The Rediscovery of Hawai‘i begins at Kualoa
On a sunny morning in March of 1975, a group gathers at Kualoa Regional Park to perform a launching ceremony for the first traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe to have been built in multiple generations. The result of years of study and work toward rediscovering traditional canoe building and navigating techniques, the canoe is named Hōkūle‘a (Star of Gladness) after Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern sky, and a zenith star of Hawai‘i.
Below the peak of Mount Kānehoalani and the broad cliffs of Mo‘o Kapu o Hāloa at the north end of Kāne‘ohe Bay, Hōkūle‘a rests on its lona (blocks), decorated with maile, ‘ie‘ie and Tahitian ti. After securing a feather pennant and wooden image to the canoe, it is ready to launch. Kamehameha Schools students blow conch shells, and paddlers from the newly formed Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) assemble to sit in two rows between the double-hulled voyaging canoe and an imu (oven) dug into the ground. PVS founders Herb Kane, Ben Finney and Kenneth Emory climb to the pola (deck) of the canoe as kahuna (religious expert) Kaupena Wong leads the blessing ceremony. ‘Umeke (bowl) of water in hand, Wong sprinkles the sides of the canoe and conducts a chant of offering and dedication for the new canoe.
Wong is assisted by kahuna Kalena Silva and Keli‘i Tau‘a, who uncover the imu to reveal a pua‘a (pig) and other foods slowly cooking within. From the imu, they remove meat from the snout, tail, feet and body of the pua‘a, along with a small redfish and a peeled, cooked banana, which they place on a coconut, banana and ‘awa leaf platter. This platter is handed to Wong, who waits as two additional platters are filled and given to a paddler in each row, who passes it to the man on his left until each man has been served. Wong climbs up onto the pola with the first platter, which is left on board.
“Eia ka wa‘a i kālai ‘ia; e kapa ‘ia ka inoa ‘o Hōkūle‘a. Ke ui aku nei nā alaka‘i o ka pō, nā alaka‘i o ke ao, nā alaka‘i o luna, nā alaka‘i o lalo (This is the canoe which has been built; its name is to be Hōkūle‘a. Ask our gods of darkness and of light, from above and from below, to bless it),” says Kāne.
“E ho‘omākaukau (make ready)!” says Wong. The paddlers move to their positions along the sides of the canoe. “E alulike (let us work together)!” he calls, and the paddlers begin to haul the canoe into the water as Wong chants “Kīauau, kīauau (haul, haul)!” As the canoe slides gracefully into the water, the crew climb aboard and those on the shore begin to whoop and shout with joy.
Wong chants as Kane guides the canoe through the water, it's hulls gracefully skirting over the waves with ease. Once they are a good ways out, Kane gives the signal for the canoe to be turned back toward shore. The platter of food that was left on board is tossed over as an offering to the sea, and Wong calls out “E ho‘i kākou (let us return)!”
The members of PVS who gathered to bless and dedicate Hōkūle‘a on that day chose Kualoa as the launching point because of its importance to voyaging traditions of Hawai‘i. Kualoa was the home of the voyaging chief La‘amaikahiki, and Hakipu‘u was the home of the voyaging chief Kaha‘i. These two famous chiefs are descendants of a long line of voyaging chiefs which included Mo‘ikeha and his son Kila. Other famous voyaging chiefs such as Paumakua lived in the lands around Kāne‘ohe Bay. Even La‘a, whose story is told throughout Polynesia, found a home there. He is said to have ruled over Ko‘olau Poko, the windward district of O‘ahu, living in Waikāne and dying in Kualoa.
Hōkūle‘a's inaugural dip into the ocean at Kualoa on March 8, 1975 signaled more than just a revival of traditional Polynesian voyaging techniques. Originally planned as a scientific experiment to test a theory of Polynesian migration, Hōkūle‘a's 1976 voyage the following year became part of a revival that extended to language, art, ceremony, religion, farming techniques, wood-carving, martial arts, chant, hula and more. These traditional arts have begun a process of reestablishing a healthy relationship between the people, the land and the sea, revealing the wisdom and strength of the Hawaiian culture. Hōkūle‘a’s worldwide voyage is an emissary to the rest of the planet, spreading this message of mālama Honua, or taking care of the Earth, everywhere it sails.