THE INSTITUTE FOR A NEW POLITICAL COSMOLOGY

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Returning Home to Find a Way Forward: 
I ka wa mamua, i ka wa mahope*

(*roughly translates from Hawaiian to English as "the past is prologue")

More than three decades ago, when I moved to the Hawaiian Islands to further my research, I arrived at the point on Earth geographically and historically furthest from South Africa, my birthplace. Having experienced a world gone mad, Hawaiʻi seemed like an oasis of healing. Thereafter, as I periodically traveled back and forth between my two ends of the Earth, I was overtaken by a surprising paradox. The more I appreciated my new home, the more I longed to know my native Africa better.

  

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Cape Point, at the southern tip of Africa, separates the Atlantic Ocean to the left and the Indian Ocean to the right. This image was created by Alain Proust, one of South Africa's leading photographers. Used by permission.

Southern Africa is the most likely site of the beginning of Homo Sapiens’ long, arduous journey to populate the entire planet. The Hawaiian archipelago is one of the last places to be discovered and settled. It is the land of Native Hawaiians, members of the great Polynesian sea-faring people, who established a thriving and complex Indigenous culture on these islands. Hawaiʻi’s human story at most spans two thousand years. By comparison, the story of African San Bushmen, among my original compatriots, spans a couple hundred thousand years going back into the dimmest recesses of imagination. The immensity of this distance startled me, to say nothing of the contrast between South Africa’s recent history of racial apartheid and Hawaiʻi’s tradition of racial inclusion.

The continent of Africa with the antipodal position of the Hawaiian Islands superimposed in pink. Also superimposed on the map is the track sailed by the Polynesian double-hulled ocean sailing canoe Hōkūleʻa, which you can read about below.

I began to research the role of worldviews as the foundation of political and social order. How do societies develop from creation stories and cosmologies? How do we construct and then determine the truth of our reality maps? How well does our current worldview prepare us to respond effectively to the global crises we have created? How informed is our cosmology by the astounding realities uncovered by the revolutions in science and history? There seemed no way forward other than developing and living by a wisdom-seeking cosmology. Incredibly, I was fortunate to work at a university with enough imagination to support an Institute for a New Political Cosmology. Reflecting upon my Hawaiʻi-South Africa axis, together with the help of many wise and caring individuals, I have come to believe a cosmology centered on the truth quest is within our grasp.

Louis Herman, founder and director of INPC

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New land is formed by molten lava, which creates toxic steam as it pours into the Pacific Ocean.

Everything Old is New Again

Southern Africa is one of the oldest landmasses on Earth. The Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most recently formed, with a continuously erupting volcano still creating new land. Few places on Earth are more evocative of an ancient African Eden than the South African coastline. Here we find one of the most diverse flowering plant kingdoms in the world, the Cape Fynbos, meeting an abundant ocean fishery. Together they once supported all the charismatic megafauna of Africa—the great varieties of antelope, herds of buffalo and elephants, crashes of rhino, hippos wading downriver into ocean surf, and all the large predators following the browsing, grazing herds. Fittingly, this coastline also holds the largest collection of evidence for the emergence of self-reflective, culture-creating Homo sapiens. As one might expect, southern Africa is also home to perhaps the most ancient hunting-gathering culture in the world, that of the San Bushmen, the closest living relatives to the original population from which we all descended. 

In the 1970s, the Polynesian Voyaging Society revived the ancient Polynesian art of trans-oceanic, instrument-free navigation. In 2014, the Hōkūleʻa, a recreation of the traditional, twin-hulled ocean voyaging canoe, began a three-year, round-the-world voyage. Part of the purpose of the journey, called Mālama Honua (translated in English as “Care for the Earth”), was to wake up a sleeping humanity to the heedless destruction of the natural world. When the Hōkūleʻa reached the southernmost tip of Africa, the crew and the master navigator, Nainoa Thompson, were met by filmmaker and naturalist, Craig Foster, creator and co-star (with the octopus!) of the academy award-winning My Octopus Teacher. Craig introduced the crew of the Hōkūleʻa to the undersea kelp forest and coastline—perhaps the original landscape of the human mind.

 

The journey of Native Hawaiian voyagers back to the site of human origins symbolizes the emergence of a worldview that impels humanity to revere once again the living Earth as the immediate creator and supporter of all life. The wisdom-seeking human being is both the source and the center of this world view, pursuing those practices which help bring together the greatest good of the individual with the greatest good of the whole. The Institute for a New Political Cosmology strives to implement this vision by promoting the practices of seeking wisdom—the truth quest—in public education, politics, and our daily lives.  

In this video, Craig Foster and Nainoa Thompson reconnect via Zoom six years after their first meeting at Cape Point.

Hōkūleʻa off Cape Point, South Africa.