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Hokule`a Restoration

The Return of Hokule`a

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Polynesian Voyaging Society
Pier 7
191 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96813

Phone: (808) 536-8405 Fax: (808) 536-1519
E-mail:
(
pvshawaii@verizon.net)

 

 

About PVS

History of the Polynesian Voyaging Society: 1973 - 1998

The Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) 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 Society's first project was to construct a replica of an ancient voyaging canoe. On March 8th, 1975 this replica, Hokule'a, the first voyaging canoe to be built in Hawai'i in more than 600 years, was launched.

On May 1st, 1976 Hokule'a left Hawai'i on her maiden voyage to Tahiti, attempting to retrace this traditional migratory route. Navigated without instruments by Micronesian navigator, Mau Piailug, the canoe arrived 33 days later in Papeete, Tahiti, to a crowd of more than 17,000-over half of the island had turned out to greet the canoe. What had begun as a scientific experiment to prove a theory about the settlement of Polynesia, had touched a deep root of cultural pride in Polynesian people.

After the voyage Mau returned to Micronesia, and with him went the knowledge of the traditional art of wayfinding. But Mau had ignited a strong interest in many members of the Voyaging Society to continue sailing and learning about navigation. In 1978 in response to this interest, Hokule'a again left for Tahiti. Six hours into the voyage, in the middle of the night, Hokule'a capsized between O'ahu and Lana'i. In an heroic effort, Eddie Aikau, one of Hawai'i's most experienced ocean men left on a surf board to get help for his fellow crew members. He was never seen again. Eddie's loss was a painful experience, but it raised the standards of preparation and safety to a new level; since 1978 not a single crew member has been lost at sea.

Recognizing that it was unprepared to conduct a long voyage, PVS turned to Mau and asked him to teach them about sailing and navigation. Mau agreed, and for the next two years he helped prepare the members of the Voyaging Society for the enormous task of sailing and navigating a deep sea voyage. In 1980 a crew from Hawai'i successfully sailed Hokule'a to Tahiti and back to Hawai'i, but this time the canoe was guided by one of Mau's students, Nainoa Thompson, the first Hawaiian to navigate a voyaging canoe in more than 600 years.

From 1985-87, Hokule'a sailed more than 16,000 miles of traditional migratory routes from Hawai'i to Tahiti, Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tonga and Samoa-the Voyage of Rediscovery. This voyage demonstrated that it was possible to navigate these routes without instruments, and that contrary to popular theories, it was possible for traditional voyaging canoes to sail against the prevailing winds, by taking advantage of seasonal wind shifts. Hokule'a's voyages to date had demonstrated that the ancient Polynesians could have intentionally settled the Polynesian Triangle -- an area of 10 million square miles, the largest nation on Earth -- one of the greatest feats of exploration in human history. But while scientific research was the impetus for these initial voyages, the recovery and perpetuation of Polynesian voyaging and navigation traditions became the main emphasis. The voyages of Hokule'a inspired pride among Polynesians for their history and heritage, and sparked a revival of interest in canoe building, sailing, and navigation.

In 1990 in recognition of the impact of voyaging on the revival of Hawaiian culture, the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program, an organization working to strengthen the Hawaiian community based on its common history and heritage, contracted PVS to construct a double-hulled, voyaging canoe made entirely of natural materials. A 9-month search of the Island of Hawai'i's koa forests resulted in nothing-not a single koa tree large enough or healthy enough for the hulls of a voyaging canoe was found. The ancient Hawaiians built hundreds of voyaging canoes from koa trees, but in 1990, given the decline of Hawai'i's native forests, we were unable to build even one. This taught the Voyaging Society a powerful lesson: the health of our culture is strongly tied to the health of our environment. Fortunately for the project, there was another historical source of wood for canoes-drift logs from the Pacific Northwest. In an extraordinary act of kindness, the native people of Southeast Alaska gave two, 400-year old, spruce logs to the Society to build a voyaging canoe. The effort brought together community groups, organizations, and countless individuals who contributed more than 500,000 hours to build and sail the canoe. The canoe, named Hawai'iloa, was completed under the leadership of Wright Bowman, Jr. Launched in 1993, Hawai'iloa, represented a new level of community involvement in voyaging, a new appreciation for Hawai'i's environment, and the start of a deep friendship with the native peoples of Southeast Alaska.

In 1992 Hokule'a made its fourth voyage to the South Pacific, sailing to Rarotonga for the Sixth Pacific Arts Festival, part of which celebrated the revival of canoe building and traditional navigation. New canoes were being built in Aotearoa, Rarotonga and Tahiti, and with help from PVS, new navigators were being trained for the next voyage: from the Marquesas Islands, the ancestral home of the first Hawaiians, to Hawai'i. In 1995 six canoes--Hokule'a, Hawai'iloa, and Makali'i from Hawai'i, Te 'Aurere from Aotearoa, and Takitumu and Te 'Au Tonga from Rarotonga--left the Marquesas Islands for Hawai'i. Five of the six canoes were navigated using only traditional methods, and all six arrived safely in Hawai'i.

Both the 1992 and 1995 voyages emphasized education, an important tool essential to sharing the experiences and values of voyaging with a larger audience. In addition to training new navigators and voyagers, PVS reached out to thousands of school children in the Department of Education through a long-distance education program. During the voyage students tracked the canoe on nautical charts, learned about their Pacific world, and used the canoe and its limited supply of food, water, and space, to explore issues of survival, sustainability, and teamwork. On the 1992 return voyage PVS educational programs reached as far as the Space Shuttle, as Shuttle crew member Lacy Veach, a Hawai'i native, participated in conversations about sustainability and exploration with the canoe and Hawai'i classrooms. In addition to these programs, PVS also began navigation and sailing courses at the University of Hawai'i and Windward Community College.

Within days of arriving in Hawai'i after the 1995 voyage, Hokule'a and Hawai'iloa were shipped to Seattle. Hokule'a sailed south along the West Coast, reaching thousands of people who no longer lived in Hawai'i, but longed to share in the canoe's legacy. Hawai'iloa sailed north to thank the native peoples of Southeast Alaska for their gift of spruce trees. This was an opportunity for PVS to give back to them, but at each stop the canoe and crew were overwhelmed with gifts and kindness. These native people were responding to the fact that, like them, the Hawaiians were working to recover their native traditions. This Northwest Voyage taught PVS a great deal about another culture's efforts to renew its traditions, and about their determination to care for natural resources, in order to build a healthy future for their people.

In 1999, the Voyaging Society closed the Polynesian Triangle by sailing to the remote island of Rapa Nui.

In the wake of her accomplishments, Hokule'a has helped to renew the pride that Hawaiian people have for their culture and heritage. In turn this has made a contribution to raising the self-esteem of Hawaiian people. Recognizing that self-esteem and health are inextricably linked, a cooperative effort emerged in 1996 between The Queen's Health Systems and the Polynesian Voyaging Society, called Malama Hawai'i-"Caring for Hawai'i." Native Hawaiians have the worst health and socioeconomic indicators of any ethnic group in Hawai'i, and for years Queen's was been working to improve these statistics. Malama Hawai'i's first project was the 1996-97 Statewide Sail, a 10-month, 2,000 mile journey, in 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, in order to find ways to support efforts to improve their health. What Malama Hawai'i found was cultural renewal taking place within these communities. Every community that Hokule'a visited celebrated its strengths with pride, and did not define itself by negative statistics. The Statewide Sail helped Malama Hawai'i to understand that the lives of the next generation of Hawaiians are already being shaped by this spirit of cultural renewal, and because of it we believe that in the future they will not be burdened with the same negative health and socio-economic statistics of the past.

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 a generation of cultural renewal and a symbol of the richness of Hawaiian culture and of a seafaring heritage which links together all of the peoples of Polynesia. No one could have imagined that by the end of the century, Hokule'a will have sailed more than 100,000 miles reaching every corner in the Polynesian Triangle, and the West Coast of the United States. In 1973 there were no Polynesian 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. Over the last 25 years, the family of the voyaging canoe has grown to more than 525,000 men, women and children who have participated in PVS programs of education, training, research and dialogue.