History and Heritage
In June, 1999, we embarked on a new quest--to close the
Triangle by sailing the only major migration route of Polynesia yet
to be traveled by Hokule'a. In September, 1999, Hokule'a will depart
Mangareva for Rapa Nui. Her navigational team
will guide the canoe by a world of natural signs-stars, wind, waves and
the flight of birds-and sail a course plotted only in their minds.
Rapa Nui is one of the most remote inhabitable
islands in the world, a tiny speck of land thirteen miles long and ten miles
wide. The closest inhabited islands lie to the west, Pitcairn 1100 miles
away and Mangareva 1410 miles away. On this journey, the navigators and
crew of Hokule'a will explore how Rapa Nui was discovered and settled in
ancient times--one of the most daring achievements in the human exploration
of the planet. We also pay tribute to the great tradition of voyaging that
made the discovery possible and to
the navigator who found Rapa Nui in the midst of the rising sun and whose
people we greet as family.
Our mission is to make a positive contribution to the renewal of culture,
community, and environment by strengthening the bonds among the peoples
of Polynesia and the Pacific and by communicating powerful messages about
the importance of taking care of the land and sea for future generations.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society: 1975-2000
25 Years of Voyaging
The Polynesian triangle covers ten million square miles of water- in
sheer size the largest nation on earth. The people who explored and settled
this nation were great ocean explorers--the best of their time. Consider
that there is a connection to South America-- the sweet potato--maybe it
was brought from South America by Polynesian voyagers who went there and
returned. We also know that halfway across the planet, in the Indian Ocean,
on an island called Madagascar, there were Polynesians. And in 1992 a study
of genetics found that a tribe of native Americans in Southeast Alaska called
the Haida have a Polynesian genetic makeup; their traditions say that they
came from islands to the South.
How did these oceanic people explore so many miles of open ocean? How
did they build their canoes? How did they sail over such long distances--2500
There have been different theories about how Polynesia was settled. In
1946, Thor Heyerdahl sailed a balsa log raft from South America to the Tuamotus.
He believed that the Polynesians did not have the ability to sail against
the easterly wind and current, so they must have rode the wind and current
west from South America. This went against our oral traditions, which tell
of great navigators and voyagers, and against the archaeological, linguistic,
genetic, and botanical evidence that points to islands off Southeast Asia
as the original homeland of the Polynesians. Others, like Andrew Sharp,
agreed that the Polynesians came out of Asia, not South America, but that
they did not have the skill to navigate more than 100 miles from land, but
were blown off course by storms and drifted to new islands. So the perception
in the past was not very flattering to those of us of Polynesian ancestry.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society
(PVS) was established in 1973 by an anthropologist
from California, Dr. Ben Finney; a Hawaiian artist, Herb Kawainui Kane;
and a writer who loved the sea, Tommy Holmes. They wanted to show that the
ancient Polynesians could have purposefully settled the Polynesian Triangle
in double-hulled voyaging canoes using non-instrument navigation. The only
way to do this was to get out of the four walls of the academic world, build
a voyaging canoe, and sail it to Tahiti. On March 8, 1975, over 24 years
ago, Hokule'a was launched from the sacred
of Hakipu'u and Kualoa on the windward coast of O'ahu.
Back in the early seventies, before Hokule'a was even built, when PVS
was putting the dream together, they said, "We need to get a Polynesian
navigator." The only traditional navigator known to be left on earth
was a man by the name of Tevake. He came from a small island-a Polynesian
outlier in Melanesia. A group from Hawai'i went down to his island to talk
to him to see if he could navigate a canoe that wasn't even built. They
explained the project and all Tevake said was "We'll see." Six
months after that trip, the group received a letter from Tevake's daughter
informing them that Tevake had got up one day, said good-bye to his whole
family, went to sea in his canoe, and never came back. As in the old way,
he chose his life in the ocean and it was there that he chose his death.
Hawai'i, we were faced with the extinction of our voyaging traditions.
There was no navigator from our culture left. Then there came a very special
man. Without him, our voyaging would never have taken place. His name is
Mau Piailug and he is from a small island called Satawal in Micronesia.
He sailed Hokule'a on her first voyage in 1976.
Thirty-three days after she left Maui in 1976, Hokule'a entered Pape'ete
Harbor in Tahiti. Seventeen thousand people came down to greet the canoe-over
half the population of the island. When the canoe got to the black sand
beach, so many children climbed onto the back of the canoe that its stern
sank. People couldn't see past the crowd, so they climbed into the trees.
It was a spontaneous reaction on the part of these people who had maintained
their language and genealogies, and who knew the names of their great navigators
and great voyaging canoes, but who no longer had a canoe. So when Hokule'a
entered the bay she was a powerful symbol that reminded them of the greatness
of their culture and their heritage and therefore themselves.
After the1976 voyage, we recognized that we couldn't just talk or read
about our culture in order to revive it-we had to live it, to practice it.
Those who sailed down to Tahiti and back said we needed to continue, we
needed to nurture and revive our voyaging traditions. In
1980, we sailed to Tahiti and back. The difference on this trip was
that the canoe was navigated, captained, and crewed by people from Hawai'i.
Mau Piailug came with us as our teacher instead of our navigator. The great
genius of Mau Pialug is that he could cross great cultural bridges and help
us - like children taken by the hand- find our way on the sea. All of this
came from a very powerful sense of caring on his part.
After we got back from Tahiti, we started thinking about what to do and
where would it be important to go to? Other parts of Polynesia have great
canoe traditions. We wanted to take Hokule'a to these different places and
meet these people. From 1985-1987, we sailed from
Hawai'i down to Tahiti, through the Cook Islands, down to Aotearoa, up to
Tonga and Samoa, and then against the trade winds to the Cook Islands and
back to Tahiti (the route which Heyerdahl said couldn't be done), up to
the Rangiroa and back to Hawai'i. A voyage of 16,000 nautical miles.
It was driven by this notion that reviving our culture is important to our
And this, like the other voyages, was created out of dreams. The dream
was to go to this place called Aotearoa ... "Land of the Long White
Cloud." We started two years before the voyage, just in the planning
and the preparation. To cross 1,700 miles from Raratonga to Aotearoa, even
though it's shorter than the trip from Hawai'i to Tahiti, was very difficult.
We left the tropics and went into the subtropics. We went into different
weather systems, much more complicated weather systems than the ones we
were accustomed to.
When we arrived there, we were invited to this special occasion at the
marae at Waitangi. We learned that the marae houses the ancestral spirits
of the Maori people as well as the living. We watched grandchildren and
grandparents dance together and sing together. We were greeted in the traditional
way because that was the way it's supposed to be done. We understood that
in these houses were not just people, but their genealogies. They trace
their ancestry back to the canoes that brought them to Aotearoa. That is
very powerful. The marae houses not just their past and present, but their
future. And because they are connected to the past, it's much easier for
them to see what kind of future they want to voyage to. This was another
part of our work toward renewal.
Sir James Hinare got up and spoke. He told us that we had proven that
it could be done, that his ancestors had traveled great distances in voyaging
canoes to settle Aotearoa. This was a very special moment for him, a very
special occasion, and he laughed and he cried. We recognized from him that
we come from a powerful heritage and ancestry. The voyaging canoe is just
one instrument to connect to that heritage. Sir James Hinare also made an
incredible statement: because the five tribes of Taitokerao trace their
ancestry and their family from the names of the canoes, and because the
people of Hawai'i came by canoe, therefore by our traditions, we must be
the sixth tribe of Taitokerao.
Pacific island nations come together every four years to celebrate their
visual and performing arts. In 1992, the festival was to be held in Rarotonga.
The Prime Minister of Rarotonga said, "Let's dedicate the festival
to our historic voyaging ancestors," and he asked that each island
group bring a model of its canoe to display. And somebody said, "No,
we will sail our canoes." And you know Polynesians how they are! That
challenged everyone else. So they decided to build canoes. They called Hawai'i
and asked for assistance and it was a great opportunity for us to repay
- in a small way - the kindness we found all through the South Pacific.
They had taken care of Hokule'a as if it was their own canoe. It also gave
us the opportunity to move into a new area - education. We recognized the
importance of education in the revival of our culture. So Hokule'a
voyaged to Rarotonga that year to join the celebration. She was one
of seventeen canoes that participated in the festival. We asked that each
canoe bring a stone from its home island. It was the beginning of a sharing
of knowledge that is Pacific-wide.
The voyage to the Marquesas and back in
was not just about Hokule'a, but about the children of Hokule'a - the newly
built Hawaiian canoes Hawai'iloa and Makali'i; Te 'Au O Tonga and Takitumu
from Rarotonga; Te 'Aurere from Aotearoa, Tahiti Nui and 'Aa Kahiki Nui
from Tahiti. We all went to a place called Taputapuatea in Ra'iatea, formerly
the cultural center of Polynesia, where navigation and genealogy were taught.
This was perhaps the most appropriate place to start the voyage that would
take these canoes to the Marquesas and on to Hawai'i.
We trained navigators for five years. Recognizing that for our culture
to be strong, if navigators are an important part of that, then we have
to build strength in numbers. Six canoes made the voyage from the Marquesas
to Hawai'i, over 2,200 miles of open ocean. Five were guided by navigators
from their own islands, trained to navigate in the ancient way. We staggered
the departures from the Marquesas, so that each canoe was by itself. If
we were all together, one canoe would be leading, and everybody else would
be following. So each canoe sailed on its own and they all made landfall
in Hawai'i. The navigation training worked. But what's more interesting
is that the voyage showed that the process of education can work to accelerate
learning when you combine tradition and science, and when you have people
who are motivated -- compassionate enough to work hard and commit themselves
to a difficult task as this is.
In the wake of her accomplishments, Hokule'a has helped to renew the
pride that Hawaiian people have for their culture and heritage. The 1996-97
Sail across Hawai'i was a 10-month, 2,000 mile journey, during which more
than 25,000 school children and community members visited or sailed on Hokule'a.
The sail was an effort to connect with Hawaiian communities on all the major
islands. Every community that Hokule'a visited celebrated its strengths
with pride. The Sail helped us understand that the lives of the next generation
of Hawaiians was already being shaped by the spirit of cultural renewal.
What began in 1973 as a scientific experiment to build a replica of a
traditional voyaging canoe for a one-time sail to Tahiti became an important
catalyst for this generation of cultural renewal, a symbol of the richness
of Hawaiian culture, and of the seafaring heritage which links together
all of the peoples of Polynesia.
No one could have imagined back in 1975 that by the end of the century,
Hokule'a would have sailed more than 100,000 miles
to reach every corner in the Polynesian Triangle. In 1973 there were
no voyaging canoes; today there are six, with others under construction.
In 1973 there was only one deep-sea navigator that PVS knew of; today there
are nine, with several more in training, along with 135 experienced deep-sea
sailors in Hawai'i alone-ensuring that the Hawaiian people will never again
lose their traditions of voyaging and navigation.
The voyaging revival, through Hokule'a and her children, is what the
25th Anniversary Celebration of Hokule'a will be about. March 6, 2000 will
mark 25 years since Hokule'a was launched at Kualoa. We will gather again
at Kualoa to honor the kupuna, teachers, and many others who contributed
to her achievements.