In the middle of the Pacific lies a sandy island, where seabirds and humans mingle in a process of renewal and soul-searching. A place where the middle of nowhere becomes not only the middle of somewhere, but the heart of everything.
Midway Atoll is a place of ancient power. A revered elder in a long dynasty of fire that once stretched from Kure Atoll to Kaua’i. Flowers of molten lava that bloomed and decayed with the long seasons of geology, and left a marine landscape strewn with exquisite petals of azure.
In the Hawaiian tradition, the rosary of atolls that form the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands represents a long lineage of Kupuna, ancestors, that live a solitary life, like hermits, in the heart of Papahanaumokuakea, the place where the union of Papa, the mother Earth, and Wakea, the paternal sky, “gives birth to the islands in the vast expanses”. For the natives, this long line of small islands is not only the umbilical cord to their past, but also a series of stepping stones along an ancient route that leads their souls to the netherworld. Leaping from island to island, the spirits of the dead advance westwards towards their meeting with Po, the great darkness, where they reunite with their dead relatives.
Understanding the significance of Midway in the Hawaiian tradition has added many layers of meaning to our journey. Layers that fit together perfectly, even if we look at Midway from a literal perspective. After all, the Hawaiian view of this island as an old elder has been corroborated by geology; and the notion that this place is a living organism fits perfectly with James Lovelock’s theories.
As for the souls and spirits that inhabit this place, they are present in every decaying building, in every trembling blade of grass that breaks through the tarmac of an abandoned runway, and in every glorious sunset over the turquoise waters of the lagoon. Even those who don’t believe in the supernatural often feel a chill going down their spine when a white tern flutters and swoops over their heads, so close that one can feel a delicate whiff of warm wind with every flap of their wings of pure white.
And yet Midway is a land raped and tortured by man. A land destroyed, rebuilt, exploited, deformed and, these days, covered with rotting carcasses of albatross chicks full of plastic. It is a hub for an intricate web of messages and symbols that we came here to explore. A place for witnessing, a place for learning, and a place, perhaps, for redemption.
I write these lines as we leave behind the middle point of our journey, and enter our final week on the island. By degrees, the pressure of accomplishing the tangible goals of our expedition is subsiding. And simultaneously, I feel the urgency to pursue and share the intangible.
I hope that sharing with you the significance of Midway in the Hawaiian tradition is a good place to start. After all, who would have thought that here, where the union of Papa and Wakea gave birth to a tiny island in the vast expanses, the middle of nowhere could become not only the middle of somewhere, but also the beginning of everything?