POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 26, 2011
The sun broke briefly through the overcast sky over Kualoa Regional Park Saturday morning as the crew members from seven canoes that had journeyed across the Pacific made their way to shore.
The voyagers, who numbered well more than 100 people, came from 14 island nations in the South Pacific, including Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Tonga and New Guinea.
It was a chicken-skin moment for many of the 1,000-plus people who gathered to greet them and understood the symbolism of the arrival. Hokule‘a, the first double-hulled voyaging canoe to make its way across the Pacific through traditional celestial navigation in 600 years, set off for its mission to Tahiti from Kualoa in 1975.
Thirty-five years later, navigators from the nations touched by Hokule‘a had come here, also relying on the stars to find land.
Frank Kawe, who captained the Aotearoa vessel Te Matau A Maui, said, "It's important to complete this aspect of the journey — to bring the newer people who've begun voyaging and sailing from our part of the Pacific up to meet the family that's been here and has been doing this work for 35 years," Kawe said. "These are some of the lifelong friends we've made over the years that have hosted us, that have fed us, that have trained us."
Kailua resident John Myrdal, who paddles recreationally in Lanikai, sat on the beach alone and watched in awe at the seven canoes, constructed in Aotearoa specifically for this journey, sat moored side by side in the bay with the flags of different nations flapping in the wind.
"Any time people from different backgrounds and cultures can get together — it's a good thing to reconcile the differences we may have had in the past in this world. You can't help but be impressed by the camaraderie and people acting as one human race."
Nani Kauka of Kailua canceled all the other activities she had planned for the day so she could attend the "once-in-a-lifetime" event.
Polynesians are "getting back to realizing that we are probably one of the greatest voyaging cultures in the world," Kauka said. "What Hokule‘a did was instill in the rest of the Polynesians a desire to reclaim their cultures."
The mission of the voyage, dubbed "Te Mana o te Moana" or "The Spirit of the Sea," is to promote global awareness of increasing threats to the environment and the world's oceans, the Pacific in particular. It is sponsored by Okeanos — Foundation for the Sea, a nonprofit founded by German native Dieter Paulmann.
The voyage began in Aotearoa in April and arrived in Hilo a week ago. While on Oahu during the next 10 days, representatives from the project will take part in Kava Bowl Ocean Summit 2011 at the Imin International Conference Center. After a stop on Kauai, the contingent will head to California.
Billy Richards, one of Hokule‘a's original crew members, said the voyage has not only brought the peoples of the different island nations closer, but also has helped provide what essentially are classrooms for a new generation of Pacific navigators.
The voyage's message of environmental awareness was also repeated throughout Saturday's celebration.
"The Earth's in trouble," said Hokule‘a master navigator Nainoa Thompson, chief executive of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. "And the one piece that needs to be saved first — because otherwise nothing else will make it — is the oceans. And I would argue that the largest, the most magnificent and the most powerful ocean of them all is the Pacific. And if we lose the Pacific, ecologically, it's over."