Monday, 17 September 2007

Old ramblings.


My name is Harmen Hielkema
My background is in music, sailing, art, design, and education. I am naturally inclined toward experiential practical research activities. I'm drawn to the problem of defining and teaching the mysterious inward process of intuitive design. My inclination is to search out the unique and unusual
I am also passionate about efficiency and sustain ability as philosophical positions from which to view problem solving in design, both in theory and in practice.
My extensive practical back ground has put me in touch with some of the great creative minds in New Zealand today. By observing and interacting with these people during the course of my career I have been fortunate enough to have shared with them a variety of philosophical ideas and approaches to problem solving.
This diversity has enabled me to experience first hand the connections and similarities in designing solutions and creating new and original outcomes.

So many of the worlds' classic designs are utterly simple. The knife, the wheel, the pen, the hammer, refined for the work they were designed to do, reduced to the bare minimum of parts, these designs endure because of their simplicity. (I mistrust the inherent vulnerability of complexity)

My philosophy of design simplicity is strongly influenced by my relationship with the waka ama Toroa.

Toroa is the name of my canoe. Toroa is the Maori name for the wandering albatross.
A 5.6 metre sailing waka ama or outrigger sailing canoe, Toroa is of a type common to many of the cultures of Oceania. The result of the combined intuitive design approach of generations of equatorial Oceanic people they are unique to the Pacific region, isolated parts of the Indian Ocean and the Indonesian Archipelago. This particular variety of Waka ama is also known as Prahu, Proa, Vaka, Va-a, Wa, depending on language use and regional dialect, whether Micronesian, Melanesian or Polynesian. In New Zealand the name "waka ama" is most commonly used.

Every culture with very few exceptions, somewhere in its past has some connection with the sea and a technology for moving or sailing on it. The sailboat was the first machine to give men freedom of motion without harnessing muscle power. Few of us any longer recognize that the sailboat was truly the first instrument which freed us from bondage to the land ... the waka ama, the first sailboat that could move up wind. This invention made previously inaccessible areas of the world accessible to man, ... Neither do we recall, unless our attention is drawn to it that the sailboat was the first machine to achieve powered motion without rotating parts. Bernard Smith, The 40 Knot Sailboat, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1963.

Vessels were designed for peoples needs out of the materials at their disposal. Trees, coconuts, driftwood. Tools were of shell, fire, and stone (where available). Evolution, ingenuity and ritual guided their hands as they created craft of elegant, functional simplicity. Lives were invested in these canoes, time and resources. A person's mana or status was determined by the quality size and speed of the vessel. This assured their future in the equilibrium of their relationship with Tangaroa the sea god, the evolution of a flexible pattern. The quality of the canoe, all that protected its occupants from the awesome power of the ocean, was in many instances, sculpted from the trunks of living trees, pacified and sacrificed with deep respect for their life force. Small wonder that pacific canoes were (and still are) regarded as living beings in their own right, endowed with the status of an important community member. Canoes were consulted by their owner, communication taking place in meditation and ritual at a deeply personal level. Imagine, if you can, a view of the world in which matters of great significance are discussed with the spirit of a canoe!

There is much to know about the material sailing culture of the Pacific, most of which has been diluted or destroyed by Western influence, leaving a large void in the understandings of how such vessels were built and sailed. This is especially true in the more remote and isolated centres of Pacific culture such as those found in Auckland and Los Angeles. Of these very large populations few now retain or practice the ways of their ancestors.
The son of immigrants myself I have come to identify with some of these issues. My love of sailing and the secrets I have uncovered along the way, is in part a personal healing process.

. The closer I look at these extraordinary vessels and their intuitive designers the more humble I feel. It is far too easy to overlook the obvious when it comes to artifacts of a different culture, immersed as we are in a highly technological belief system. Arrogance and complacency can blind us to the benefits of new [and old] ideas and possibilities. Of course this is a universal problem and not confined just to the people of the Pacific.
There is no doubt that the invasive arrival of the European brought bewildering and devastating change to the culture of the Pacific people. The consequences of this clash of cultures is manifesting itself in issues such as land and resource ownership, intellectual property rights, pertaining to traditional art forms. History teaches us that this process is fraught with difficulty, causing division and misunderstanding, in some cases, violation of basic human rights, revolution and even genocide.
Contemporary generations representing these pacific cultures have in common an indomitable and aggressive spirit which has commanded national and international respect in their struggle to reassert themselves. A renewal of cultural awareness is encouraging individuals to recreate the artefacts of their ancestors in the hope of finding a renewed sense of connection to the pacific region.
"Doing what someone else has done before is the best way to start feeling like they did, and I want that feeling as much as I want a finished canoe" (Dina J., Voyage of the Ant, Stackpole, USA, 1989

We as individuals in a world of constant and bewildering change each from societies, derived from a multiplicity of cultures are seeking answers to some fundamental questions about what it is to be human; as if we are searching for some kind of connection between ourselves and the world, from which I believe many of us are experiencing an ever increasing sense of disconnection. Does this cause us to quest for knowledge of our history, to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle, to create for ourselves the experiences of our ancestors through the re-creation of their artifacts; the only clues they left us?
"You don't have to worry about keeping it pure, the Indian was a true child of the forest, so he had many ways of doing things. If one material wasn't there he found another; Man is a survivor: he always did what made the most sense at the time". Harold Tantaquidgeon, Mohegan Indian chief, from Voyage of the Ant, Dina. J, Stackpole, USA,1989.
In my view the so-called primitive and civilized cultures both have qualities to offer in the process of maturation that improve the chances of our continued survival.
I am convinced that the European way of imposing powerful control systems over populations and the technological domination of nature are far from the optimum conditions under which we as individuals can thrive. Much is lost when a dominant culture imposes itself upon another and prevails.

Perhaps understanding the relationship between cultures is the next great challenge for humanity. This process begins with the individual and from there permeates out into the collective experience.
"So the future lies in opposites, or at least, in the different coming together. (Obiso C., First Light, Heinemann, Auckland, 1987)

It is my belief that the ability to intuit is inherent in us all. Exposing ourselves to the ways of our ancestors and the ancestral ways of other cultures broadens our vocabulary of ideas and material techniques.
In a contemporary pacific context the waka ama Toroa is a seaworthy, efficient, sheltered water vessel. Its application is only limited to the skill level of the crew. Its appeal lies in its safety and ease of handling. Suitable as a recreational or racing sailboat, the proa can be scaled in size anywhere from 5 meters to 20 meters without compromising its basic qualities.

Intuitive design is the aspect of design that requires a vocabulary of thoughts and ideas upon which one draws in the process of finding creative solutions to design problems. This is my special area of interest at this time.
Intuition is defined in the Collins English dictionary ..........

" intuition(,intju'ishen) n !. knowledge or belief obtained neither by reason or perception. 2. instinctive knowledge or belief. 3. a hunch or unjustified belief. [C15; from LL intuition a contemplation, from L intueri to gaze upon, from tueri to look at]"

The word suggested to me "the tutor within" yet, to my surprise, the literal translation is something quite unrelated associated with looking or gazing. Investigating the word "tutor" cleared this up; the root tueri can also be taken to mean to supervise or watch over.
If you were to visit me in my workshop when I'm problem solving you may find me staring, squinting or looking peripherally at the work in progress, sometimes for hours; peacefully, in a kind of mental neutral gear. At other times invoking and asking questions of an imagined spirit or ancestor.
Answers and solutions come at odd times Sometimes an answer will enter my mind there and then at others whilst I am engaged in another activity; a conversation, reading, sleeping; all of a sudden !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Eureka heuriskein
"I've found it" or Greek for to find
This, in my experience, is one of the most exciting in the process of solving the problem from a designers point of view. Intuition is also the most difficult thing to quantify, define and teach yet, as an aspect of the creative process, it plays an essential part; in equal measure, alongside theory and research activity in the design arena.

I think of the ability to intuit as a natural part of my life. and work. Once developed and practiced intuition can be drawn upon in all aspects of life not just design.

There is value in conveying the idea that intuition can be awoken, practiced and developed in all people regardless of situation.
The way I see it this sense is a part of the human metabolism, part of the spectrum of energy that we conduct in our bodies at the same level as thought.
Thought is energy It consumes energy and transforms it to a higher frequency than that of light and consequently is able to be transmitted. uncontrolled by the minds of origin they radiate out into the conscious and subconscious to everyone around us. We have largely lost the ability to control this level of operation but I believe that one can learn to become receptive. thought energy has infinite speed and is instantaneous in the process of transmission and reception. So often I have experienced an incoming idea and not recognized or acted on it and then days or weeks later someone else has.


Toroa was designed and built by Michael Toy and Harmen Hielkema
Both designers from Auckland.

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Toroa by Harmen Hielkema & Mike Toy.

Header Photo: Toroa at Rawene by Julie Holton.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Roelof Hielkema who instilled in me the willingness to learn.
These pages are intended to inform and add to the growing body of knowledge concerning the Canoe Culture of the Pacific, past, present & future, from the Tupuna, the Ancestors of the Pacific cultures to the people of the world.

These pages contain Images and text relating to our two proas, Toroa & Takapu, some history relating to our experiments & experiences.

The dissertation that I posted on this blog in April 2008 "Takapu The Proa" was written by me in 1997 in response to an assignment that I was set whilst studying for my design degree. The dissertation covers many issues that a proa enthusiast may benefit from reading about.

Waka define culture as culture defines waka

Waka reflect the individuality and uniqueness of a society which in turn is governed by the geography, geology, topography, climate, location, resources, isolation, origin, flora, fauna, flotsam, jetsam, etc.

Waka are our link to the past, they have shaped our present and define our future.

Waka are the vessels of knowledge, physical and mental development, freedom of bondage to the land, key to our inquisitiveness, expressions of our ingenuity and courage, our love of shape and form, the seat of our power.

Waka are the source of our material culture, from which all processes are derived.

Waka are who and what we are.