09/04/2013 01:53 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

Pursuing New Knowledge Brings Bountiful Rewards

Driving into Hilo Town from the Puna district on Highway 130, I garnered a beautiful sunrise mountain glow on Maunakea's summit. I reflected on how such a physically majestic mountain has inspired generations of those who have gazed on the mountain from the first Polynesians to the present day malahini.

The tallest mountain on Earth, Maunakea, reaches 33,100 feet from the ocean floor and, culturally in Hawai'i, it is the physical link between earth, sea and sky. From the perspective of oceanic wayfinders, Maunakea emerging from the ocean depths on the horizon is a symbol of arrival, seeding a new life and feeding a community. For astronomers, Maunakea is a symbol of departure and a portal for space exploration. We honor Maunakea as a kupuna, an elder, who sustains life from shoreline to summit, a living symbol of great knowledge from whom we draw upon our inspiration to enlarge and adapt our understanding of life.

'Imiloa literally means to seek far and is the Hawaiian word for both explore and explorer.

Pulling into the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai'i's parking lot, in view in the distance: a snowcapped Maunakea, in the forefront one of the iconic titanium cones of 'Imiloa, all framed in a beautiful Hawaiian rainbow. I think of the mission tasked upon me through the Center: to honor Maunakea by sharing Hawaiian culture and science to inspire exploration.

I have always felt the natural tie-in to this mission was through story and the indigenous system of celestial wayfinding and navigation, or non-instrument navigation, which was reborn in the Hawaiian renaissance in the 70s' with the voyage of Hōkūle'a to Tahiti. We now honor those efforts by preserving the wayfinding arts in our annual 'Imiloa Wayfinding and Navigation Festival.

The art of wayfinding includes a vast knowledge of astronomy, ocean sciences, meteorology, environmental sciences, mathematics, and cultural perspectives, integrated in an understanding of how the environment around you works; studying these disciplines helps to organize my surroundings in the open ocean. -'Imiloa Navigator-in-Residence and Pwo navigator, Chad Kālepa Baybayan

In learning about the art of wayfinding and the successful habitation of islands throughout the Polynesian triangle, what inspires me about the story is the idea of complete sustainability. Sustainability on the canoes for long periods of time, and the innovation that had to follow after landfall to successfully live and to perpetuate an island culture is an interesting thought.

Today's voyages like the Polynesian Voyaging Society's World Wide Voyage are about navigating towards a healthy and sustainable future for ourselves, our home -- the Hawaiian Islands -- and our Island Earth. I see the sustainable lifestyle on a canoe is the metaphor for our Earth in the vastness of the Universe.

At 'Imiloa, as explorers through a Hawai'i lens, we explore our place in the genealogy of the universe where we are stewards of a fragile ecosystem made up of earth, sea and sky. We rely upon our understanding of the rhythms of the universe to navigate and adapt to an ever-changing environment and are grateful for the many hands and minds of community coming together to provision our journey.

Quick note about why we spell Maunakea as one word: The University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Hawaiian Language recommends one word, "Maunakea" as the proper Hawaiian usage. Maunakea is a proper noun -- the name of the mountain on the Island of Hawaii. "Mauna Kea" spelled as two words is really referring to any white mountain--it is a common noun (vs. the proper noun). The one word version is also specific to the "Mountain of Wakea," the proper name of this mountain as addressed in the Kumulipo Chant of Creation and throughout 'Imiloa's exhibits.

Another example of a common noun to a proper noun is ka pua. Spelled separately it refers to "the flower" or any flower. Spelled as Kapua, it refers to the "proper name" of someone/something.