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Hōkūle‘a - A Tiny Canoe's Mighty Mission for Island Earth

July 12, 2017

50,000 people gathered at Magic Island to be a witness of Hōkūle‘a’s home coming.

On June 17, 2017 people started appearing at Magic Island, carrying their lawn chairs, many strands of ti-leaf and maile lei, and their tents to set up camp early in the morning. Many even before dawn. In a several hours, at around 9 a.m., the Polynesian sailing canoe, Hōkūle‘a, is coming home after a three-year voyage around the world. Without using any modern-day navigational equipment, the 62-foot-long double-hulled wa‘a, a replica of ancient voyaging outrigger canoe, charted her way through high seas beyond the Pacific, only using their traditional wayfinding methods and techniques. Instead of relying on GPS and other modern technology, they utilized the organic clues provided by the Mother Earth—wind, swells, clouds, moon, stars, fish and birds, just like our ancestors did it thousands of years ago.

On May 30, 2014 upon the arrival of favorable winds, she departed for her sacred voyage, called “Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage” from Hilo Bay on the Island of Hawai‘i. “Mālama Honua” is translated as “to care for our Island Earth.” It was launched to rally global supports for a more sustainable world. It is her mission, the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s, or in the end, all of the global citizens’, to embody this important message through our everyday actions. She reached over 150 ports in 23 countries and territories, and not to mention countless witnesses somewhere along her more than 40,300-nautical-mile journey.

Despite the reality with the hard numbers, the environmental issues that we face today tend to be muffled down by other noisy problems on the ground. The quiet erosion under the water, the soundless heat-rise in the air, transparent ice melting somewhere far far away… they all seem so distant and are portrayed like a mirage unless we place an importance on it. But the oceans that we count on for about 70% of our oxygen, are warming and turning more acidic. Corals are dying ever so rapidly and polar bears are becoming homeless.

As if called upon by these voiceless habitats who share the earth, Hōkūle‘a took on this challenging journey. She materialized the message from Island Earth in her solid body and made herself be seen and heard. People cheered and greeted her at every stop in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and back home in the Pacific (see the voyage route below).

The Mālama Honua World Voyage Map (Source: Polynesian Voyaging Society)

Hōkūle‘a means “the star of gladness”. She was named after the star called Arcturus. This bright reddish-orange star passes directly above Hawaii when it is at its zenith, playing an important role in navigation. According to the old tradition, it is said that the name of a canoe would reach a canoe designer through a dream. And lo and behold, it happened to Hōkūle‘a designer, the late Herb Kawainui Kāne. The bright Arcturus appeared in his dream when Hōkūle‘a was about to be completed back in 1975. So was she named.

She certainly has become the zenith star herself not only for Hawai‘i, but also for the global community as she continues to live up to her mission. She has reached a series of milestones over her 42 years of life so far. Her maiden voyage to Tahiti in 1976 was the very first time in 600 years that a traditional Polynesian canoe would reach the Island of Taihiti.

Tracing over the same ocean that ancient Polynesians sailed on both ways between Hawai‘i and Tahiti, it proved that they didn’t just drift and accidentally reach the Hawaiian Islands, but that it was a planned voyage with an intention to find the islands and settle. They had a tool to navigate through and sail against the windward current. Without a doubt, this became the turning point and the revival of the Hawaiian culture and tradition while the Hawaiian people regained their identity. On the arrival of Hōkūle‘a in 1976, more than a half of the island’s population of Tahiti came to celebrate this historic event.

And this time around, she made yet another breakthrough! She became the very first Polynesian traditional canoe, who had reached the African continent as far as recorded history goes. She marveled modern society with its simple yet powerful methods and techniques of wayfinding. And this symbolizes hope for a sustainable future on this planet. Approximately 50,000 people gathered this time from all over the world to celebrate her triumphant homecoming on the Island of O'ahu. The on-line access to this event counted over 10 million hits.

Everyone anxiously waited a few more hours as her triangular silhouette appeared on the fuzzy horizon far away that Saturday morning. The sun and soft rain came interchangeably creating the perfect condition to form a rainbow. Manu-o-Kū or white fairy terns (a bird ingenious to Hawai‘i) showed up in the sky informing the crew that land was close by. Some still weaving their ti-leaf garlands; others touching up the feather trim on their pandanus hats. Surfers paddled out to shore carrying the Hawaiian flag. Fleets of paddlers left with countless lei. When the celebratory air culminated as the two-masted vessel in crimson red rolled into the harbor, Hawaiian natives and Polynesian descendants stood tall and proud beaming the same exact pride that Hōkūle‘a just brought back home.

Welcome home Hōkūle‘a!

Hōkūle‘a was harbored on the Ala Wai Canal for a three-day educational exhibit and many people lined up for a tour on board.

< Brief Timeline >

  • 2014
    May: Departed Hilo Bay, Island of Hawai‘i
    Jun: Tahiti
    Sep: Aotearoa (New Zealand)
  • 2015
    May: Australia
    Aug: Bali
    Sep: Mauritius
    Nov: South Africa
  • 2016
    Feb: Brazil
    Feb: Caribbean
    Mar: East Coast of the U.S.
    Nov: South Africa
  • 2017
    Jan: Panama
    Jan: Galapagos Islands
    Mar: Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
    Apr: Tahiti
    Jun: Hawai‘i Homecoming

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