Hokulea: Raising Islands and Stories out of the Sea

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Hokulea: Raising Islands and Stories out of the Sea

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Sep 25, 2013

There are some writing assignments that are just too big to tackle. It’s little like that giant Hula Pie served at Duke’s Canoe Club. Where do you plunge the first spoonful? Do I go for the whipped cream? The macadamia nut ice cream? What about chocolate cookie crust? And one person cannot be expected to complete the whole thing before it melts, no matter how ravenous. At least, I can’t, and I’ve tried.

That’s how I feel when I think about writing about Hokulea.

Hokulea is the voyaging sailing canoe that helped guide the storm of Hawaiian cultural renaissance in the mid-1970s. In navigating to Tahiti, using only nature as a guide, Hokulea and her sailors proved the intention and heroic skill of Polynesians in raising the islands of Hawaii out of the sea and put to rest any notion of drift and luck as the way in which Hawaii was discovered by the first humans to call these islands home.

Where do I start? What do I want to say? Is there a message I want to share about Hokulea? A lesson she has taught me?

Even Sam Low, who just published the highly recommended Hawaiki Rising, only tackled the first two voyages to Tahiti--and he sailed her, he had access to the journals of those early sailors, and, what’s more, he probably had Nainoa Thompson’s cell phone number on speed dial.

I mean Hokulea is this amazingly large cultural icon in Hawaii, she’s a celebrity, and she intimidates me. 

In thinking about writing about Hokulea, some of my own “mini-moments” come to mind.

Years ago, I paddled a six-person outrigger canoe that accompanied Hokulea on a sail to release the ashes of an early Hokulea sailor—Dr. Pat Aiu—to the sea. A few fellow sailors dove into the water as Dr. Aiu’s son released the calabash holding his father’s ashes. One of those swimmers was none other than Nainoa Thompson, master navigator and president of the board of directors for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. He swam over to our canoe and crawled aboard, sitting behind me in seat two. I was relatively new to Hawaii then and uneducated in Hokulea. But I still knew I was meeting someone with great mana, power, and noted the reverence he was awarded by my fellow paddlers.

Once, when Hokulea was docked at Nawiliwili Harbor, I served as a volunteer on behalf of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. We gave talks about marine mammals as groups of school students rotated through tours of Hokulea.

Once I actually made the passenger list to sail around Kauai aboard Hokulea from Nawiliwili Harbor to Hanalei but bad weather reduced the crew to seasoned sailors.

And many times I have journeyed to bays and harbors to welcome Hokulea to Kauai. The last time was earlier this month when Hokulea—and her sister canoe Hikianalia—sailed into Hanalei. 

As it turns out, I was researching a forthcoming story on kapa in Nualolo Kai, a valley along Napali Coast, on the day Hokulea made landfall in Hanalei, so I had to wait a few days to greet her. I may have been in a remote valley with no cellular service and no wi-fi, but I was not too far away to run into people. In keeping with the pop culture phenomenon of six-degrees of separation, which I believe is reduced to two degrees in Hawaii, I met two recent sailors of Hokulea and her sister canoe Hikianalia. Their love and awe for the canoe, as they await on pins and needles for upcoming crew calls, was contagious.

In 2014, Hokulea will sail around the world from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and back to the Pacific over a five-year span. The mission of the voyage is to share the message of ocean conservation and to “malama island Earth.” Put simply, to care for our natural world. Much of the focus of this long journey will be on the future—our young people. This voyage will be used to train the next generation of navigators to ensure the tradition of Polynesian wayfinding persists.

When Hokulea sailed to Tahiti the first time in 1976, only six master navigators still knew how to raise land from the sea in the traditional manner. But the success of Hokulea reversed the decline—in 2007, 16 master navigators were initiated—and spawned the creation of many voyaging canoes across the Pacific. On September 8, the newest voyaging canoe, Hikianalia, departed Hanalei for Nihoa, an uninhabited island to the northwest of Kauai. On board were three master navigators and six apprentices.

There will be many stories to come about Hikianalia, herself an apprentice following in the wake of her elder sister, the master Hokulea, as the two make their journey around this big island called Earth. And I hope to be able to share a few of those stories with you the only way I know how—one bite at a time.


Michael | Sep 27, 2013 12:00 AM


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