Richard Ha

Keaukaha Gets Double-Hulled Voyaging Canoe

The greatest thing is happening down in Keaukaha.

It started because a lonely, double-hulled voyaging canoe – the type that could travel across the ocean from Hawai‘i to, say, Tahiti – had been bobbing in Hilo Bay, untended, for ten long years.

Keahi Warfield, who teaches kids to paddle canoes at an afterschool program he runs on the beach there, and Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, had been watching it for years.

“The tide would change and it would turn this way, that way,” says Patrick. “It’s like it was waving, ‘Hey, what about me?!’”

The canoe, called the Hokualaka‘i, was owned by the Hawaiian immersion preschool program Aha Punana Leo. Keahi says their plan had been to take students traveling between the islands, visiting different communities and promoting the Hawaiian language. That program never got off the ground, though, and the canoe stayed in the ocean for a decade.

“I think they wanted to donate it to an organization that could use and take care of it,” says Keahi, a former Hawaiian immersion school teacher now working on his Ph.D.

And that finally happened: He and Patrick have just signed an agreement with Aha Punana Leo to take ownership of the voyaging canoe.

It all fits. Keahi says he started his afterschool program after working in the school system and seeing students so caught up in testing and missing out on other things he thought they really needed. Keahi, who trained on the Kawaihae-based Makali‘i when he was in high school, sees the canoe as an incredible learning tool.

Patrick talks about how Keaukaha School was in “corrective action” for 25 years. “We lost four generations,” he says, until Kumu Lehua Veincent became principal and turned it all around. Changes since then have been amazing, everyone agrees, but there’s still ground to make up.

They both talk about how the Keaukaha community acts as surrogate parents for its kids. And that’s where the voyaging canoe, the Hokualaka‘i, comes in.

They are helping lead the effort for the Keaukaha community to restore and use the Hokualaka‘i for its kids and families to regain a relationship with the wa‘a (canoe), the island, the ocean, and the culture.

Keahi and Patrick have also just signed an agreement with the Department of Transportation for a more formal arrangement regarding the land at Palekai where Keahi’s afterschool program meets – and where the canoe is now firmly on land, awaiting repairs after all those years in the water, waiting to become seaworthy again.

Now there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s the earliest stages now, but it’s such a great project.