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Feb 05, 2015

The Story of the Sailing Canoe Named Elleen Eoreni

Photos by Jonas Maon

Here in Hawai'i, the ocean is the center of our way of life.

We wake up early for dawn patrol surf sessions before work. We stay up all night fishing under the moonlight. We spend weekends, birthdays, and holidays at the beach. We never forget that in our island home, it is the ocean that binds us together.

But just as important to remember is that it also connects us to other communities across the Pacific. On January 10, at the launching ceremony of the Micronesian sailing canoe named Elleen Eoreni, those connections were made clear as the canoe slid into the water at Sand Island State Recreation Area for its very first time. While the tradewinds pushed the canoe swiftly across calm, blue waters, people of all ages splashed in the shallows or took to the shade to celebrate with food, song, and dance. "The project was created in hopes of bridging our oceanic communities," said Loyal Kekahuna-Baisa, who helped spearhead the project.

The canoe, or wa'a (vah-ah) in Hawaiian, was hand-carved from a log chosen in Kalihi Valley. From the moment the log was selected, the canoe, a collaborative project of Kanehanamoku Voyaging Academy, KUPU, Kokua Kalihi Valley, University of Hawai'i Ethnic Studies, and The Howard Hughes Corporation, brought together diverse communities from across O'ahu and the Pacific. Over the course of 75 days, nearly 1,000 people visited the canoe during her carving and construction at KUPU's net shed at Kewalo Basin Harbor. All of them worked, in some small way, to help turn a log of albizia wood into something powerful.

Elleen Eoreni is just the latest incarnation of the deep and oceanic ties between peoples of the Pacific. In a testament to the long sailing legacy shared by Micronesians and Hawaiians, Eseliquipi Plasito led the building project. It was Plasito's father, the late master navigator, Micronesian-born Pius "Mau" Piailug, who shared his knowledge with Hawai'i's Pacific Voyaging Society in the 1970s. Together, they revived the traditional wayfinding techniques that were used by Polynesian and Micronesian voyagers to navigate across the ocean before any modern technology existed. From the stars to the winds to the feel of the swells, it was an understanding of the nature around you.

"Now that we're finished, we're hoping to bring in more youth to learn how to sail her," said Kekahuna-Baisa, looking proudly out at the children playing alongside the canoe. "I think a few of them will step up and want to become the captain or navigator." If all goes as planned, Elleen Eoreni will continue to bring people together and out onto the water for years, even decades, to come.

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