Polynesian Voyaging Society
Reflections from a contributor to the New York Times
My ancestors were exceptional navigators who sailed the 2,400 miles from the islands of the South Pacific to the unknown north. They guided themselves by the stars, winds, waves and sea life. It would have been a big mistake to miss the islands. There’s only a lot of ocean between the Big Island and the Aleutians.
Now a ship the size of a double-wide tractor trailer is sailing the seas to show that ancient Hawaiian maritime methods worked and were precise, suggesting that Hawai’i and the rest of the islands in the Pacific were intentionally populated. In December, the Hokule’a, the Polynesian voyaging canoe built in Hawai’i in the early 1970s, sailed away from Capetown toward South America on the longest leg of its around-the-world voyage.
The Hokule’a is a feel good story for the people of Hawai’i. The successful first voyage between Hawai’i and Tahiti, without maps, compasses or sextants, helped spark a renaissance of Hawaiian culture and language. The Hokule’a has been a tangible expression of pride for a people often crushed by negative narratives.
“You can trace your bloodlines through the canoe decks and into the water. There’s a time warp that allows you to connect with our ancestors,” said Sam Low, who was a part of four Hokule’a voyages and wrote “Hawaiki Rising” about Nainoa Thompson, the leader of the voyage and the first Hawaiian in centuries to learn to navigate by the stars and waves. He lines his hand with the horizon to guide ships. Thompson was taught by Mau Piailug, a Marshallese Islander who navigated on Hokele’a’s first long-distance voyage.
Low is preparing, with the Wampanoag people, to host Hokule’a at Martha’s Vineyard later this summer. He said that connecting Polynesians with indigenous people around the globe is a crucial part of the voyage.
“Indigeneity is very popular right now. It helps people as they search for their life’s mission and their self identity,” he said. “We hope the Hokule’a can spark a revival for first people like the Hokule’a did for Hawaiians.”