The lessons of Hokule’a
Last Friday, the replica of an ancient Hawaiian voyaging canoe returned to its homeport of Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu from a three-year voyage around the world. Thousands of people lined the southern coastline of the island, hundreds of outrigger canoes, surfers and upright paddlers escorted the canoe named Hokule’a to the dock at Magic Island. After covering 40,300 nautical miles, visiting 23 countries, with a rotating crew of 245 Hawaiians, Hokule’a returned home.
So what? Good for the Hawaiians that they found in Hokule’a a mighty symbol of cultural renaissance that encompasses resurrecting the ancient art of navigating the sea without modern instruments, just with the celestial bodies as guides to language revitalization all the way to saving planet Earth. But Hokule’a has relevance to us up here in the Arctic.
When Hokule’a was built in the 1975, it was done to prove the Hawaiians’ roots as Polynesian wayfarers who colonized a huge swath of Pacific Ocean from Hawaii in the North to Rapa Nui in the East and New Zealand in the South. The Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973 by Dr. Ben Finney, an anthropologist from California, Herb Kane, a Hawaiian artist and Tommy Holmes, a man who loved the sea, to show that the ancient Polynesians could have purposefully settled the Polynesian Triangle in double-hulled, voyaging canoes using non-instrument navigation.
The art of traditional Polynesian wayfinding techniques had disappeared long ago, as did, with the advent of “modern” western influence, some of the Hawaiian culture, language and identity. And then along came Hokule’a, sparking a whole new movement. For over 600 years, no voyages have been done, the art of wayfinding by the stars was gone. The Polynesian Voyaging Society had to look to all corners of Polynesia to find one of the last navigators, Mau Piailug, in Micronesia. He in turn taught a young Hawaiian by the name of Nainoa Thompson how to look beyond the horizon and find land in a vast sea. Thompson guided Hokule’a and its crew on many voyages in Polynesia. It dawned on Nainoa that Hokule’a stands for so much more than just a canoe or just a Hawaiian issue.
It is a symbol for our earth. There is only so much space on a canoe. The crew must get along or the voyage will be endangered. Resources like fresh water and food must be handled with care and must be cherished. Hence the title of the world wide voyage that aimed to spread Hokule’as message: Malama Honua. The voyaging sister canoes, Hokuleʻa and Hikianalia, were journeying around the world to explore and strengthen the global community working to save the oceans and island Earth. “As we sail 60,000 nautical miles we are creating a “lei” of stories–big and small–that can bring people together and inspire a new pathway forward for the health of our oceans and planet,” states PVS’s webpage. A Malama Honua summit takes place this week in Honolulu, with Alaska’s Lt. Governor Byron Mallot in attendance.
Hokule’a, the Star of Gladness, or the Hawaiian name for the star Arcturus, is an inspiration for us all. —D.H