Interview with... Christophe Mercier, project founder and manager
INTRODUCTION : The Story begins... WHAT ? Wayfinding and the MOANA NUI Project HOW ? THE ADVENTURE : . The Expedition : sailing like in Prehistoric times . The Voyaging Canoes . Trainings and Clubs . The MOANA NUI Project INTERVIEW with Christophe Mercier, project founder and manager A Wayfinding «WHO’s WHO» HOW TO PARTICIPATE ? TEAM & CONTACTS NEWS AND BLOGS
Christophe, how did you come to polynesian traditional navigation ? C.M. : As a photographer and journalist, I had traveled a lot, covered many subjetcs, and I was still searching for new stories. I was kind of « specialized » in culture, traditions, « back to the roots » stories... One day, as I was watching a TV documentary, my attention was captured by just one image on the TV screen : that was a polynesian double hulled voyaging canoe, with its strange « crab claw » sails... Believe it or not, but that single image generated a kind of « passion at first sight » feeling. In just one image, I had felt all the importance, uniqueness, natural adventure spirit that was beyond all that, just waiting to be re-discovered.
«MY ATTENTION WAS CAPTURED BY JUST ONE IMAGE ON THE TV SCREEN : THAT WAS A POLYNESIAN DOUBLE HULLED VOYAGING CANOE, WITH HER «CRAB CLAW» SAILS...» Then, I started traveling in the Pacific area, in search for these elegant sailing canoes called « Vaka », and their mysterious Master Navigators... It took me a while to get in touch with relevant people : traditions and sacred knowledges are really kept secret over there... But I finally met and worked with the most important people regarding these traditions, and specially Nainoa Thompson, Master Navigator and President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (Hawaii). In spite of the incredible aura he is benefiting from in the Pacific, which makes him like a « traditional star » over there, he welcame me as if I was a forever friend, invited me on board of Hokule'a etc... During these years, I met other people such as Sir Thomas Davis « Papa Tom », Bruce Blankenfeld, Hoturoa Kerr, Herb Kauai Nui Kane, etc, etc : all these people, almost considered as « heroes » over there in the Pacific, part of a legend, but which we almost – if not totally – ignore right here in our « western » world. And coming back to France, I decided to go back to school... What for ?? C.M. : I wanted to bring a scientific approach to what I had lived in the Pacific... I don't know if it is the best approach, but that's what I did... So I got a Phd in ethno-ecology from the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle and the IRD (Institute for Research and Development), and I was then appointed by the UNESCO to collaborate in the frame of their educationnal DVD on polynesian traditional navigation revival « The Canoe is the People ». And they sent me back to the Pacific !
C.M. : I wanted to bring a scientific approach to what I had lived in the Pacific... I don't know if it is the best approach, but that's what I did... So I got a Phd in ethno-ecology from the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle and the IRD (Institute for Research and Development), and I was then appointed by the UNESCO to collaborate in the frame of their educationnal DVD on polynesian traditional navigation revival « The Canoe is the People ». And they sent me back to the Pacific ! And how did you get the idea of the MOANA NUI project ? C.M. : I had seen many « canoe projects » in the Pacific... All of them were bringing interesting things to this revival, but often lacked some crucial things like a global vision, professional teams, and – above all things – lacked of naval architecure knowledge (as too many knowledges have been lost) and self-financing. Canoes were often not seaworthies or even safe and when the first problems were coming, they did not have any more money to face them... So, benefiting from these « trial and errors », I realized that if we wanted to push forward this tradition revival, we had to run a project properly - as if it was a company - and collaborate with good professionals and tradition keepers in all fields. I also realized that Polynesian Navigation was a far too « confidential » subject. I perfectly know that many people from the Pacific area want to keep all these knowledges for themselves, as an hidden secret treasure. That's a good thing, and I am sure there are some parts of this that HAVE TO BE kept secret - I mean only accessible for the one who would have been initiated enough and would have given a part of their life studying this art of wayfinding. But too much secrets kills the secret... Many people in the Pacific – starting from the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii – now think that Polynesian Navigation has to be disclosed, little by little, and that many subjects covered by this Art – including traditional solutions regarding sea and land ressources management and care, human values, loyalty, spirit of adventure, friendship … - can be of great help in this more than troubled beginning of 21st century, and thus should be shared... But does this mean with MOANA NUI project and activities, these ancient and sacred knowledges will be opened to everybody ? C.M. : I am quite OK with that : nothing is going to be unveiled in one second, believe me ! We can have a deep look at the equations of Albert Einstein for one full day – even for months – but that won't make us experts in the Relativity Theory !.. No, just like in every kind of activities, all is a matter of involvment, passion and time spent : the only truth is that the more you will spend time and passion on a martial art, tennis playing, chess playing, meditation – whatever - , the more you gain « expertise » in that field, right ?
«Step by step, you will get the experience, the insight, a deeper understanding and instinctive feeling of these ancient Pacific Ocean knowledges...» So that's gonna be exactly the same with Traditional Polynesian Navigation. Step by step, experience after experience, adventure after adventures, you will get the insight and deeper understanding, intimate and instinctive feeling of these ancient Pacific knowledges... That's why you are organising this expedition as well as these trainings ? C.M. : Exactly : the expeditions are pure adventure and ultimate experiment. You can join our expeditions, live and feel the heart and « mana » (soul, spirit) of the first prehistoric oceanian navigators. This will for sure act like a « tatoo » in your soul, and you will never forget this experiment. Then you may want to go back and study in depth these arts and traditions linked to Wayfinding : so you'll be able to join the trainings and workshops, and work Traditional Navigation on a regular basis. But you can also do it reverse : go first to some trainings, then gain experience and knowledge, and then apply for one of our expedition's leg. Both approach are equal and OK, but both approach have to exist together and be proposed to participants. What makes your project different from the other Pacific «canoe projects» ? C.M. : First of all, let’s make it clear : there is no competition at all between our MOANA NUI project and the other existing projects around traditional navigation. Each project brings its own «stone» to this revival. I have met and worked with many people involved in many «canoe projects», and I respect all of them. We are even in touch with most of them, sometimes on a regular basis. Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, even wrote a very nice support letter for our project. But what is MOANA NUI specificity ? Which «stone» does it bring to this revival ? Well, two things are coming to my mind : First, we are willing to re-built a total of 14 different types of ancient canoe type/design, using building techniques and materials which will be as close as possible as the ones used in the ancient Pacific.
wrote a very nice support letter for our project. But what is MOANA NUI specificity ? Which «stone» does it bring to this revival ? Well, two things are coming to my mind : First, we are willing to re-built a total of 14 different types of ancient canoe type/design, using building techniques and materials which will be as close as possible as the ones used in the ancient Pacific. In the end, we will get a fabulous collection of ancient Vaka ! As a matter of fact, we are convinced that performances observed by people like captain Cook at time of «first contacts» are strongly linked with building techniques, rigourously precise design and right materials. I would also add good crew !.. Since crews were really used as part of the Canoes : the way crews and voyagers were manoeuvering and moving on these light and flexible ships was crucial for their performances... And here, we’re talking about Tradition, Culture, but also pure experimental archeology at the same time... That will defintely help to understand and hopefully track back the original performances of these canoes, which could be applied to modern designs. Second, we are deeply convinced that the ancient knowledges of Wayfinding - which includes Navigating, fishing, surviving at sea and on islands, traditional methods of fragile island environnement management and care - , all this «corpus» of ancient knowledges are an asset that has to be actualized, promoted and applied to face some of the major nowadays Pacific environnemental, economical and even social issues.
« MOANA NUI wants to build a bridge between these ancient Pacific ocean knowledges and the rest of the nowaday world » In order to do so, MOANA NUI wishes not only to study these knowledges, but also to promote this art and culture of Navigation to all interested people, all over the world : that’s why we are opening our expeditions and acivities to participants, that’s why we are organising workshops and trainings in the Pacific, in the USA, in Europe, and that’s why we want to create Wayfinding Clubs. Moana Nui wants to build a bridge between all these ancient knowledges of the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the nowaday World. And what do yo think Traditional Polynesian Wayfinding can bring to « Westerners » ? C.M. : You know, when I was a kid – let's say 6, 8, 10 years' old - , my favorite heroes were Tarzan, and Rahan, a french prehistoric comic... And I was also a fan of « Tintin », and Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau ! I used to climb in every single trees of my grandparents garden, build shelter, make arrows, prehistoric tools and so on... As an adult, I have traveled a lot, always looking for authenticity, and wisdom from ancient traditions linked to Nature... Uncounsciously, I was looking for something that goes beyond our modern patterns and lifestyle. Some hidden, forgotten truth that would give its answer to unsolved modern problems, may it be material, ecological, social, or even psychological...
« WAYFINDING is a Lifestyle... WAYFINDING is Navigating, surviving on tropical remote places, caring for Nature... But it’s also a way to stay in good shape, sharpening your body and mind at their best...» So when I discovered traditional polynesian navigation, it seemed to me like I had found a kind of « Graal » : someting sacred, full of solutions, power and wisdom, that just have to be rediscovered, preserved, and passed on to the new generation... A kind of « summary », something which was gathering everything I had looked for forever : living ultimate adventures, living like in prehistoric times, getting from these times secret knowledges, wisdom, efficiency and right behaviour we have all forgotten. But something that can also be adapted to our modern times. Traditonal navigation is sailing, wayfinding, navigating, fishing, swimming, surviving on remote and tropical places, listening, watching and tasting the slightest move of Nature, caring for your crew and family... It has to do with Lifestyle, Art, techniques, intelligence, a sense of nature and friendship, but also a way to stay healthy and in good shape, using and sharpening your body, instincts and mind to their best. A lot of things which are lacking in our modern « western » way of life... A lot of things we are badly missing – even if we don't want to admit it...