comscore Hokule'a's history: Turning the tide | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Every act of aloha counts. Click here to DONATE to the MAUI RELIEF Fund.
Hawaii News

Hokule'a's history: Turning the tide

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
  • Hokule‘a returned from a successful voyage to and from Tahiti in 1976. (Photo: Star-Advertiser / 1976)
  • Eddie Aikau (Photo: Star-Advertiser / 1978)
Hokule‘a returned from a successful voyage to and from Tahiti in 1976. (Photo: Star-Advertiser / 1976)
Hokule‘a returned from a successful voyage to and from Tahiti in 1976. (Photo: Star-Advertiser / 1976)

Founded in the early 1970s, the Hawaii-based Polynesian Voyaging Society’s early members set out to address unanswered questions about how early Polynesians made their way to Hawaii and other far-flung islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Among the matters debated by scholars and navigators: Was exploration and settlement intentional? The result of planned voyages? Or was it a case of “accidental drift” involving storm-wrecked canoes slipping off course, or aimless one-way exile voyages?

Critics of the “intentional voyages” theory doubted that the canoe’s spare design could hold up over vast distances. Among those countering that stance were voyaging society members inclined to believe that Polynesian maritime legends were likely based on fact, and that the canoe’s seaworthiness was at least equal to that of Europe’s first ocean-crossing ships.

The debate prompted the society to build a replica of an ancient voyaging canoe and retrace the storied path of discovery by sailing it from Hawaii to Tahiti. Hokule‘a’s first launch during the mid-1970s coincided with the start of the ongoing Hawaiian Renaissance, a revival of long-suppressed and neglected cultural identity expressed in music, language, hula, and other traditional practices, such as voyaging.


On March 8 a replica of a traditional Hawaiian waa kaulua (double-hulled voyaging canoe) was launched in Kaneohe Bay. Designed by Herb Kawainui Kane — an artist and historian as well as one of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s founders — the canoe was named Hokule‘a (“Star of Gladness”), a zenith star of Hawaii.

1976: TAHITI

Total of 6,000 miles, from May 1 to June 4. The 2,500-mile voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti was led by master navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia. The voyage was the first in more than 600 years navigated without Western instruments along the ancestral Polynesian sea route.


Total of 6,000 miles. Hawaii to Tahiti, March 15 to April 17. Nainoa Thompson successfully guided the Hokule‘a thousands of miles, becoming the first Native Hawaiian in centuries to navigate using Pacific island wayfinding methods. Mau Piailug was aboard as mentor to Thompson, who was the navigator on the return trip.

1985-1987: AOTEAROA

Total of 14,000 miles. Hoku­le‘a retraced ancestral migration routes through its “Voyage of Rediscovery,” starting June 10, 1985, and wrapping up May 27, 1987. The canoe sailed from Hawaii to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and back, with stops in Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tahiti and the Tuamotus.


Total of 9,000 miles. This voyage, “No Na Mamo: For the Children,” was designed to train a new generation of navigators, June 17 to Dec. 1. The canoe went from Honaunau, Hawaii, to Papeete, Tahiti, and then to Raiatea, Aitutaki, Rarotonga and back to Tahiti.

On the voyage back to Hawaii, the Hokule‘a crew contacted the crew of the space shuttle Columbia flying overhead. The crews participated in conversations with students in Hawaii about the importance of exploration. On board Columbia was astronaut and Punahou graduate Charles Lacy Veach.


Total of 7,000 miles. Hokule‘a and Hawai‘iloa sailed from Hilo to Papeete, Tahiti, Feb. 11 to March 4, as part of the Na ‘Ohana Holo Moana or “The Voyaging Families of the Ocean.” On May 15, Hawai‘iloa and Hokule‘a left Hawaii on board a Matson container ship bound for Seattle and the “Northwest and West Coast Tours.” The tour totaled 1,000 miles.

1999-2000: RAPA NUI

Total of 12,000 miles. From Hilo via Nuku Hiva and Mangareva in the Tuamotus, the voyage to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), June 15, 1999, to Feb. 27, 2000, undercut Kon Tiki explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s theory that migration into the Pacific began in South America. Hokule‘a had reached the third corner of the Polynesian Triangle — the other corners being Hawaii and Aotearoa (New Zealand).


Hokule‘a’s millennium statewide sail, titled “Our Islands, Our Canoe,” Sept. 22, 2000 to May 20, 2001, celebrated the vessel’s 25 years of voyaging by visiting students and families in two dozen communities across the state.

2003: NIHOA

A cultural protocol group, Na Kupu‘eu Paemoku, traveled aboard Hokule‘a to remote Nihoa island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to conduct traditional ceremonies. Three years later, Northwestern Hawaiian Island Marine National Monument — one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries — would be established by a presidential proclamation.


Total of 2,500 total miles. Hokule‘a sailed to the Northwestern Hawaiian islands as part of a statewide educational initiative called “Navigating Change.” The trip brought attention to the diverse environment in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, including 7,000 species in 4,500- square miles of relatively undisturbed coral reef.


The cultural group Na Kupu‘eu Paemoku sailed to Mokumanamana (Necker Island) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to conduct protocol ceremonies.


Total of 9,000 miles. Hokule‘a completed a five-month voyage through Micronesia and Japan called “Ku Holo Mau, Ku Holo La Komohana” (“Sail On, Sail Always, Sail Forever; Sail on to the Western Sun.”) Hokule‘a escorted the voyaging canoe Alingano Maisu to Satawal, where the Maisu was given to master navigator Mau Piailug.

While on Satawal, Piailug honored five Hawaii navigators (Chad Baybayan, Shorty Bertelmann, Nainoa Thompson, Chadd Paishon and Bruce Blankenfeld) with pwo — a sacred initiation and title in Micronesian navigation.


Young navigators, captains and crew members as well as educators and scientists trained for the worldwide expedition with a monthlong voyage to Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific — about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii .


Last June, Hokule‘a and sister vessel Hikianalia began the 1,000-mile Malama Hawaii leg of the worldwide voyage, Malama Honua. The statewide sail, which included stops at 30 ports, wrapped up in October. In 2017 the final leg of Malama Honua is also slated as a sail around the Hawaiian Islands.

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to view ongoing news coverage of the Maui wildfires. Sign up for our free e-newsletter to get the latest news delivered to your inbox. Download the Honolulu Star-Advertiser mobile app to stay on top of breaking news coverage.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up