It’s 1980, or thereabouts. I am the head of the Moloka’i Branch Library, located in Kaunakakai. It is before the Hawaiian renaissance and sovereignty movements became really active, but nevertheless, there is a lot of Hawiian pride among the people here. Hawaiians make up an ethnic majority of the 7,000 people who live on the island, which is 40 miles long and only 10 miles wide. Everybody knows everybody.
Hokule’a has recently completed its first triumphant voyage to the Tuamotus and Tahiti, and now its crew is touring the islands with the canoe and doing educational programs for the schools and libraries. I am very fortunate that Moloka’i Library was chosen to be one of the places the crew visited. Will Kyselka, from the Bishop Museum’s Planetarium, told how the navigators came to see him to try to learn more about the stars named in the Hawaiian star chants. He became interested in the project, and used the planetarium to make the stars regress to the time when Hawaii was being peopled, so the navigators could interpret the star chants and learn more about how the Polynesians were able to sail across such vast stretches of open ocean and find the pinpricks that are the Hawaiian Islands. He also led the library audience in a rudimentary example of a star chant to illustrate the teaching methods of the ancient Polynesian navigators.
Crew members talked about building the canoe, making its rigging and sails, the food, the social interactions of the crew, the relationship with kumu navigator Mau Piailug. They talked about the loneliness, the fights, the fear, the uncertainty, the absolute necessity of placing all their trust in the skills of the navigator, who had no modern tools available on the canoe. The audience is rapt. They smile, they nod, they ask questions, they relate the experiences to their own shorter sailing voyages between the Hawaiian Islands. We all come away with an awe of those who faced the unknown, who faced their fears, and who recreated a body of knowledge that was thought to be forgotten. I am amazed that a vessel so small and unprotected could have traveled so far on such a wide ocean.
Fast-forward to today. Hokule’a and her sister canoes Hawai’iloa and Makali’i have made numerous voyages around Hawaii and the Pacific. In fact, Hokule’a has just begun another historic voyage – a training voyage for new traditional navigators – to Palmyra. They are blogging and tweeting. Their course can be followed on Google Maps. They are contributing materially to the knowledge bank and enriching the lives of more people than ever. They are ambassadors in person and online. This time I will be there virtually while it is happening. And best of all, in spite of the weight of the 35 years of significance she carries, Hokule’a still joyfully reaches, teaches, and plays! More photos