shook my hand, and
went right back to the papers on his desk. He was always writing me up for
violating policies and regulations, and I was just a headache to him.”
Taveka narrowed his eyes just a little. But then he winked at David, who
was not a little relieved as he continued his story.
“My parents and friends came down to see me off the day I set sail, and
now that I think of it I believe even my mom was actually happy to see me
pursuing my dream.”
A few mo thers in the crowd wiped a tear from their eyes.
“First I sailed down the coast of the Baja Peninsula, staying for weeks at a
time to surf - -”
“South of California, in Mexico?”
“Yes, Taveka. There were good waves, but there was no place to make a
living as a teacher. So I kept sailing south and ended up in El Salvador. I
landed a job teaching kindergarten at a bi-lingual school only thirty minutes
from one of the best surfing waves I’d ever seen. But El Salvador became a
dangerous place. A civil war began between the rich and the poor. When
Americans began to be targeted by both sides, I bade farewell to my students
and friends and sailed away.”
“Yes, we bid farewell to you now, David, maybe we’ll see you again
tomorrow,” said a man with a brotherly voice as his wife pulled him away
from the group along with two small children. Others also took the opportunity
to take their leave. They all waved a friendly goodbye to him. David looked
away from Taveka and waved.
“Captain Helmares, you’re off course.”
“Oh, yes, uh, Taveka, I’m sorry. My next stop was Costa Rica, south of El
Salvador. It is one of the few countries in the world without a standing army .
Their motto is, ‘Our children are the soldiers’. I spent six months anchored in
beautiful emerald coves, with monkeys chattering in the trees at night and
good waves breaking in the bays. But there was no way to make a living, and
for a while I even thought about returning to California.
“Then I got lucky. I got a chance to charter my boat to some scientists in
the Galapagos Islands. What a wonderful place! It was a priceless experience
that sharpened my intellect. The only problem was - - -”
“You weren’t surfing!” said the teenage boy who had been listening
“That’s right, I wasn’t surfing. So when I heard of excellent waves in
Northern Peru, and a theory about the origins of surfing and ancient Peruvian cultures, I set sail immediately after my last charter. In Peru my training in
history helped me research surfing’s remote past. I studied ancient festivals
celebrating the sea and from carvings on the walls of archeological sites , I
learned a lot about a culture strongly influenced by waves in their social
structure, art and architecture.”
“Cite an example, please.” Taveka’s command cut with precision.
“They had a rite of passage for young men requiring the initiate to ride a
wave. They used what is called a ‘caballito’. That is Spanish for ‘little horse’.
It is made of dried reeds bundled together. And again, when I helped excavate
a temple near one of the longest surfing waves in the world, we found a
ceramic pot with art depicting a god riding a caballito across the sky like a
crescent moon. When I talked to Thor Heyerdahl - -”
“You know Dr. Heyerdahl?” Taveka’s voice was surprisingly sharp.
“No, I can’t say I know him. I had a chance to interview him once at an
archaeological conference. He was studying a particular society that had built
fleets of reed craft he believed sailed from Peru to Polynesia.”
Taveka looked at the elders. One nodded in return.
“Maybe you will tell us more some day. For now, continue.”
David noticed a distinct change had come over both Taveka and the
elders, and that Taveka had used the words ‘some day’.
“I was inspired by Dr. Heyerdahl’s ideas and again set sail in the Morning
Light to research his theories connecting ancient Peru and Polynesia.”
Taveka and the five elders stared at David intently. The crowd sensed the
tension. Even the children who had been playing in the waters stopped and
went to sit down with their families. David proceeded cautiously.
“I made landfall at over a dozen inhabited islands, looking for artistic,
botanical, and cultural parallels between Peru and Polynesia. On Rapa Nui,”
he paused, shifted his glance for just a second, and noticed that every set of
eyes was looking directly at him, “I found ocean-going reed craft and ancient
stone carvings of seacraft that were almost identical to artifacts I had seen in
Peru. I also learned of a rite-of-passage ceremony involving a legend that - -”
Taveka held up his hand.
“Enough! Remember you are only to present yourself at this time. Please
His tone was direct and serious, the crowd was dead silent, and the elders
all had their arms crossed.
“Yes, well, I’m almost done, actually. In the course of my research
throughout eastern Polynesia, I began to hear stories about a very old and very
remote island society. It was said they could make passages of hundreds of
miles with no charts or navigational equipment, though exactly where they
could be found no one quite knew. But I pieced together a rough idea and set a
course through this archipelago, sailing for days over shallow reefs and atolls
with my keel fully retracted. But finally, I found the sea people of Marulea. I
Taveka and all the people sitting on the beach turned to look at the elders.
One gestured with his hand at the people sitting near the shore. They stood up and walked down the beach without turning and waving to David as others
had. Taveka walked across the empty sands to the elders. They sat down to
make a decision about the man who had found them.
For the next twenty minutes the only sound David heard was the gentle
lapping of tiny waves on the sand. He thought of everything he had said and of
things he had left out that might have been far more important than those he
had included. Then Taveka left the elders and walked across the sand to the
water’s edge. David resigned himself to having to leave immediately.
“Thank you for presenting yourself, Captain. Normally a visitor must
have a herald announce his coming and act as intermediary until certain issues
are settled. You had no herald, so we had no choice but to let you present
yourself. Now I have questions for you, as do others. Will you answer them?”
“Yes,” he said in surprise, “I will!”
Taveka turned and nodded. The elders stood there unmoving for a second.
Then they turned around and walked back into the palm trees.
“We are going to start at the beginning. Who was your father, what did he
do for a liv ing, and why did he die?”
Several children who had left with the crowd saw Taveka talking to the
visitor and ran back to sit at the navigator’s feet. They were shy at first, but
then they too began to ask him questions.
“Did you have toys?”
“Did you have to go to school?”
“What games did you play with your friends?”
Others came and joined the group. The crowd soon grew to over two
dozen, once again representing a cross section of the Maruleans, from children
to young adults to parents and grandparents . Everyone had questions for him,
and the thread of information wove through times and places David had not
considered for many years. Taveka was always in control, and when David
digressed, the chief navigator always remembered the original question and
steered David towards the next logical waypoint on the chronological voyage
through his past.
Three hours later, David was still sailing with a long way to go. The
curiosity of the Maruleans knew no bounds. Even more daunting was just how
much his interrogators knew about the world he had left behind even though
they were thousands of miles from ‘civilization’.
Another hour and the lowering sun was starting to shine directly into
David’s eyes. Yet the questions never stopped. If he seemed to leave
something out, he was politely asked to, “Remember more, please.”
And he did so, knowing his patience and honesty were being tested.
Finally the sun touched the fronds of the tallest palms as David finished
explaining why he had never owned a Beatles album.
“I think we are done for today. If you want, we can continue tomorrow,”
“Yes, I will continue.”
“Fine. You may drop anchor. You do not have permission to land. You
must stay aboard the Morning Light.”
David noticed that Taveka had used the name of his boat and took that as
a positive sign.
“Understood. Until tomorrow, then.”
“Yes, until tomorrow.”
Taveka turned and walked across the sand to the tree line. Most of the
crowd dispersed up and down the beach. Some went swimming, some walked
back to the palm grove, and David could see lights starting to flicker here and
there between the trees . But some of the children stayed close to the boat, and
they continued to ask questions until darkness began to close in. One brought
him a coconut and cracked it open so David could drink its refreshing liquid.
The stars came out and lights could be seen all throughout the forest of the
island. David could no longer see the faces of the Maruleans on the beach.
Finally a voice said, “You must be tired.”
It was the young woman who had been particularly interested in David’s
experiences with dance and ballet.
“Oh no, I’m fine thanks! How are you?” he said, suddenly refreshed. But
his question was not answered. The Maruleans all said goodbye to him at once
and next thing he knew, he was alone.
David got up stiffly from his perch on the bow. He smiled at the thought
of going to sleep as quickly as possible, knowing that the sooner he slept, the
sooner tomorrow would come.
* * *
The questioning took another two days. The Maruleans would come and
go as if the uninvited visitor was little more than an aberration in their daily
routines warranting but a small fraction of their attention. Sometimes only
Taveka and a few children would be questioning him. An hour later they
would be joined by the very oldest members of the community. Towards late
afternoon, several families appeared with lots of food and turned his
“inquisition” into their picnic.
Sometimes he saw nubile young women with their families and it was not
easy for the sailor, after months at sea, to stay focused on his answers. But
when a dozen men showed up after a day of fishing, an aura of challenge filled
the air that could not be taken lightly. They asked him many specific questions
about building the Morning Light and his sailing experiences.
By late afternoon of the second day, the crowd had grown to its original
size and Helmares was peppered with many questions from all sides. But
finally the questions tailed off, and Taveka let almost another hour pass
without anyone asking David Helmares any further questions. Nobody seemed
to mind the silence, and there was nothing expectant or impatient about the
crowd. Then Taveka joined the five elders for a few minutes before walking
back to the water’s edge.
“If no one wishes to know anything more,” he said in a loud voice and
pausing, “then I will ask the last questions.”
He turned and looked deep into David’s eyes.
"Why did you come here?"
“I want to learn everything that you can teach me.”
“About your history, your culture, how you survive, and how you
navigate throughout the Nebula Archipelago.”
“What about yourself?”
“I’ll be doing that the rest of my life, Taveka.”
“Good answer, David. I believe you.”
Taveka turned to the crowd.
Many nodded. Most importantly, so did the elders.
Taveka took a step forward and extended his hand.
“You have permission to stay and learn from me and our people.”
* * *
The sea people of Marulea were descendants of ancient mariners whose
exact origins were known only to the elders. There was some interface
between the Maruleans and French Polynesian officials when necessary, but
the great distances made governing the sea people almost impossible. Their
home islands were close to the center of the Nebula Archipelago, a maritime
region which, though having no specific boundaries, was recognized as a
cultural preserve by the French government. They left the Maruleans alone,
and for good reason.
The Maruleans were descendants of an island society that had once
numbered over six thousand. In the early 1800s, a Frenchman named Gambier
had tried to establish his own fiefdom over the isolated people. It was a
disaster, and before French authorities finally came and removed the madman
to exile, less than four hundred Maruleans were still alive.
Due to the distances involved, the French authorities in Tahiti were
unable to help the survivors and left them to their own devices. The Maruleans
left their home islands and its horrific memories and retreated to another
group protected by an almost impenetrable zone of reefs and shoals. There
they were able to stabilize their community and their contact with the sea by
maintaining the integrity of their seafaring traditions.
At the onset of World War Two they re-established contact with French
officials to help fight the Japanese and rescue downed airmen by transporting
them secretly out of harm’s way. When the war ended, their self-imposed
isolation resumed. They wanted no part of a modern world capable of
The story of their service in World War Two brought their history to the
attention of a group of influential Frenchmen. A trust fund was established to
repay the Maruleans for Gambier’s genocidal policies. This gave them access
to as much of the real world and its wealth as they wanted.
As it turned out, they did not want much. They were well aware of global
politics, economics, and technology, and from their perspective, there was not
a lot to be gained by boarding those runaway trains. They knowingly strengthened their cultural identity with their dependence on the resources of
the Archipelago for their survival. They used some modern tools or materials
on a limited basis when it suited a specific need, but they would let nothing
erode the values of family and community developed over the past thousand
years. The Maruleans had almost been wiped out once, and they were never
going to risk it happening again.
* * *
The fact that David was endlessly inquisitive about the Marulean culture
earned the respect of the sea people. Tavek a possessed a keen intellect and
saw in David a child-like curiosity combined with mature responsibility.
Taveka enjoyed being David's mentor, and that joy brought a new hope to his
Taveka was the last in the line of Marulean navigators. The deepest
secrets of wayfinding knowledge were passed from father to son, but that vital
tradition was endangered when Taveka had lost his wife at the birth of his
daughter, Luan. The line of navigators was threatened, but Taveka’s love for
his lost wife did not permit him to consider ever re-marrying.
Taveka raised his daughter with the help of their community, and she had
grown into a warm and lighthearted young woman. Luan began to attract
eligible young men from throughout the nearby islands. As she came ever
closer to taking a lover who might then become her husband, her father kept
his counsel to himself and offered no advice unless asked. Even though she
was his only child, he honored her integrity and would play no part in her
relationships with suitors. Although this was not easy for either father or
daughter, it was even harder for her suitors. Luan was wise beyond her years,
and none were able to adjust to her combination of innocence, intelligence,
As Taveka grew older, the Marulean elders considered how to name the
next chief navigator for the sea people. Many solutions were proposed and
then discarded. He could not take on a Marulean as his apprentice without
issues surrounding Luan being raised. It was an almost tragic quandary until
David Helmares found the sea people. When the elders gave permission for
him to remain with them, they were invoking a wisdom allowing them to
gracefully respect an important Marulean tradition while possibly finding a
way around it. Since David was not of Marulean blood, the blood-tie tradition
did not technically apply to him.
When he accepted Taveka’s offer, David committed himself to never being
anything less than an attentive and responsive student of Taveka. His
apprenticeship involved every aspect of sailcraft from making ropes and sails
from natural fibers to finding trees on distant islands for hulls. When Taveka
began to teach him wayfinding skills around the Nebula Archipelago, it took
Helmares several months to grasp the fundamentals of concepts that would
eventually take years to master.
Another aspect to challenge him was his status in the general community.
Self-sufficiency is hard work . Hunting fish in the wild, growing fish in ‘farms’,
and actually farming the land on various islands throughout the archipelago
were never-ending tasks. The Maruleans were not shy about telling him when
they could use an extra hand no matter what the task . He was always a
cheerful volunteer, and soon there was a running joke between him and the
community: when anyone would need some help, they would come and say,
“David, I am going to volunteer you to help me today.”
Helmares’ assimilation into the Marulean daily life was not quite a year
old when he was asked by the elders to help with the schooling of the young
Maruleans. He started with geography, history and biology as the core
curriculae, branching out into the arts and math, using music to teach
fractions and other mathematical concepts.
Throughout all this, David Helmares never gave Taveka’s daughter even
the most innocent of thoughts. He had made enough mistakes with women in
California, and he depended on a strong sense of self-discipline to preclude
any chance of a fatal faux pas with the beloved daughter of Taveka.
In the same way, Luan saw David as her father's student and nothing
more. This was a point of honor given her respect for the traditions of her
people and the Marulean navigators. Yet there was one thing about her
father’s apprentice that intrigued her.
David rarely had time for surfing thanks to Taveka’s mentoring and the
school. However, there were fun waves practically all the time on the reefs
surrounding the central island of the Maruleans. From March to October,
there were days when the waves never stopped. On each side of the passage
into the main lagoon, perfect waves peeled across smooth reefs. He could ride
the waves only rarely, and then for only an hour at most, sometimes at midday,
sometimes at dawn, and even once or twice under a full moon at night. He
always laughed when he thought of the irony: having chosen teaching as a
profession so that he could surf, he was now also a student and not surfing
much at all.
But no matter when he paddled out on one of the boards he always stowed
on the Morning Light, Luan tried to be on the beach to watch him. The beauty
of surfing was something she could appreciate with special immediacy given
her mastery of traditional Polynesian dance. There was a wonderful grace to
David's style while racing through blue tunnels or dancing along the white
spray of the peeling crests. But there was a limit to his art: the length of the
ride. Luan got to thinking that she would like to see him surf a wave for
minutes instead of just seconds. One day she talked to her father about it.
“Yes, his surfing is quite special, isn’t it?”
“It is, father. It is a dance with the sea, and I want to study it. Maybe he
can teach it to us, but first I want to see what he does when he has to be
creative on a much bigger stage.”
“I know of a reef much longer than ours. It points in the same direction,
and the waves are bigger. It would be a good test of his skills to voyage there and back,” he thought for a second, “No, it is not that hard to get there. He’ll
make it, and if he gets lost, you’ll make it back.”
Luan looked at her father carefully.
“You want me to go alone with him?” she asked.
“Why not? He would never jeopardize his research and apprenticeship by
dishonoring my daughter, or our traditions, in any way. And if he does, throw
him to the sharks!” They both laughed.
“And now that I think of it, there are several ancient ceremonial sites that
might interest him on an island near there,” said Taveka, “just to keep his
mind off other things.”
“Of course, who knows, maybe he doesn’t want to be alone with you!”
Taveka was laughing loudly.
“Now you stop that! This is about dance, not romance.”
Taveka stopped laughing and looked into his daughter’s eyes. “Yes, I can
see that. Forgive an old man, will you?”
She hugged her father and said, “One thing at a time, father.”
A week later the daughter of the chief navigator of the sea people, and the
surfer-teacher-sailor went on a short voyage lasting just a day, leaving before
dawn with Luan sitting in the bow and David astern. It was every surfer’s
dream to be heading out to ride perfect waves because a beautiful young
woman wants to watch him. But as the student of Taveka, Helmares was
entirely focused. He was a navigator first and foremost, and in the time
honored tradition of the wayfinders, Luan did not speak to him while they were
under way lest his concentration be affected.
When they arrived in late morning at the atoll Taveka had suggested,
David’s self-discipline was rewarded by long waves six to eight feet high
breaking continuously along the barrier reef. He spent the afternoon riding
flawless symmetrical waves along the reef like it was a racetrack . He was
executing maneuvers only possible at very high speeds with a graceful, erect,
arms-open style seldom seen anywhere in the surfing world. He was an
inspired danseur lighting up a stage. Luan studied his pas de deux with the
sea, noting his instinct for grace and flow with the eye of one who saw dance
as almost a sacred act.
When Luan and David came back under a late rising moon, they could
both look Taveka in the eye without hesitation. The old man was more pleased
than he would ever admit. His student had passed more than one important
test on the trip.
With dance as common ground, David and Luan established a genuine
friendship based on mutual respect. It was the kind of friendship that, without
either person doing anything about it, sometimes becomes the rich soil for the
first flowers of true love. That is what happened to them, though the flower
bloomed very slowly. At first Luan was not going change the natural course of
her life as a young lady with many male friends and David could not let
himself be distracted from his apprenticeship by falling for his teacher’s daughter.
His becoming a navigator was far more difficult than anything he
had ever done. Almost a year passed, after their first voyage, before David and
Luan began to spend more and more time together with the blessings of
Taveka. A year after that, they declared their intent to be married after
consummating their relationship, and soon they were able to tell Taveka that
he was to become a grandfather.
During this time, David gained a new level of oceanic awareness. With all
his sailing experience as a foundation, his wayfinding skills eventually
surpassed that of other Marulean men his age. They were gracious in
accepting him as Taveka’s student, and one became a very good friend to him.
Under other circumstances Manasa might have succeeded Taveka as chief
navigator for the Maruleans. However he had recognized, as did other
Marulean men, that David was worthy of great respect for choosing to leave
his world and serve an apprenticeship of hard work and self-discipline to
become one of them. There was no resentment or jealousy, and when Luan
gave birth to twins, the surfer, teacher and sailor from California became a
full member of the Marulean society.
Another year passed, and the day came when David was ready to take his
final test as Taveka’s apprentice by voyaging to Ka’unua, performing three
ceremonial rites of passage, and then returning safely with the necklace
symbolizing the line of succession of the chief navigators of the Marulean sea
* * *
It was late afternoon when David brought his voyaging craft right up to
the sand. He jumped out and pushed hard to bring it as far up the beach as
possible. Taveka helped him, as did Manasa and several other Marulean men
who had seen David coming through the reef passage. They saw the jade
necklace around David’s neck, and dared not speak a word. Neither did
David was too overcome with emotion to know quite what to say, but the
Marulean men clearly understood what was going on. They just gave him a
short wave and a smile and went back to their work. David was about to say
something in greeting, but Taveka put a hand to his mouth. The mentor
motioned to the apprentice, and they began to walk north along the water’s
edge around the curving shore of the lagoon. When they were out of sight of
the village, David and Taveka were joined by the five elders dressed in deep
blue garments David had never seen before, with feathers, shells, necklaces,
and bracelets of coral adorning them.
The group of seven now headed for the far end of the island, walking
abreast across the wide, sandy beach, the elders separating Taveka and David.
For the better part of an hour they walked in silence, towards a low, black cliff
he had seen from the sea while sailing to other islands. When he had first
asked Taveka about it during the first year of his apprenticeship, he was told it
was off limits to all Maruleans.
“Except for certain people under certain circumstances. Don’t ask any
more questions. Maybe someday you’ll learn more, and maybe not. Just don’t
ever go there.”
It was an ancient place. The black rock outcropping, eroded by eons of
time, was the tip of the volcano that had formed the island millions of years
ago. The half-dome face of the rock was twenty feet high, sheer and smooth.
At its base was a waist-high circular platform of flat, black stones. The group
stopped and faced the rock formation. Though the sun was low in the west,
David could feel heat from the rocks. He could also feel the cooling trade wind
at his back blowing stronger here than at any other place on the island. From
the center of the group an elder sprang up on to the platform in one motion.
She turned around and spoke though her eyes were on the horizon.
“We will now hear of a voyage,” said Kalala.
The other four elders stepped up and turned in unison to face Taveka and
David below them.
“And leave nothing out,” whispered Taveka. He winked at his apprentice,
sharing a moment from long ago. The elders smiled in recognition of the bond
between the navigator and the young man who they hoped could succeed him.
David gave a detailed account of his six days of voyaging to Ka’unua. He
told them of the storm he had survived and his first sighting of the reef. They
questioned him carefully as to his exact actions and the sequence of events
leading up to the moment when he saw the circular rainbow.
“Come up, David, and show us how big it was,” said Mara, the senior
female of the elders.
David stepped up on the platform and walked to the black wall. He wiped
the moisture from his forehead with both hands and drew a large circle on the
face of the stone, starting at the upper apex of his reach. The hot, black rock
burned his fingers, but he did not stop until he was finished. As he stepped
back, he heard Kalala speak.
“Don’t turn around, David. Just watch.”
The circle began to disappear from the point above his head and then
down and around the entire circumference of the circle. As with the rainbow
he had seen at Ka’unua, the circle was soon gone.
“Now, turn around,” said Otava, the senior male of the group.
David did so. When he looked down at Taveka, a flood of emotion went
through his heart.
“David, tell us of your visits to Taveka’s ancestors,” said Matua, another
He described the dives into the lagoon and the gifts he had made for each
in the lineage that stretched for generations into the past. He told the tale in
reverse order, starting with the stone boat for the ancient voyager from the
coast of South America. When he got to Taveka’s father, Kaho, his voice
began to falter as he realized who would be next to join the ancestral spirits in
the lagoon at Ka’unua.
The fifth elder, Sukuna, motioned to Taveka, who stepped up on the
platform to join them. David looked at his mentor and was surprised to see
him smiling with a look of reassurance.
“David, you are wearing the necklace of the navigators. Tell us of your
finding it,” said Otava.
When he finis hed describing the third task, all were silent. They did not
ask any more questions, and David did not break the silence, aware only of the
low sound of the trade wind blowing through the rocks as the sun disappeared
below the horizon.
The elders formed a circle around the chief navigator of the Marlueans
and the young man who was about to take his place.
“David, Taveka will now wear the necklace,” said Kalala.
David carefully placed it on Taveka’s shoulders, their eyes never
wavering. Taveka took the feather of the albatross from behind his waist and
held it up between them.
“David, you are now who I once was. When the albatross flies above this
very place, I will prepare for my voyage to Ka’unua.”
They touched foreheads and David took the feather in his hands. He
touched his heart with it, and then placed it behind him in his waistband.
Taveka moved to one end of the line of elders, David to the other. They
all turned to the west, joined hands, and raised their arms to the first sliver of
the crescent moon low in the western sky.
* * *
The line of navigators was not to be broken, and true love was, as
tradition prescribed, the key link in the chain. For the first time ever, the
wayfinder’s lineage would pass through the heart of a daughter to a man who
would become the chief navigator for the Maruleans.
Two weeks passed and the ‘official’ marriage of Luan and David took
place. Maruleans came from all the islands of the Nebula Archipelago for the
ceremonies marking the succession and the marriage. Three years ago, David
had been accepted in the community without hesitation, because no one
questioned the judgment of Taveka. Now the old man was able to enjoy the
final step that linked the sea people to their past and their future.
All was quiet, though the is land was full of visitors. Honeymoons were
not a part of the Marulean tradition, and when the sun went down, the
celebration slowed and then stopped. This was how the Maruleans
demonstrated their sincere respect for the union of husband and wife.
The full moon was almost overhead, shining so brightly that even the tiny
waves touching the reef could be seen clearly across the lagoon. The wind
moved through the palms, fronds rising and falling in the breeze.
Alone with his thoughts, Taveka walked down to the beach and launched
his voyaging craft. He slowly paddled through the waters crowded with
visiting outriggers and voyaging craft from across the Archipelago. Finally, he
was out near the barrier reef where small breakers punctuated the silence in a regular rhythm. He turned to gaze at the island where almost two thousand
Maruleans now slept. He thought about the heritage of his people, their trials
and extraordinary history, and the lineage of navigators now to remain
unbroken. He looked at his tri-hulled craft and thought of the voyage it would
soon make, the last voyage for both of them. He set a sea anchor to steady the
craft against the current and the swell. He laid down on the bamboo thatched
deck. His eyes closed slowly as he drifted to sleep soothed by the sound of the
He dreamed of his youth, of a time when the moon was bright and he was
in a canoe near a reef far away. He was not alone. Three injured American
pilots were with him. They were waiting for a PBY to take the flyers to safety.
The roar of engines grew loud. A large shadow dropped out of the sky. A
white wake sliced across the black sea. The sailors waved goodbye to him,
gratitude clearly visible on their faces fading into the stars.
The faint sound of engines echoed in the mind of the dreamer. The dream
ended, but the sound did not. Taveka’s eyes opened to the moon directly
overhead. Across the white light flew a silhouette, just as it had so long ago.
We continue Glenn Hening's WAVES OF WARNING in Chapter 9 ...
David Helmares completed the rites of passage making him the next chief navigator of
the Sea People, a society of Polynesians who have lived off the sea, and off the map, for two hundred years. After leaving California for good, Helmares had sailed solo to find them, and in a way, to find himself...