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Chapter 2: Responding to “How do you see the future?”

Pua I greatly appreciate Milenko Matanovic’s use of the word “see” rather than “imagine” as applied to the future in the question he poses to each of us, “How do you see the future?” (emphasis added) The distinction between “seeing” and “imagining” the future, I believe, is critical.  As a way of understanding the distinction I looked for the definition of “imagination” and “see” in dictionaries for the two languages I think in:  English and ‘Olelo Hawai’i (the Hawaiian Language). 

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines “imagination” as, “1:  The act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.” (emphasis added)  “See” was defined as, “1 a:  to perceive by the eye  b:  to perceive or detect as if by sight  2 a:  to have experience of:  undergo  b:  to come to know:  Discover.”

As described in the Hawaiian Dictionary (1971) by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, the phrase for “imagination,” is:  “no’ono’o ulu wale,” literally, “thought growing by itself.”  I interpret this to mean a thought unrooted in reality.  The word for “see” is “`ike,” and in English its meaning is, “To see, know, feel, greet, recognize, understand; to know sexually (For:4:275); to receive revelations from the gods; knowledge, understanding, recognition, comprehension and hence learning; sense, as of hearing or sight ; vision.”

The difference between imagining the future and seeing the future is huge, especially to my Hawaiian mind.  As a way of concretely showing you how I see the difference, I would like to tell you a story about how the Po’e Hawai`i (the Hawaiian People) re-learned/remembered how to navigate over long distances without using modern navigational instruments, from our cousins from the Satawal Islands in Micronesia.  I will tell you the short version.

In 1976, Mau Pialug, a Master Navigator in the Traditional Way of navigating using the sea, wind, birds, rain, all the natural elements and revelations from the gods and from the na’au, the gut.  For Hawaiians, the na’au is the place where we think; it’s where the brain, the heart, come together below the piko (belly button) with experience and intuition and form our mana’o, our thoughts.  Although Hawaiians had navigated across thousands of miles of ocean for many centuries in the Traditional Way, we had forgotten in these modern times.  But the resolve to relearn was strong and thankfully Mau Pialug was a willing teacher.  As we learned, he taught, so that the art and science of this way of navigating, of seeing, could live, but not just for the Hawaiian People, but for his people as well.  We became the holders of this knowledge for future generations of Hawaiians, Micronesians, and other Native Peoples around the world. 

Mau’s first student was a young Hawaiian man, Nainoa Thompson, for whom the sea was a nest of comfort and learning.  See http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/tops/nainoa.html

One of the first exercises Mau taught him as a navigator involved seeing the island Nainoa was headed to, especially if he had never been there before.  Mau would stand with Nainoa at an ocean lookout and tell him, “Look.  See the island you are going to, especially if you’ve never been there before.  If you cannot see the island, you can never get there.”  Day after day, hour after hour, Nainoa would look beyond the horizon and see Tahiti clearly, ‘ike pono, until he knew where it was, its smell, taste, its nature.  Significantly, Mau never said, “Imagine the island where you are going to.”  Mau always said, “See the island.”  If you apply this lesson to the future, to see the future is to see something rooted in reality – the future as something you can see, taste, feel, describe, touch.  If you can see the future, you can get there. This is different from imaging the future, which is the “act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.” (emphasis added)

In the process of seeing the future, I am looking all around me for those principles, practices and characteristics of people, economic and social development I want the future to embrace.  I’m taking notes about ordinary kindnesses that I want to be practiced in my future world and am starting to make it real by practicing it now.  For example, there is a young woman who attends many community development meetings and when she walks into the room, she immediately looks around for the kupuna (the elders, of every ethnicity) and goes to kokua (to help them by getting water or food or a comfortable chair up front where they can hear the discussion).  I am following her example. 

Another example, often at meetings, some one, will come to the meeting later than others and there is an older man who will go to that person and “make room” for him or her by telling her what has happened so far in the meeting. 

In the community I am part of, Wai`anae, on the western side of the Island of O’ahu, there are many groups of people re-establishing the growing and sharing of healthy food, children and families:  Ka’ala Cultural Learning Center, Hoa’Aina O Makaha, MA`O Farm . . . The future is all around us, I can see it.  What are you seeing?

I am very grateful to Milenko for asking the question and giving me the opportunity to reflect on this important question. 

 Aloha (Love and Respect)

 Puanani burgess



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