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Polynesian voyaging canoes reach Hilo from New Zealand

By Gary T. Kubota


A fleet of seven Polynesian-built double-hulled voyaging canoes with an environmental mission sailed into Hilo on Thursday.

Crews representing 14 island nations voyaged from New Zealand.

A welcoming ceremony is scheduled at Hilo Bay from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday for crews on the voyage called "Te Mana o te Moana" — "The Spirit of the Sea."

The crews hope their trip will strengthen ties to Hawaii, where a renaissance in canoe voyaging was ignited with the successful Hawaii-Tahiti sail of the Hokule‘a in 1976, supporting the assertion that Polynesians were able to use Pacific island way-finding techniques to sail thousands of miles.

The arrival of the large fleet also demonstrates that the Pacific canoe voyaging is growing, said Billy Richards, one of the original Hokule‘a crew members.

"I think it's great. It's a wonderful thing," he said.

Richards said crews from the Hokule‘a and other Hawaiian voyaging canoes have received hospitality from people of various Pacific islands for some 30 years during their sails.

"Now it's our turn to reciprocate," Richards said.

Richards said there are more than 120 crew members in Hilo. Other crew members will come from various Pacific islands to Honolulu for crew changes when the canoes reach Oahu on June 24. The canoes will leave July 6 for Kauai and then head for San Francisco July 10. The canoes will go down the California coast, and the plan is to return to New Zealand starting Jan. 30 via the Marquesa Islands and Tahiti.

The voyage is meant to bring attention to mounting threats to the environment in the Pacific, including plastic pollution, overfishing, rising sea levels and fossil fuel and sewage contamination, according to the website of marine enthusiast group Okeanos — Foundation for the Sea, which is producing a film documentary of the voyage to Hawaii.

Organizers of the voyage said there are also less obvious but just as significant threats, such as the acidification of ocean water and sound pollution through sonar and oil and gas company air guns used for exploration.

Voyagers said the trip to Hawaii also honors those who came before them, including Hokule‘a founders and the late Mau Piailug, the first Hokule‘a navigator and mentor to a new generation of Pacific way-finders capable of navigating by reading the signs of nature, including waves, birds and the sun and stars.

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