“True freedom lies in consuming lightly, sharing much, and mastering the art of lifelong learning — because it is culture and knowledge that build better, freer societies, not riches.”
At sunset, we pushed Kalea off of the beach and set sail on the final leg of our journey to Rarotonga. I took the midnight watch while Captain Bob and the others slept. I must have accidentally dozed off sometime in the early morning hours. When I woke up, we were anchored just off the beach of a massive island with lush forests and three majestic mountains with peaks hidden high up in the clouds. All the others were still asleep, including Captain Bob.
How could this be? There were no islands like this shown on the nautical chart anywhere in this region. We had been sailing in a west-southwesterly direction for at least four hours before I dozed off. That would have put us roughly forty nautical miles away from Atai. This made no sense! I went to rouse Bob from his bunk in the pilothouse,
“Bob, where the hell are we!”
I begged him to explain what was going on. But he seemed just as confused and disoriented as I was. Just as he was finally about to speak, we heard faint chanting and drum beats coming from behind the trees on the beach. The strong rhythm and noise of the drums had the feel of what one might hear coming from an energetic drum circle, though the sounds grew louder with each passing moment. Like a drum circle groove, the rhythm was not particularly precise in its rhythmic articulation or perfect in its patterned structure but it did create a potent vibe that could trigger the psychic state of ‘group mind’ from the shared rhythmic experience — the kind of sensory stimulation that gives rise to ritual, rapture, and trance. And shocking violence.
Dozens of men suddenly burst through the trees with canoes and paddles in hand. Their bare upper bodies were decorated with bright red and yellow paint and they had bandanas tied around their foreheads. They launched the canoes in the surf and headed right for where we were anchored. Bob and I looked at each other with mouths wide open and hearts pounding wildly. Their chanting and drumming got louder and louder as they approached. There must have been two hundred of them. One by one our unwary passengers came up on deck only to stare in utter bewilderment at the shocking scene unfolding before them.
Bob had no words to explain, and I was no less confused than anyone else. The islanders surrounded Kalea. When they had fully encircled the boat, the drumming and chanting stopped abruptly. Silence. We were stunned and terrified.
Chef Lua was last to emerge from her cabin. She had barely stepped onto the deck when the menacing flotilla of islanders erupted in loud cheers. Two of the larger fellows in the group quickly scrambled onto Kalea, ran up to Lua and lifted her onto their shoulders. The army of natives cheered even louder as she waved to them. They carried her back to the biggest and most beautifully decorated canoe and all headed back to the beach leaving us shocked and stupefied. One small, solitary canoe had stayed back, though. In it was a young man who seemed confused by our reaction to the event that had just unfolded. Unlike the previous two men, he asked politely if he could come aboard. Captain Bob hesitated for a moment, looked at me briefly to see my reaction, then agreed. The young man tied off his canoe to the rear crossbeam and jumped cat-like up onto the trampoline, nimbly making his way to the deck where we were all huddled together.
“Welcome to our island. My name is Kanoa. You seem a little confused and frightened by our homecoming celebration. May I ask why?”
Captain Bob blurted out, utterly bewildered,
“Why yes. This is how we always greet our Chief when she returns home after being away from the island for so long.”
Bob was really confused now,
“Chief!? You must mean Lua, our chef?”
Kanoa was equally confused,
“No, I mean Chief Luana! She has been traveling with you and now she is back home. We missed her greatly and are celebrating her return. Who is this ‘Chef Lua’?”
Neither Bob nor I knew what to say.
After a long silence, the young islander patiently explained to us that Chief Luana is the elected leader of the tens of thousands of people that call the large island their home. Her name, Luana, means ‘content’ or ‘happy’ in Hawaiian. She was chosen by the people to be their leader because she was the most knowledgeable, the most generous, and the most joyful person on the island. He went on to paint a fascinating picture of how our masterfully veiled crewmate viewed the world and some of what he had learned from her.
“Chief Luana has taught us many things. And one of the most important is this: True freedom lies in consuming lightly, sharing much, and mastering the art of lifelong learning — because it is culture and knowledge that build better, freer societies, not riches.”
He said Chief Luana insists that there are no ‘poor’ people on our island. There are many who have very little, but they feel no sense of poorness, as they have no desire for more and know that others will be happy to share in times of need.
She disagrees with the belief common among mainlanders that power corrupts people — it just reveals who they really are.
She believes very strongly that the only true leadership is leadership by example — all other forms are hypocrisy and exploitation.
She prefers being called ‘Laughing Lua,’ rather than Chief Luana, because it is less formal and she believes laughter is what gives people the fortitude and flexibility they need during difficult times. She says that a day without laughter is a wasted day. And Chief Luana never wastes a day.
He told us that of all of the arts, Chief Luana has the greatest appreciation for music. She believes ‘civilization’ is spread most effectively by singing songs together, since everyone can sing along at the same time, while only individuals can participate in conversations, one at a time. Singing together unites people who disagree or don’t like each other, if only for a short time, which is all that is usually needed to build bridges of tolerance and mutual respect. Singing brings community into harmony. It can be a spiritual practice as deep and uplifting as prayer or meditation. It heals and soothes.
She believes that music expresses our shared wonder, fear, and desire as we are bound together moving for a brief instant as fellow travelers on this Good Earth, on a journey of learning and growth, through space and time, in a vast, deeply mysterious and profoundly beautiful evolving universe. Surely there would be far less taste for wars, Chief Luana believed, if more of the world shared its music, because music reveals our common humanity in its own mysterious way. Perhaps this universality of music in the human story influenced William James, I thought to myself, when he wrote, 'We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.'
But Chief Luana also laments that much of the world has foolishly turned its back on silence. Quieting the mind is becoming more and more difficult as we rabidly continue to invent new machines and devices that increase the noise in our daily lives, intrude on our thoughts, and incessantly distract us from an essential feature of health and well-being. We require quiet space from time to time for contemplation, meditation, and a psychologically nourishing connection to each other and to the natural world in which we are embedded and on which we depend. She thinks that many of our human problems, in fact, stem from our inability to sit alone quietly for some time each day — to nurture a 'quiet ego.' She notes that it has become increasingly difficult today to be alone for any length of time in our busy, competitive, hyper-connected, extroverted world. In fact, ‘aloneness’ is at risk of soon becoming an obsolete human behavior. And this loss could have profound negative implications for mental health and, ironically, for social stability.
Wide-eyed in wonder, I spoke out,
“Wow! What a contrast from the noisy, pandering, power-hungry leaders on the mainland. Though she does remind me of the story of a famous Native American chief — Chief Red Cloud. Being poor and naked, he claimed to have no desire for riches, but only for peace and love and to teach the children of the village well.”
The young islander replied,
“Yes, I’ve heard that one could easily identify the Indian chief by seeking out the poorest person in the village — the chief typically being the most generous individual in the tribe, the greatest go-giver.”
He grabbed the small canteen that was clipped on the belt around his waist,
“Let us share a kava drink in honor of these two enlightened and beloved leaders.”
I took a small sip and then...
"Rico, wake up!”
Bob was jabbing me. He told me I had dozed off on my watch and that when he got up to take over, found me asleep at the helm. Apparently, I had dreamt that our friendly, good-natured Chef Lua was actually Chief Luana, a great leader of thousands of people on her island who leads by example and serves her people with wisdom, humor, generosity, humility — and with music.
Should I tell Lua about my dream? What would she think? She would probably just laugh and say, “Oh Mister Rico, you and your silly dreams.” And then she would go off to play her ukulele or quietly prepare one of those delicious meals she creates — and serves — to nourish us all.