When my friend, Dawn Sakamoto, first told me the publishing company where she works was printing a survival guide penned by Brother Noland, I almost didn’t believe her.
Brother Noland? The slack-key master and award-winning musician? The guy who sang, “Coconut Girl?”
In fact, Brother Noland has long been learning and sharing his knowledge of native survival skills. He even started the Hawaiian Inside Tracking program in 1996, offered through his Ho‘ea Initiative, that gives children and adults a chance to learn these traditional tracking and outdoor skills.
His book, “The Hawaiian Survival Handbook” ($16.95, Watermark Publishing), features more than 40 different survival techniques and outdoor skills, from how to survive a flash flood to how to brush your teeth in the wilderness. These tips are handy for anyone who heads outside — from day hikers to overnight campers to fishermen at sea.
“People always talk about being sustainable,” he said. “But sustainable means you can walk into the forest with just a knife.”
Yesterday we met Brother Noland at Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kāneʻohe. He and his team of survivalists were going to show us some of the skills showcased in his book. We were going to learn how to throw a fishing net, how to make fire, and how to stun a rabbit with a stick.
I had to actually wear shoes for this!
We stood in a circle, holding hands, while Jenny Yagodich led us in a prayer to thank everything around us, from the insects in the ground to the clouds overhead.
Then the lessons began.
“Look around,” Brother Noland said. “Look at all the beautiful things here in our classroom. This is the original Costco.”
He talked about all of us — no matter our ethnic background — have ancestors who knew these important survival skills. These skills were passed down to generation after generation after generation, he said, “and if we stop passing them down, they’ll be gone.”
And it doesn’t matter how many college degrees we have, either: “Can you find water right now? Can you start a fire without a match or lighter? We teach the other half so you get 20-20 vision.”
The first skill we learned was how to throw a net.
Palakiko Yagodich, an assistant professor of hospitality and tourism education at Kapi‘olani Community College, taught us the basics, from the different components to the net to the technique of actually throwing it.
And you can’t throw it in the ocean, Brother Noland said, until you know what to do with the fish you catch.
Yagodich and Noland made is look easy. “It’s like throwing a frisbee, but not,” Yagodich said, laughing.
Our group learned from Alex, an 11-year-old junior tracker from ‘Ewa Beach, who has already mastered much of what’s in this handbook.
He told me to grip the net, pull it up toward you to make a “skirt,” pull a third of it across one shoulder and another third across the opposite knee. Then grab the middle, pull it up toward you, cup your hand around the edge of the net that’s across your knee and throw with your hips.
Or something like that.
Next, we watched Jenny Yagodich make fire from a baseboard, a spindle and some pine needles. It was mesmerizing watching her create this life force that can be used for everything from providing warmth to cooking food to sterilizing water.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, the whole experience, from throwing net to throwing a guava stick toward a target that’s supposed to simulate a rabbit or chicken, was humbling. But I get it. I get why this is necessary — and why these life skills should be shared with everyone.
“The knowledge is in the doing,” Brother Noland said. “This book is just the dirt under the nail of my little finger. It just scratches the surface.”
Get “The Hawaiian Survival Handbook” at bookstores starting at the end of the month or online here. Or take a one-day, once-a-month class from Brother Noland to learn these survival skills, like fire-making, wayfinding and net-throwing. Fee is $65 per person and includes a copy of the book. Contact (808) 729-8293 or email [email protected] to sign up.