OPOA, RAIATEA >> Following a 24-hour sail from Tahiti, Hokule‘a and its crew greeted hundreds of spectators at this ancient capital of Polynesia, where the Hawaiian replica sailing canoe was feted for its recent return to the Pacific.
Locals adorned in brilliant red and yellow feather headdresses, floral crowns and ti leaves welcomed the crews from Hawaii ashore Tuesday at the ancient temple ruins of Taputapuatea, a significant and Mecca-like site for Pacific voyagers and navigators.
French Polynesia President Edouard Fritch and local leaders invited crews of the Hokule‘a, along with those of her escort vessels the Hikianalia and the Gershon II, to step onto the approximately 1,000-year-old volcanic-rock floor of the temple as the stones baked in the midday sun. Both groups then delivered testimonies of their shared heritage in front of large coral slabs at the altar.
A troupe of Kamehameha Schools dancers entertained the locals with traditional Hawaiian dance. Elders from Raiatea and the ‘Ohana Wa‘a — Hawaii’s contingent of deep-ocean canoe voyagers — held a traditional awa ceremony as crowds watched.
The Hawaii canoe crews also returned to the Tapu- tapuatea temple two pohaku, or stones, that locals there had given them to sail in the Hokule‘a around the world, collecting the mana, or spirit, of each port it visited.
With its homecoming wrapped at this important site, the double-hulled vessel is now ready to sail back to Oahu and finish its unprecedented three-year circumnavigation of the globe, leaders of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage said.
“Coming here was to pay respect, but coming here was for permission (to sail home),” Polynesian Voyaging Society President and pwo (master) navigator Nainoa Thompson said Tuesday at the shores of a glistening turquoise-water bay near the temple. “How do you go home after a worldwide voyage? Where do you get permission?”
In ancient times, sailing expeditions would return to Taputapuatea, which resembles a Hawaiian heiau temple complex, to inform of new islands discovered — so it’s fitting that Hokule‘a crews would venture there as their global journey concludes, added Kalepa Baybayan, Thompson’s fellow pwo navigator.
Tuesday’s ceremony at Raiatea followed strict protocols. So strict, in fact, that the event was delayed by several hours when the Hokule‘a had to enter the traditionally sacred Te Ava Mo’a passage through the reef twice.
The first time it sailed through, it arrived earlier than expected and the Raiatean cultural delegation wasn’t ready yet to greet the canoe at the pass with its own flotilla of smaller paddling canoes. That was considered to be a serious enough faux pas that the Raiatean elders requested the Hokule‘a go out and re-enter the channel.
That turned out to be a big ordeal, however, because the Hokule‘a had already dropped its anchors, and crews then struggled to pull them from the muddy bottom.
Still, as the sun rose higher in the sky after the crew had spent the full night sailing, not a single member uttered a complaint. Instead, they simply dialed in on the laborious task of freeing the anchors under the guidance of the canoe’s captain, Billy Richards, until the issue was resolved.
Many believe Tapu- tapuatea was afflicted for centuries by the heavy burdens of its history — particularly when an alliance across Polynesia was shattered there around 1350 — and that the arrival of modern canoe replicas such as Hokule‘a has helped gradually lift those burdens in recent decades. The canoes have to enter the sacred area following specific protocols, however.
Veteran voyagers aboard the Hokule‘a, including one of its original captains, Gordon Pi‘ianaia, and Kainoa Lee, were visibly delighted aboard the canoe Tuesday for the chance return once more to the Te Ava Mo‘a pass. For Pi‘ianaia, it was his first time back since 1995, he said.
They were joined on this sail by younger crew members such as Zane Aikau, nephew of legendary Hawaii waterman Eddie Aikau, who perished nearly 40 years ago swimming on a surfboard for help after the Hokule‘a flipped in a storm off the Hawaiian Islands.
The younger Aikau was instrumental Tuesday in helping to free Hokule‘a from its stuck anchors so the ceremony could proceed, pulling up heavy lines and chains from the water inside the reef and diving underwater to assess the situation.
The Hokule‘a and its escort vessels were to travel back to Tahiti this week. They’re scheduled to leave for Hawaii sometime in early to mid-May. An arrival ceremony is planned for June 17 at Magic Island.