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