Last week, Hōkūle’a arrived in Mossel Bay, South Africa, which marks the farthest point away from Hawai’i that this voyaging canoe can possibly travel. From here on, every mile we sail will no longer be heading away from home but rather, closer to it. But Mossel Bay carries much more significance than just being a longitudinal antipode. In fact, I believe that Mossel Bay is one of the most important stops in the Worldwide Voyage because it connects us to humanity in the most profound way.
Mossel Bay rests on the southern coast of South Africa, widely known for its beautiful coastal landscapes and treacherous seas (both of which we have experienced firsthand on this leg of the voyage). This region boasts one of the most temperate climates on the planet, thus allowing a great diversity of flora and fauna to grow and flourish.
This became extremely important during the last ice age when Homo sapiens were driven towards the southern coast of Africa to escape the cold environment everywhere else. According to an article in Scientific American, every person in the world today is descended from the few people that lived in this region of South Africa who survived the last ice age and, over the last 160,000 years, expanded their reach to every corner of the Earth.
The more we read about Mossel Bay, the more we knew that this was going to be a crucial part of our voyage. Fortunately for us, Dr. Peter Nillsen, a leading archaeologist in this field, felt the same way. Upon hearing that Hōkūle’a was stopping in Mossel Bay, Peter graciously offered to help us better understand the story of human origins that he has spent his career working on. To do this, Peter accompanied us to Pinnacle Point, where a series of cave sites rested along an eastward facing cliff.
Getting to the cave sites is a bit of an expedition that requires crossing through a massive golf resort and a series of wooden boardwalks. The journey itself brought up a range of emotions, but none as memorable as those felt at the jaw-dropping moment when we rounded a corner and turned our gaze upon the massive entrance to 13B, the primary site of Peter’s work.
Prior to entering this sacred space, the Hōkūle’a crew took a few minutes to conduct our own Hawaiian cultural protocol of chant and prayer. Only then did we enter into the cave to listen to Peter describe the significance of what he and his team had found there.
In all honesty, there have been many times in these past few weeks where I’ve struggled to wrap my head around the fact that Hōkūle’a has now sailed farther than any Polynesian vessel in known history. However, standing there at Pinnacle Point and knowing that I have actual ancestors from that place was simply mindblowing. In that moment, there was no way for me to adequately put that into perspective. Even Dr. Nillsen, who has dedicated his career to the story of Pinnacle Point, admits that he still gets overwhelmed when trying to fathom its significance for the past, present, and future of mankind.
Perhaps then, in my limited understanding of this bigger picture, it is enough to just appreciate the simplest fact. When we stood there in that cave—crewmembers of all different ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences—we could all say that we had common ancestors who stood in that same spot over 160,000 years ago. But even more than that, this connectivity extends beyond those that are currently living; it weaves together the story of all of the past generations as well as the stories of all the future generations to come. These caves bore witness to the oldest and most important story in the history of humanity: that we are all one family and we should treat every person on Earth as such.