Forty-two years after the Hokule‘a first slipped into the shorebreak at Kualoa, traditional voyaging and navigation has flourished across the Pacific. But that revival didn’t happen all at once.
“The impact of those changes took time,” Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson said in a recent interview. “You can’t measure it; you need to let it go.”
“Now it’s about the community taking Malama Honua off Hokule‘a,” he added.
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The organizers of the Malama Honua (“Care for the Earth”) voyage hope they have sowed the seeds in the past three years for a similar revival based on sustainable living — one that might also flourish in the coming decades.
For now they and their supporters in Hawaii aim to seize the momentum of the Hokule‘a’s homecoming. Once the festivities wrap up, the plan is to bring the canoe to 30 ports across the state and visit dozens of communities and as many schools as possible. There, voyage leaders will try to assess what impact they’ve had back home.
“This leg, to me, is the most important leg of the worldwide voyage,” Thompson said. “What is the sail plan for communities? What do they want to do? Where do they want to go?”
Despite its message of Malama Honua, the canoe returns home amid an even more uncertain future for environmental protection. Days before the Hokule‘a re-entered Hawaii waters, President Donald Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, sending a stark message to the more than 190 other nations that signed that nonbinding pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“It just makes the voyage more important and our follow-up work more urgent,” Thompson said a day after the federal policy change. Trump’s move shouldn’t deter local efforts to live more sustainably, he added.
Across the planet the Hokule‘a’s volunteer crews encountered groundswells of community support to protect natural resources. Thompson described what they found as a shared culture that transcends race, creed and geography.
“The question before us … is, Will that be able to renew the Earth quicker than we damage it?” he said.
During the past three years abroad, crew members collected 11 declarations by governments and nongovernmental organizations for marine protection along the route, according to the voyaging society.
Meanwhile, as the Hokule‘a traversed the globe, about three dozen Hawaii public agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses and schools met quarterly under the legally nonbinding “Promise to Pae‘aina” — a pledge to better manage the state’s marine resources.
The goal was for the Hokule‘a to return to a better Hawaii, said Eric Co, the pledge’s creator.
“People didn’t come together because I asked. They came together because this little canoe is going around the world. And that’s pretty incredible,” added Co, senior program officer for marine conservation at the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.
Of the Pae‘aina collective’s 11 objectives, which included stronger fisheries management and a shared monitoring database to track the health of local reefs, it reports having achieved seven during the voyage with three more still in progress.
What was supposed to be its last meeting took place several weeks before the Hokule‘a’s return — but the partners want to keep meeting, Co said.
“We always view our success by the responses we get from our community partners,” said Jenna Ishii, a Hokule‘a apprentice navigator and the voyage’s education coordinator. She likened the Hokule‘a’s upcoming follow-up sail around the state to a listening tour. “We don’t know the impact yet. We may not know the impact for 40 more years.”
For Linda Furuto, a University of Hawaii College of Education professor who also apprenticed in navigation, the enormous responsibility she feels to help carry the voyage’s values and ideals onto shore sometimes keeps her up at night, she said.
“The hardest part is how does that translate to land. What does that mean for our schools and our community?” she said.