Category Archives: Canoe

DOT Turns Over Palekai to Youth Education Group

On Monday, the Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation signed over about four acres of land at Keaukaha’s Palekai, formerly known as Radio Bay, to the non-profit group Keaukaha One Youth Development.


The 12-month revocable permit will allow Keahi Warfield and others in the community, including Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, to spearhead a community project to restore the double-hulled navigating canoe Hokualaka‘i.


The terms of the revokable permit are for twelve months, and then the Harbors Divison has the option to extend for an additional 30 calendar days. Extensions beyond the 30 days will require Land Board Approval.

It was a beautiful, breezy sunny day when the signing ceremony took place, outside next to the bay. Hokualaka‘i was on one side of the gathering and Mauna Kea was a backdrop across the bay on the other. Community members, legislators and employees from the Department of Transportation were present.


Keahi Warfield, who runs a children’s after-school program there on the site, said Keaukaha is an ocean community, and the purpose of the non-profit is to ensure children understand ocean activities.

Hawai‘i State Senator Lorraine Inouye spoke about the transfer of Palekai being unusual and a special day for the community.


“Rarely do you see this kind of transfer happen between the state and a community,” she said. “It’s nice to know agencies and the state respond to a community’s request.”

patrick kahawaiolaa

Kahawaiola‘a spoke too, calling it a momentous occasion and a first. “We will have to live up to the example so more partnerships like this can be made throughout the State.”

They will, he said. “We are fierce Keaukaha people. We will work hard and we will show you what we can do.”


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.


What’s The Big Deal About Voyaging Canoes?


Richard and I were talking about why the proliferation of old-style canoes and traditional voyaging techniques in recent decades is so significant. Besides just being interesting and kind of neat, it’s significant.

Yes, the canoes are historical remnants of the past, but they are also of the present, and they are taking us voyaging into the future. These days they carry solar panels, and other modern gear. (You know the ancestors would have used those technologies in a second if they’d had them.) They are literally transporting us into the future, and what we learn from them will help our future generations.

It’s neat how this ancient way is viable again. More than viable – actually showing us the way. It’s all about taking the knowledge and wisdom of the past and using it in the present to make a stronger future. It’s exactly what the old Polynesians did when they sailed out into the Pacific to find new land.

The canoes, the navigational knowledge, the voyaging – it’s all a gift from our ancestors to our descendants.


Sailing On The Haunui

After writing here about the voyaging canoes that just arrived in Hilo from Aotearoa (New Zealand), I really wanted to go down to the bayfront yesterday to help welcome them.


There are seven voyaging canoes at Hilo Bay right now. They left Aotearoa in April, led by traditional-style navigators from around the Pacific, on a journey called Te Mana O Te Moana (The Spirit of the Sea). Their voyages, which are being filmed for a documentary, are being made to raise awareness about our ocean environment and the need to care for it.

And of course, their journeys celebrate the revival of traditional navigation.

The official welcoming ceremonies started yesterday morning. There were hakas by some of the voyagers, and speeches of welcome, and more.



Chad “Kalepa” Baybayan, Navigator-in-Residence at Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, told the crowd that Nainoa Thompson had called from Honolulu that morning, apologizing because he couldn’t be there. He’d been up all night with a sick child, and then just as day broke, his other child had woken up sick.

Nainoa Thompson, of course, is the master Hawaiian navigator who was at the very forefront of bringing back the long-lost art of traditional Polynesian navigation.

The seven vaka/wa‘a/canoes were lined up there in the bay, and seeing them there made me wonder how many times in the distant past there had been similar sights there. Many, I’m sure.


Lots and lots of people from the community came out to welcome the canoes, and all the local canoe clubs were there, and it was a neat place to be.

After awhile we left, but then a couple hours later we happened to drive past the bayfront again and I could see from Kamehameha Avenue that the wa‘a all had their sails unfurled. “Let’s go see what’s happening now!” I told my 7-year-old, and we turned in.


They were taking people out on the canoes, that’s what was happening. It was great!


We hopped in line and got to go for a sail around Hilo Bay on the Haunui, or “Big Wind,” as one of the crew members translated it. It’s the canoe that was crewed by people from several different island nations.


It turned out that Ka‘iu Kimura, executive director of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, happened to come along for a ride at the same time as us, and we chatted for a bit. She’s going to be on one of the canoes when it leaves Hilo Tuesday. They will stop at a couple other islands and then she will continue with it until O‘ahu.


“Are you a canoe person?” I asked her, and she said no, not really, and then told me that she’d sailed with the Hokule‘a back when it voyaged to Japan. That was a month’s journey, and included her getting to meet her Japanese relatives she’d never met before. Wow! What a way to arrive.


We got to go down below on the canoe and see where they sleep. It’s such a small space. One of the crew members said he thinks the bunks must be 6’4” long, because when he lies down he touches both ends. And they are narrow, as is the walkway between.


The narrow walkway between the bunks is filled with jugs of fresh water, which you have to walk atop.



It was so great to get to see the wa‘a. “A once in a lifetime experience!” I overheard a man say into his cell phone, as he told someone about what was going on there.

I totally understood his enthusiasm, but you know what? It really wasn’t something we’re only going to see once. It’s happening a lot now. These and other voyaging canoes are moving around the oceans, and we will keep seeing them.

Traditional Polynesian voyaging, this method of wayfinding and journeying that originated with wise ancestors who lived long, long ago, is back and it’s strong. The new generations are learning it, in different places and on many different islands, and it’s not likely to be lost again.


Along with these skills of being able to find one’s way across a vast ocean without GPS, and not having to depend on oil, comes a lot of other strengths. It is such a positive thing.


And getting a glimpse of that yesterday – learning a little bit about what it looks like, feels like and smells like to sail through the water – was a wonderful experience.

It’s great to see that this traditional knowledge is alive and well; and also that it’s such an integral part of the fabric of Hawai‘i (and other Pacific island groups) again.


They’re Here! Vaka Welcome Ceremonies Are Sunday

There’s something historic, and very interesting, going on in Hilo this weekend. Do you know about the vaka? The canoes?


They are seven Polynesian-style canoes, representing different Pacific Islands, and all built in the last two years for this particular mission. Their crews have spent the past two months voyaging from Aotearoa (New Zealand) to Hawai‘i, and Hilo is their first landfall. They arrived yesterday at Hilo Bay.

They are calling their journey Te Mana O Te Moana. “The Spirit Of The Sea.”

“…Several thousand years ago, the Polynesian ancestors traveled the Pacific on great voyaging canoes, called vaka moana, using only the stars, the ocean, and the surrounding wildlife to navigate, and lived closely connected to the sea. In crossing the Pacific from Aotearoa to Hawai’i, we aim to sail in the ancestors’ wake and learn from their wisdom. We want to teach young people about this old bond with the sea.”

Richard went by yesterday, and saw five of them already moored and latched together. “I watched the last two canoes, with their sails down, tie up,” he said. “They had someone blow the conch shell as they approached. People seemed very much aware of the historical nature of this event.

(Renowned hula master Pua Kanahele)

“The canoe folks stayed on board and some did special ceremonies, ending with each person hugging the rest individually. I left after they all arrived,” he said. “But more and more people were coming by to participate in history being made.”

(Sitting: Patrick Kahawaiola’a, President of the Keaukaha Community Association)

The public is invited to be a part of the official welcoming ceremony on Sunday at Hilo One (“Hilo O-nay.” “One” is the Hawaiian word for sand). Ceremonies at the bayfront beach start at 8 a.m. on the water. Then the vaka will sail to shore, anchor, and come ashore for on-shore activities at 10 a.m., which are scheduled to run through about 2 p.m.

(Palekai is the beach park near where the canoes moored yesterday.)

Kalepa Baybayan, Navigator-in-Residence at Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, said that the welcome ceremony is both so the community has a chance to see the seven canoes on the water, and also as an official exhange between our community and the ones arriving. “To formally welcome them to Hawai‘i, and Hilo,” he said.

“It’s a rare event,” he said, “and will probably never happen again in our lifetime. Seven canoes from the south Pacific sailing to Hawai‘i. This is a first.”

From the website:

“We’re sailing across the Pacific to renew our ties to the sea and its life-sustaining strength.  The ocean is the origin of life, and it continues to give us air to breathe, fish to eat, and nourishes our soul as well. As threatened as the ocean is now, however, it soon can no longer provide us with these essential life services.  Sailing together, we seek the wisdom of our ancestors and the knowledge of scientists to keep the Pacific healthy and give our grandchildren a future.”

Sailing across the Pacific on seven vaka is to raise awareness about the state of the ocean developed gradually. Dieter Paulmann, the founder of Okeanos – Foundation for the Sea, has felt a strong connection to the sea for his whole life.

Richard met and had lunch with Dieter the other day, and said they have some things in common. “Mostly around how to deal with finite resources in a way that is beneficial for future generations,” he said.

“Dieter’s using the vaka voyage as a way to educate the people of the world about the urgency of changing our approach,” he said. “We are living in a world of limited resources. We need to utilize our resources in a wise way, in a way that benefits future generations. We all know this deep in our na‘au.”

“I told him that here in Hawai‘i we are trying to maximize the use of geothermal for the benefit of future generations,” he said. “We both agree that people are starting to look at things in a different way. No one feels comfortable about the prospects that one’s children and grandchildren will live a lesser life than we did.

“We need to do what we can to ensure their lives are fulfilling,” he said. “And we can do that, but we need to take action now. I thought to myself, That is why I am involved with Ku’oko‘a. It is a way for our children, grandchildren and future generations to have a better life.”

Before he knew anything about this voyage, Richard wrote these words on the Ku‘oko‘a website: “We are embarking on a great journey, much like the ancient people who sailed to Hawai‘i hundreds of years ago. Like them, we are searching for a better tomorrow for our children, grandchildren and generations to come. We will find the place where the Aloha Spirit can thrive because we go with open hearts and minds.” Kind of fitting and cool, huh?

The Voyage’s Goal:

The vaka will sail to raise attention for the bad state of the Pacific, the crew will transport a message to the world, saying that we have to act now to be able to preserve a healthy ocean for us and our children. Otherwise, if the ocean dies, we die. The crew will carry this message to our conference “Kava Bowl” Ocean Summit 2011 in Hawai’i about the consequences climate change on ocean will have if we go ahead with our business as usual. The crew will participate in the conference, contributing with their experience and their thoughts, learning from other people at the conference at the same time.

The Motto:

The motto for the whole project, which reflects the spiritual thinking in Polynesian culture about the sea, which has the same life-force running through its water as runs through our bodies, and how to treat this precious resource to not disturb Tangaroa, the God of the Sea. The following saying is a poetic way to say “be respectful and gentle:” “Move your paddle silently through the water.”

Here’s a video about how they set up the voyage. Richard commented, “It’s very technically proficient. Looks like the objective is to encourage sailing this way – without using oil.”

Baybayan says this event represents a transfer of knowledge from Hawai‘i, which was really the leader of the modern-day voyaging revival. “It’s a transfer to all these different offspring, these families that have sprung up,” he says. “The seven different canoes represent seven different island groups.”

Read more about some of these islands’ preparations, and their journeys, in these articles from around Polynesia:

Samoa News

Samoa Voyaging Society blog

Fiji Islands Voyaging Society

Cook Island News and also this

Tahiti Times 

Waatea 603AM – Auckland’s Urban Māori Radio & News Station

Does anyone sketch? Check out this great sketch of one of the canoes, and see a challenge to sketch it here in Hawai‘i!

See you down at the Bayfront on Sunday morning? I’ll be there!


The Canoes Are Coming: Te Mana o Te Moana

A couple days ago I went to breakfast at ‘Imiloa with my friends Wallace Ishibashi, of the Big Island Labor Alliance and the Royal Order of Kamehameha, and Clyde Hayashi,of Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust.

Kalepa Baybayan, ‘Imiloa’s Navigator-In-Residence, stopped by to tell us about the progress of the canoes coming up from the South Pacific on the voyage called Te Mana o Te Moana (“The Spirit of the Sea”).

From the website:

The Goal

We’re sailing across the Pacific to renew our ties to the sea and its life-sustaining strength.  The ocean is the origin of life, and it continues to give us air to breathe, fish to eat, and nourishes our soul as well. As threatened as the ocean is now, however, it soon can no longer provide us with these essential life services.

Sailing together, we seek the wisdom of our ancestors and the knowledge of scientists to keep the Pacific healthy and give our grandchildren a future.

We have chosen a motto for the whole project, which reflects the spiritual thinking in Polynesian culture about the sea, which has the same life-force running through its water as runs through our bodies, and how to treat this precious resource to not disturb Tangaroa, the God of the Sea. The following saying is a poetic way to say “be respectful and gentle”:

“Move your paddle silently through the water”

Later, I had a meeting with Patrick Kahawaiola’a and Mapuana Waipa, the president and vice president respectively of the Keaukaha Community Association, and our conversation went to the schedule for the arrival of the canoes. Patrick folks are going to arrange the ceremony.

As of Thursday, the canoes passed the equator and were in the doldrums. You can follow their progress. The first place they will arrive in Hawai‘i is Hilo harbor.

I was tickled that Mapuana was so pumped up about there being women in the crews. I thought to myself: I bet they sent equal amounts of men and woman when the first people came to Hawai‘i many years ago. How could it have worked any other way?

Here’s the most recent blog entry, straight from the vaka/va‘a/wa‘a (“canoe” in various Polynesian languages):

Day 55. This is our home. This va’a (canoe), simple with inspiration from our Polynesian ancestors, its smooth wooden platform connecting two sturdy hulls lying below- this is our island… this is our world. I heard someone say recently “our canoe is our island, and our island our canoe,” as such the lessons and practices inherent on one are reflective in the other. Gaualofa, this island which has sheltered us, transported us and looked after us all so soundly, has been able to do so only as a result of care and consideration from everyone involved. We are constantly reminded to look after her should we expect to be looked after in turn. On this va’a, all are aware of the finite nature of the resources w… READ THE REST

Learn more about the voyage here.