Herb Kane's Canoes and the Dodo Bird of Mauritius
Consider the canoe. Across indigenous cultures, wherever there was water, be it fresh or salt, there were canoes. A canoe provided the means to feed a village. It provided entertainment in the form of racing. It provided a way to cross a river or an ocean. I cannot think of any culture which did not rely on a canoe in some manner.
This is where my thoughts wandered yesterday as I sat in one of my favorite hideaways in Waikiki--the Herb Kawainui Kane Library at Outrigger Reef on the Beach
Located across from the hotel’s registration desk, the library provides guests with children’s and Hawaii-themed books. But a library implies many things to me, not the least of which is books, and I browsed a collection of Hawaiian artifacts, museum-quality pieces on loan from private collections—the jaw of a shark, lau hala
mat, a conch shell. A cabinet of turned bowls, many made from a variety of exotic hardwoods found in Hawaii, caught my eye, as did two beautifully-framed lei hulu
, feather lei, hanging on the library’s end walls. The book, the Hawaiian artifacts, and the grouped sitting areas created a warm space, one I find myself gravitating to time and again. That along with its wi-fi;-)
And while I nestled in an overstuffed chair and checked my email, I found my eyes gravitating to a 36-foot-long mural behind the reception desk.
Herb Kawainui Kane had a thing for canoes, it turns out.
I knew the library’s namesake as an artist long before I really understood his thing for canoes. Kane’s fascination with canoes was so great that when he was working as a commercial artist in Chicago—a great distance from his Hawaiian roots—he started researching and drawing Polynesian canoes. That work eventually led to the mural of 18 different canoes from cultures around the Pacific spanning the length of the reception area in the lobby of Outrigger Reef on the Beach.
But Kane wasn’t satisfied with just painting pretty pictures of canoes. He wanted to build them, too. In addition to building them, he wanted to sail them.
Kane’s thing for canoes eventually led to the Polynesian Voyaging Society
and the now revered Hokulea. (For more on Herb's involvement in the early days of PVS, read Sam Low’s
And as you know from reading my blog, Hokulea is the double-hulled voyaging canoe that, in 1976, proved conventional wisdom of its day wrong when it sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti without the aid of modern-day navigational aids. No compass. No sextant. No GPS. Those early Polynesians who made their way to Hawaii didn’t drift here. They didn’t just happen upon land. They sailed here—many times—using nature as their compass.
Today, Hokulea is preparing for her biggest voyage ever. Later this spring, she will sail some 46,000 miles to 26 countries around the belt of our globe.
I was pondering all this yesterday, as I also thought about Outrigger’s latest ambitious endeavor: the opening of Outrigger Mauritius Resort and Spa
off the southeast coast of Africa—on the island of Mauritius.
Kane’s mural includes canoes from Hawaii, Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Moorea, Tahiti, Marquesas Islands, Samoa, and Tuamotu Archipelago. It does not include a traditional voyaging canoe from Mauritius and that has me wondering what one might look like. Was it a dugout? Double-hull? Single? Made out of what kind of wood?
The few things I knew about Mauritius upon learning my employer was expanding into this new region of the world were this:
1) Mauritius is an island;
2) Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa; and
3) Mauritius was home to the extinct dodo bird.
You know me and birds, right? (By the way, Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently set up a bird cam on a Laysan albatross nest
site here in Hawaii. The chick hatched on January 27th and is already an active ball of downy fluff.)
But back to the dodo bird. It was flightless, grew to three-and-a-half feet tall, and may have tipped the scales at 40 pounds.
I find canoes and birds a fitting topic in the same conversation. At least, for islands. Because often before canoes (filled with humans) found the shores of our world’s islands, birds already had. These Hawaiian Islands, for example, were, quite simply, bird sanctuaries when the first Polynesians navigated their voyaging canoes for Hawaii’s shores. My guess is the same might be true of Mauritius, especially knowing the dodo was flightless. Due to the remote location of Mauritius, the first dodo had to have flown there. But over time, likely due to an abundance of food and absence of predators, it evolved to be flightless. There was simply no need to fly as flying can be a great energy suck.
The bottom line is this: I want to know more. (She writes as she pulls an unread book off a shelf—The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
.) And, to be quite honest, I want to visit. Anyone care to join me?