Necker is also known as Mokumanamana. Mana is the Hawaiian word for spiritual power, and thus hints at the island's special meaning among ancient Hawaiians. As well, 33 religious shrines have been found on the island, suggesting its spiritual significance.
Nihoa, which is 130 miles (210 kilometers) northwest of Kauai in the main Hawaiian Islands, contains religious shrines, ancient dwellings, and agricultural terraces that archaeologists estimate would have been sufficient to support approximately 150 people. The islands were abandoned around 1500 for reasons not fully known, said Duarte.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society will drop off Ayau and a few others at the islands of Nihoa and Necker Mokumanamana so that they can perform ceremonies to reconnect with their ancestors and demonstrate an acceptance of their responsibility to care for the land and oceans of the Northwestern Hawaiian islands.
"The people that came before us made mistakes too, but they also knew a lot about the ocean and land and what it took to care for the ocean and land," said Duarte. "There are lessons we can learn from them."
Ayau said that native Hawaiians began to lose connection with their ancestors when Westerners came to Hawaii in the 18th century. "The West influenced our ability to live life as Hawaiians our lifestyle changed," he said. "As our lifestyle changed, we lost sight of our responsibility."
According to native Hawaiian thinking, Ayau said that each person has a responsibility to care for the dead. In turn, the dead protect the living by providing them with spiritual and physical nourishment.
"They are grandparents, we are grandchildren," said Ayau. "We want to demonstrate we understand our relationship, we understand our duty and are capable [of carrying] out that duty responsibly."
Ayau's group was formed in 1988 to make sure their ancestors were properly cared for. They have stopped developments at ancient burial sites on the main Hawaiian Islands and have reclaimed ancestral remains from museum collections and reburied them on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"When you put ancestors in the land, they nourish the land physically with their bones and spiritually with mana," said Ayau. "The thought of knowing our ancestors are back in the land creates a kind of peace and confidence in knowing that they are where they are supposed to be. When the reverse is true, all the opposite happens."
Voyage to Kure hopes to highlight the need to restore the concept of malama to all the Hawaiian Islands by contrasting images of the nearly-destroyed coral reefs off the shores of Waikiki on Oahu with images of pristine reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"We will be able to show what it was once like before off the coast of Waikiki," said Cousteau in an interview prior to his departure. Cousteau and Duarte hope Voyage to Kure will inspire Hawaiians and the world to better care for lands and oceans so that balance will remain among all life forms well into the future.
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