By Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
Laulima is a word that represents “many hands working together for a common goal” in the Hawaiian culture.
This past Saturday, I attended the makahiki festival on Hickam Beach at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and observed laulima in action. It was great to see so many people from diverse cultures gathering together in an informal setting and enjoying the warm sun, good food, friendly competition and spirited conversation.
Members of our local Navy and Air Force community had the opportunity to meet local Hawaiian civic and cultural leaders to learn more about each other and discover common goals and values sometimes hidden by perceived cultural differences.
Hawaiian cultural practitioner Shad Kane, the coordinator of the event and a Navy vet himself, described the makahiki as a traditional Hawaiian festival that provided an opportunity for the Hawaiian community to come together in the interest of building new relationships and nurturing old ones.
In ancient Hawaiian history the Hawaiian people would come together in their various regions during the harvest season and celebrate the bounty of the year. It was a time to build relationships with games, food and interaction between nobility and the people. It was the only time the fisherman, farmer and artisan could safely interact on a one-on-one basis with their chief.
Everyone recognized that the whole community survived because of the role that each individual played in providing the necessary means of sustenance in their agrarian society. These relationships would prove beneficial in times of peace, when the whole community would rely on the product that each member provided, and in times of war when the chiefs and their military lieutenants would lead these same people into battle.
One of the benefits of a cultural immersion event like the makahiki is the opportunity it affords for learning new lessons and gaining a new perspective on experiences common to every culture.
This week marks the 72nd anniversary of the decisive naval Battle of Guadalcanal, when Imperial Japan’s nearly successful attempt to bombard the American Marines off of Henderson field and off of Guadalcanal from the sea was soundly defeated by American naval forces.
In the months leading up to November of 1942, the U.S. Navy suffered repeated defeats in the waters around Guadalcanal as the Japanese forces exhibited superior capability in many aspects of equipment, tactics and night fighting doctrine to establish sea-control in the opening days of the campaign.
Our naval forbearers would soon apply lessons learned from those defeats and seize the day.
Though the battle that had begun in August of 1942 would not end until February of 1943, the U.S. Navy’s persistence despite heavy losses ultimately won the day, and we know now that following the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Japanese began formulating plans for retreat from the Solomon Islands.
As Adm. Halsey wrote: “We seized the offensive from the enemy. Until then he had been advancing at his will. From then on he retreated at ours.”
I can’t help but reflect on the laulima exhibited by our nation’s armed forces in that critical season of our history.
The struggle for Guadalcanal would prove to be a watershed moment in the Pacific theater when America’s diverse military forces would be forced in the heat of battle to work together to develop the necessary joint objectives, techniques and tactics that would defeat their common enemy.
The lessons learned from Guadalcanal and the joint spirit that it engendered, though imperfect, would be tailored and molded throughout the remainder of the war and lead to an eventual overwhelming victory against a tough and determined enemy.
That same spirit also transcends international lines today.
At a recent maritime security challenge conference in Victoria, British Columbia, Adm. Harris reflected on the importance of multi-national exercises like RIMPAC that establish dialogue and cooperation between the military forces of the nations of the Pacific Rim where so much of the world’s maritime trade occurs—in other words, nations where peaceful interchange and maritime security represents a common goal. As Harris stated, “There are three great ships that sail the high seas—friendship, partnership and leadership.”
Each year the makahiki helps us discover new friendships, re-establish old ones and learn the benefits of laulima from a new perspective.