Hokule'a To Visit Japan

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Hokule'a approaching Diamond Head as she returns from a voyage

Hokule'a (ho-ku-lay-ah) is the 62 foot long double hull voyaging canoe sailed by the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS). The product of the imagination of Hawaiian artist, historian, and PVS co-founder, Herb Kawainui Kane (Kah-nay), Hokule'a means "Star of Joy" in Hawaiian and is the name for the star that modern astronomers call "Arcturus", one of the stars which ancient navigators from Tahiti would have used to find the Hawaiian Islands.

The Hokule'a was completed in 1975 and the following year made a voyage to Tahiti. Only traditional, non-instrument methods of navigation are used, a method called "wayfinding", which, when checked against modern instruments proves to be remarkably accurate. The canoe's purpose is to demonstrate the ancient sailing techniques and in so doing, bring the peoples of the Pacific together with each other and their cultural roots.

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Two thousand years before Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Islanders were navigating the vast Pacific in canoes similar to Hokule'a. With eleven crew, living quarters are cramped.

Over the years, the PVS has sailed Hokule'a and another voyaging canoe, the Hawai'iloa, to the far flung corners of the Pacific, including Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Society Islands, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Aitutaki, Tahiti, and Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago, Rapa Nui, Mangareva, and Nukuhiva.

During the voyage that took place in 1999-2000, which took them to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), navigator Nainoa Thompson was honored by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii as a "Living Treasure of Hawaii". I attended the dinner honoring that year's recipients and watched Nainoa accept the award from the deck of the Hokule'a via satellite on the last leg of the trip. It was quite a juxtaposition - ancient style voyaging canoe and satellite telecommunication!

The Navigator, painting by Herb Kawainui Kane

Not so many years ago, while working at a bookstore on Maui, I saw a man looking through the Hawaiiana section and asked if I could help him find something. It turned out to be Herb Kane himself (well, he is a Maui resident) and I had a wonderful conversation with him (on company time) about his art, Hawaiian history research, one of his books, "Ancient Hawaii", and of course, Hokule'a. A soft spoken man, he was quite surprised, and a bit shy, when I complimented him on his series on Hawaii Public Television about ancient Hawaiian life in which he dressed and lived as they did in ancient times. "Well, I was a lot younger in those days", he quipped.

Approaching Mangareva enroute to Rapa Nui 1999

Last Friday, January 19th, 2007 Hokule'a left Oahu for Kawaihae Harbor, on the west coast of the island of Hawaii, where it will be joined by a new voyaging canoe, the 56 foot Alingano Maisu, and the sailboat Kama Hele (a safety vessel with a powerful engine that can lend assistance to the canoes in case something goes wrong). From Kawaihae, the three will head for Majuro in the Marshall Islands and then island hop through Micronesia to the island of Satawal in the Yap group, home of the Hokulea's first navigator, Mau Piailug.

The Alingano Maisu will be gifted to the 75 year old Mau in honor of his long dedication and service in teaching the modern Hawaiian voyagers how to use wind, stars, seas, birds and other cues to make accurate landfalls after long voyages. The Alingano Maisu will then be based at Yap where it can carry on the tradition. In the local language, Maisu is a term carrying the concept of a breadfruit fallen on the ground which anyone may enjoy. Alingano means "to show". The idea behind the name is that the ancient ways of navigating are being shown for all to enjoy.

Alingano Maisu being placed in the water at Kawaihae, Hawaii

From Micronesia, Hokule'a will make a stop in Palau before heading to Okinawa and other ports in Japan.

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Islands and ports of call on this year's voyage.

The purpose of visiting Japan is to honor Japanese immigrants to Hawaii whose descendants continue to contribute to Hawaii's diverse multi-cultural society. They will visit several cities in Japan where those people came from. Also, the canoe will stop at the port of Yokohama near Tokyo. This stop will commemorate the 1881 visit to Japan by Hawaii's King David Kalakaua who was the first head of state to meet Emperor Meiji following the reopening of Japan to the world (the Meiji Restoration). The King subsequently sent Hawaiians to study in Japan and in 1885 the Emperor signed a treaty regarding emigration of Japanese labor to Hawaii.

In many ways, the 2007 voyage of the Hokule'a is one of gratitude. Naturally, many students in the schools of Hawaii, Japan, and other island nations in the Pacific will follow this voyage with great interest and use it as a tool to learn about history, cultures, and ecology.

The Hokule'a should be in Yokohama sometime in May and I am looking forward to seeing it there.

To follow the voyage and for lots of links about the Polynesian Voyaging Society, visit this blog:

One Ocean, One People A Celebration of Pacific Voyaging, Cultures, and Islands

For the Japanese language version, go here:


It is not a far leap from the voyage's theme - One Ocean, One People - to the concept of One Earth, One People. May we enjoy following this voyage in that spirit and work toward harmony between all peoples and responsible guardianship of our environment (for a change!).


Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Very interesting story and great photos. I wondered at first what was the connection with Japan but then you explained it. I had read about these reconstructions a few years ago - perhaps in a Geographic. They were wonderful sailors those earlier Polynesians.

QUASAR9 said...

Awesome - Hokule
Are they solid twin hulls?
Not made of reeds like Kontiki

The Moody Minstrel said...

I realize a lot of history that should be rolled back can't be, and a lot can't be reclaimed that ought to be,

But it's cool they are able and willing to do something like that!

ladybug said...

This is really great! Keeping old ways alive is extremly important, especially knowledge like this. You never know when you might need some basic life skills, and they may be more efficient and certainly less costly than modern technology.

Also, most life-ways skills like these are done communally (such as gathering roots-traditionally done by women) and promotes community identity and cohesion.

By sharing these skills and experiences with the wider world community through modern technology (as Pandabonium noted-through satellite and internet); these folks are providing an opportunity for all of us to participate in global community building and revitalizing local culture.

(can you tell I feel strongly about this?)

Don Snabulus said...

Notch one for the good people!

Thanks for another great post.

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - National Geographic has done at least a couple of articles and also at least one film.

Quasar9 - The hulls are hollow and used for storage and sleeping quarters. They are about 3 feet wide inside. As the art of making these canoes out of solid logs with stone tools and things like shark skin for sandpaper was completely lost, Hokulea was built of modern materials like plywood and fiber glass, but the design and weight and handling are supposed to be similar to ancient canoes. They used drawings and paintings of Eurpean explorers to guide them. Some groups are now attempting to make canoes in traditional ways, having to relearn the lost techniques.

Moody - As you say, history cannot be rolled back, so one of the purposes is to put native people back in touch with their past and show them that their culture had value and had made great achievements. That cultural pride was largely lost as they were overwhelmed by Europeans.

Ladybug - me too!

Don - thanks. take a look at "Ten Themes of Learning--What We Focus On" at the PVS website - they truly aspire to be "the good guys".

Gilbert Veisamasama, Jr said...

Very interesting blog. Keep it up!

Pandabonium said...

Thank you, Gilbert. I have one of your blogs (promoting Suva) in my Fiji links.

Glad you stopped by.

Gilbert Veisamasama, Jr said...

Thank you, Pandamonium. Have a great week ahead.

Kendra said...

This is a great posting and a fabulous summary of the Hokule'a. I've been researching it to write an article for my outrigger publication and you have explained it all very well. Thank you! It's a great topic and between the historical details and the stories about it, it has kept me researching long after I have enough info for the article.

Pandabonium said...

Kendra - thank you for your kind words. I am happy that you found my post of interest and helpful in your research. Your comment has also reminded me that is about time to post a brief update on the Holuke'a's position. Mahalo.