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May 22, 2017

Hōkūle‘a: Chasing Stars

Photos by Polynesian Voyaging Society • ‘Ōiwi TV

The first Polynesian wayfinders were the astronauts of our ancestors. They were the greatest explorers on the face of the Earth.


In a way, the great Pacific Ocean has always resembled a constellation of island-stars. For hundreds upon hundreds of years, the outrigger canoe was Polynesia's exploratory space ship, launched boldly into oceanic outer space. Indeed, the men and women on these crafts followed currents, mapped the stars, caught the wind, surfed the swells, and chased whales, birds and sharks toward unknown island planets. It was on these ships that they charted, discovered and inhabited Hawaiʻi centuries before the first European sailors.


By the 1970s, however, these oceanic astronauts and vessels were thought to be extinct. But in a time of Polynesian cultural renaissance, a group of Hawaiians built a traditional voyaging canoe called Hōkūleʻa, (Star of Gladness) to revive the legacy of exploration, courage, and ingenuity that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaiʻi.

Then in 1976, with the guidance of a Micronesian navigator, Mau Piailug, the crew (now the Polynesian Voyaging Society)

sailed Hōkūleʻa all the way to Tahiti, replicating the path of their ancestors. Since then, Hōkūleʻa sailed across the Pacific, to New Zealand, Fiji, Easter Island, and beyond. Then in 2014, the crew set out to circumnavigate the entire world on mission called "Mālama Honua," visiting indigenous cultures across the globe to celebrate indigenous knowledge, genius and sustainability. After three years at sea, the canoe is almost home.

"At one point after adapting to everything, I can remember that we were sailing along, and I was on my back looking up at the stars thinking how I was in the presence of something that people must've felt many, many years before me," said Austin Kino, Hōkūleʻa crew member on Malama Honua voyage "There's no motor and you're trusting the application of your navigational training. I really couldn't find an experience in today's context that could bring me closer to what my ancestors could have felt like what I was feeling on that canoe.

For Austin and the rest of the crew, being able to represent the culture of Hawai'i with far-flung corners of the world was an honor and privilege. "Sailing on the Hōkūleʻa, you realize that it is Hawaii's canoe. It's not your project even though you worked really hard. You're representing Hawai'i, apart of something bigger than yourself, something ancestral that everyone identifies with being uniquely Hawaiian. You truly are sailing in the wake of your ancestors."

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