July 7, 2021

Qualitative study on voyaging and health: perspectives and insights from the medical officers during the Worldwide Voyage

Marjorie K Leimomi Mala Mau, Christina Mie Minami, Sarah A Stotz, Cheryl L Albright, Shawn Malia Kana’iaupuni, and Heidi Kai Guth

BMJ Open

Objective: To examine the potential association of ocean voyaging with human health and well-being from the perspectives and experiences of the medical officers (MOs) who served during the Worldwide Voyage (WWV).

Design: Using a phenomenology framework, focus group and individual interviews were conducted and analysed by three diverse core researchers and then reviewed by three external researchers to enhance triangulation. Analysis used the Framework Method and Atlas-ti software (V.8.4.4) to facilitate coding, identify categories and develop an analytical matrix. The matrix was applied to all data using the constant comparative method to construct major themes and subthemes. Synthesised member checking was performed.

Setting: In 2014–2017, the WWV began in Hawai’i on a traditional voyaging canoe, known as Hōkūle’a, using a non-instrument navigational method, ‘wayfinding’, powered only by natural forces and guided by traditional ecological knowledge. Each segment of the voyage included ~12 individuals, including an MO physician. The entire WWV included 172 ports-of-
call, 36 legs and 250+ crew members.

Participants: We purposively sampled all MO physicians who participated in the WWV and enrolled 87% of eligible MOs (n=20 of 23). We conducted two focus groups (n=17=11+6, 85%) and three individual informant interviews (n=3, 15%).

Results: The four major themes: (1) Relationships; (2) Preventive Care to Enhance Health; (3) Holistic Health and Wellbeing beyond Voyaging and (4) Spiritual Transformative Experience, strongly suggest that ocean voyaging aboard a traditional voyaging canoe enhanced human health and well being. The overall impact to perceived health and well-being extended beyond any increase in physical exercise. Essentially, traditional Polynesian ocean voyaging provided a cultural-based context for holistic health and well being that influenced multiple levels and multiple dimensions.

Conclusion: Polynesian ocean voyaging was perceived as positively associated with holistic health and overall well-being and it may offer a new approach to confront complex health disparities.

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