June 2, 2014
The Hokule‘a and Hikianalia, two traditional-style Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoes, just left from Hilo Bay for the first leg of a trip around the world. The trip is called Malama Honua, and it will be a three-year circumnavigation of the earth covering 47,000 nautical miles with stops at 85 ports in 26 countries.
It’s one of the coolest things in 21st-century Hawai‘i, in my book, and has such an amazing story.
Traditionally, Polynesians traveled the oceans in this sort of wa‘a kaulua, double-hulled canoe, without, of course, modern navigational instruments. Over the centuries, though, Hawaiians, and most of their Polynesian cousins, lost that knowledge. Back in the 1970s, a small group of Hawaiians went looking to learn how to revive this tradition. Few people in the Pacific still knew how to navigate across the ocean traditionally, without instruments, but a handful of people in the Pacific did. For the most part, though, they guarded their knowledge and wouldn’t share it.
Finally the Hawaiians found Mau Piailug, of Satawal in Micronesia, who still knew the ancient techniques and agreed to teach them. It’s an enormous, amazing story reaching across both space, cultures, time, more:
In 1975, no Hawaiian living knew these ancient techniques forblue water voyaging. To enable the voyage, the Polynesian Voyaging Society recruited the Satawalese Master Navigator Mau Piailug [of the Weriyeng school in the Caroline Islands (map) of the Federated States of Micronesia (map) ] to share his knowledge of non-instrument navigation. While as many as six Micronesian navigators had mastered these traditional methods as of the mid-1970s, only Mau was willing to share his knowledge with the Polynesians.
Mau, who “barely spoke English,” decided that by reaching beyond his own culture, sharing what had been closely guarded knowledge, he could possibly save it from extinction. Through his collaboration with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Mau’s mentorship helped “spark pride in the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture”, leading to “a renaissance of voyaging, canoe building, and non-instrument navigation that has continued to grow, spreading across Polynesia (map) and reaching to its far corners of Aotearoa [New Zealand] and Rapanui [Easter Island].” (Thompson, Reflections on Mau Piailug, 1996) – Wikipedia
The canoes are such a symbol of Hawaiians and their traditions, their culture, their achievements and excellence and abilities. And the Hokule‘a, and the crewmembers, have been around since the 1970s, so we’re well into another generation of students now. They are all about sustainability and education and science and more. This tradition is unlikely to die out again anytime soon.
On the website, you can read, in both Hawaiian and English, about honoring the ancestors who went before us, see photos of the two wa’a departing from Hilo for Tahiti, read about Polynesian navigation, and more.
Do you love that the Hokule’a has a blog? I do.
Here’s a post about the canoes leaving at Richard Ha’s blog, which I edit. He is a local businessman and farmer, and supplied bananas and tomatoes for the crews.