Tag Archives: Hokulea

Around The World on a Wa’a

Richard Ha writes:

The Polynesian voyaging canoes Hokule‘a and Hikianalia departed Hilo a couple days ago, headed for Tahiti on the first leg of an around-the-world voyage. Kalepa Babayan is captain of the Hokule‘a, and he melds ancient ways with modern technology and education. He is one of the most solidly grounded person I know. 

Hokule‘a crew member Na‘alehu Anthony blogged about leaving Hilo in It Takes a Community to Launch a Canoe:

Literally thousands of members of our ʻohana waʻa (canoe family) have come to see the canoes.  School groups by the busloads have come to share mele (songs) and hoʻokupu (offerings) to the canoes and crew. But if one looks a little closer, they can start to really notice how well this community still understands the sense of aloha. Every day for the past 10 days this community has come out to feed the crew three meals a day.  Cars have been dropped off to help with last minute runs to the store. People have come without any expectation of personal gain to give of their time to just help us prepare for this 47,000 mile journey. Just this morning after sunrise, one of the uncles from nearby came to drop off a dozen or so lei, that he personally strung together with flowers from his yard, just to “Aloha” the canoes.  He didn’t even ask to come aboard, rather, he left them in the care of one of our watch captains to bless the canoes with the sweet fragrance that reminds us all of Hilo.

We did our small part by supplying bananas and tomatoes, and feel very privileged to be able to support Hawai‘i's voyagers, along with hundreds of others. We learned, early on, that the voyaging crews like fresh fruit, especially longer into the trip, so we do this as much as we can on the voyages out of Hilo. We do our best to stage the ripening at different times, and try to see how far into the voyage we can get the bananas to last. We once got a batch to last until the crew reached the equator. 

Keaukaha was the host community for the wa‘a and their crews, and its president, Patrick Kahawaiola'a, was in charge of coordinating. June and I went to Palekai to see the canoes the other day.

As we walked down to the water, we ran into Bruce Blankenfeld, the captain of Hikianalia. I knew he had lots on his mind, so I introduced myself by saying we had supplied bananas on previous trips, and that they should "try keep the bananas separated so they no all go off at one time." He knew exactly what I meant. I gave him the thumbs up and we kept on going. 

To me, the voyage of the Hokule‘a and the Hikianalia represents hope for mankind. It is about the spirit of aloha. It is about using the resources available, modern and ancient, in a smart way. But mostly it's about attitude. There are a thousand reasons why no can. We need just one reason why, CAN.

From www.hokulea.com:

Island Wisdom, Ocean Connections, Global Lessons

Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia, our Polynesian voyaging canoes, are sailing across Earth’s oceans to join and grow the global movement toward a more sustainable world. Covering 47,000 nautical miles, 85 ports, and 26 countries, the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage will highlight diverse cultural and natural treasures and the importance of working together to protect them. The Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage began in 2013 with a Mālama Hawaiʻi sail around our archipelago, and will continue through 2017 when our new generation of navigators take the helm and guide Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia back to Polynesia after circumnavigating the globe.

The Hawaiian name for this voyage, Mālama Honua, means “to care for our Earth.” Living on an island chain teaches us that our natural world is a gift with limits and that we must carefully steward this gift if we are to survive together. As we work to protect cultural and environmental resources for our children’s future, our Pacific voyaging traditions teach us to venture beyond the horizon to connect and learn with others. The Worldwide Voyage is a means by which we now engage all of Island Earth—practicing how to live sustainably, while sharing, learning, creating global relationships, and discovering the wonders of this precious place we all call home.


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.


Kalepa Baybayan – Navigator-In-Residence at ‘Imiloa

Kalepa Kalepa Baybayan is known as a “Master Navigator,” but when I talked to him the other day, it was clear the title makes him uncomfortable. He returned to it twice.

“I would disclaim being a master of anything,” he said. “I’m pretty much a student of the art. Though I have greater responsibilities, I still learn every time I go out.”

He was talking about going out on the Hokule‘a, which he’s sailed on since 1975, when he was 19. If there is anything more interesting than the story of the Hokule‘a, I don’t know what it is.

From Wikipedia:

Hōkūleʻa is a performance-accurate full-scale replica of a waʻa kaulua, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe. Launched on 8 March 1975 by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, she is best known for her 1976 Hawaiʻi to Tahiti voyage performed with Polynesian navigation techniques, without modern navigational instruments. The primary goal of the voyage was to further support the anthropological theory of the Asiatic origin of native Oceanic people, of Polynesians and Hawaiians in particular, as the result of purposeful trips through the Pacific, as opposed to passive drifting on currents, or sailing from the Americas. (Scientific results of 2008, from DNA analysis, illuminate this theory of Polynesian settlement.) A secondary goal of the project was to have the canoe and voyage “serve as vehicles for the cultural revitalization of Hawaiians and other Polynesians.”

Since the 1976 voyage to Tahiti and back, Hōkūle‘a has completed nine more voyages to destinations in Micronesia, Polynesia, Japan, Canada, and the United States, all using ancient wayfinding techniques of celestial navigation.

The next Hokule‘a voyage, now in the planning stages, is going to be a doozy: They’re planning to take the voyaging canoe around the world. The Hokule‘a is going to circumnavigate the globe, and it will probably be a two- to three-year voyage, he said.

“As ambitious as that sounds, explorers have been sailing around the world for a couple hundred years now,” he said, “so it’s not something so far out there it’s not achievable.”

“In my very early years, looking at that traditionally shaped sail cutting across the night sky,” he said, “that’s a pretty compelling vision for a young man to see. I look up there and realize that silhouette I’m seeing is probably the same one my ancestors saw.

“The excitement, amazement, the loneliness and happiness of finding land – it’s timeless. That’s universal. So you get really close to experiencing the world and the environment in the same sense your ancestors did.”

Richard wanted to know if Kalepa navigates the canoe by the ocean, looking up at the stars, or whether he sees himself as traveling in space – in the stars?

Kalepa thought about that before answering. He said he just sees the canoe pointing in a certain direction, and things moving by it. “I don’t really experience it as the canoe being moved by nature,” he said. “Rather I see nature moving by us.”

When not at sea, Kalepa is Navigator-in-Residence at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. Isn’t that a great title? “They had an Astronomer-In-Residence and they wanted a Navigator-In-Residence too,” he explained.

‘Imiloa, of course, is where we “celebrate Hawaiian culture and Maunakea astronomy, sharing with the world an inspiring example of science and culture united [my italics] to advance knowledge, understanding and opportunity.”

Kalepa and the interim executive director, Ka‘iu Kimura, are both graduates of the Hawaiian language college, and Kalepa said there’s an indigenous model of leadership emerging at ‘Imiloa.

“One of the great things about ‘Imiloa is that it’s exposing us to the national and international communities,” he said.

About a year and a half ago, he and ‘Imiloa Planetarium Director Shawn Laatsch were invited to speak at Athens and Hamburg planetariums. “There is a curiosity about indigenous astronomy,” he said, “and the story of voyaging is a really compelling story. And the context is to have Shawn speak to the [astronomical] exploration being done on Mauna Kea.”

He said while he’s really happy with where Hawai‘i’s voyaging knowledge is at, there’s still a lot of work to do. “We experimented with what we were doing,” he said. ‘We learned and we gathered the info. Now it’s a matter of, How do we teach it in an effective way? Who are the teachers?

“It’s one thing to have a conversation with canoe people who travel together all the time, but trying to talk to a new generation, that’s a different kind of process.”

This seems to be another place ‘Imiloa comes in.

“We need to make a connection to the STEM program,” he said, “to science; that encourages young learners to follow the tradition of navigation; not to be navigators, but to follow the tradition of exploring.”

“My largest responsibility,” he said, about his role at ‘Imiloa, “is that the internal compass of the organization be aligned to the horizon we want to move toward.”