Hōkūleʻa

Hōkū meaning star in Hawaiian, and le‘a meaning gladness: Hōkūle‘a is our star of joy or gladness. Also called Arcturus, our star of joy is an important tool for navigation, along with Hikianalia or Spica. Before the use of modern instruments, our ancestors needed to rely on tools like the stars, currents, birds and wind patterns in order to navigate their way through the open ocean.

This photograph shows master navigator Pius Mau Piailug of Satawal teaching young children of his home village how to use a star compass, an essential tool for plotting out the rising and setting of stars in the night sky. Pieces of coral are arranged to represent the movements of important stars, which could also be memorized in dance and song.
Deep-sea voyaging, a practice that was extinct for several hundreds of years in Hawai‘i, seemed like a long-lost memory. Although we had no deep-sea voyaging canoes at hand, what we did have were the stories and chants of our ancestors. In them, it is said that they not only arrived here from Tahiti (a route of over 2,500 miles), but they also traveled the great distance and back.
 
There were a lot of ideas of how Polynesians settled in the Pacific. In 1946, Thor Heyerdahl suggested and attempted to test the theory that they migrated here from South America. Others like Andrew Sharp believed that they arrived here from Asia, but the common theory between the two was based on the idea that there was no way that Polynesians had the skill or the ability to reach these islands on purpose. They believed that they either rode the wind currents, or were blown off course and drifted to these islands by chance.
 
It wasn’t until 1973 that a group called the Polynesian Voyaging Society was formed. This group was started by three men: Dr. Ben Finney, Herb Kawainui Kane, and Tommy Holmes. The Polynesian Voyaging Society wanted to challenge that theory: they wanted to put a team together to build a traditional deep-sea voyaging canoe that would allow them to sail on a one-time trip to Tahiti.

Before they could create a canoe, what they really needed was a master navigator–someone with the knowledge of the old ways. But the problem was, there was no one in Hawai‘i who was still practicing traditional long-distance voyaging. They got their big break when they met a man named Mau Piailug, from a small island in Micronesia called Satawal. Mau agreed to help them navigate to Tahiti. On March 8, 1975, Hōkūleʻa, a 62-foot-long, 19-foot-wide waʻa kaulua or double-hulled canoe, was first launched off of Kualoa, on the island of Oʻahu. She then set sail for her first voyage to Tahiti about a year later, on May 1, 1976 from Honolua Bay, on Maui. After traveling for 33 days, Hōkūleʻa arrived in Papeʻete Harbor, greeted by over 17,000 men, women, and children alike.

Hōkūle‘a’s journey to Tahiti not only proved that our ancestors could reach Tahiti using this ancient form of navigation—it also sparked a sense of pride and revitalization within the Hawaiian and Polynesian community as a whole. That spark ignited the drive for Polynesians to revive cultural practices and arts in years to follow.
Waʻa Display Case (Pacific Hall) 
Moananuiākea is one name used to describe the expansive Pacific Ocean. Contemporary labels for the large regions of the Pacific (Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia) draw distinctions based on the different cultural practices and languages of Oceania. Still, in spite of difference, there is great similarity between island peoples, much of which can be seen in the languages whose roots come from the Austronesian peoples who voyaged out of the Western Pacific into the Central and Eastern island groups. For example, the word for canoe in many Pacific languages is quite similar in sound: waʻa, vaʻa, vaka, vaqa, and waka all refer to canoes. While shapes and purposes for canoes vary across Oceania, the idea of a canoe connects peoples across Moananuiākea.
The Legend of Māui Netting Te Rā, The Sun. Cody Hollis, Ngāti Pahauwera, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Acrylic on canvas. 2013. This work of contemporary art highlights the issue of nuclear fallout in the Pacific. 
Before they could create a canoe, what they really needed was a master navigator. Someone with the knowledge of the old ways, but the problem was—there was no one in Hawai‘i that was still practicing traditional long-distance voyaging. They got their big break when they met a man named Mau Piailug, from a small island in Micronesia called Satawal. Mau agreed to help them navigate to Tahiti. On March 8, 1975, Hōkūleʻa, a sixty-two foot long–nineteen foot wide wa‘a kaulua or double-hulled canoe, was first launched off of Kualoa, on the island of O‘ahu. She then set sail for her first voyage to Tahiti about a year later, on May 1, 1976 from Honolua Bay, on Maui. After traveling for thirty-three days, Hōkūleʻa arrived in Pape‘ete Harbor, greeted by over 17,000 men, women, and children alike. 
 
Hōkūle‘a’s journey to Tahiti not only proved that our ancestors could reach Tahiti using this ancient form of navigation—it also sparked a sense of pride and revitalization within the Hawaiian and Polynesian community as a whole. That spark ignited the drive for Polynesians to revive cultural practices and arts in years to follow. 
In the 1990s, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was face-to-face with yet another challenge: the Bishop Museum’s Native Hawaiian Arts and Culture Program wanted to create a canoe that was just like the Hōkūle‘a, but made completely of Hawaiian materials. They searched far and wide for koa (acacia) trees but could not find any that were suitable for the specified size wa‘a they were asked to build; they were all too small. In this struggle, they found that our environment has a deep impact on our culture. So, in order to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, we need to first take care of the environment. In the search, a tribe from Southeast Alaska gifted them with 400-year-old spruce logs to create the wa‘a. 
 

That wa‘a, Hawai‘iloa, was carved here at the Bishop Museum under the direction of master canoe builder, Wright Bowman Jr.

To learn about the Hōkūleʻa , Hawaiʻiloa and more, visit http://hokulea.com

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