Canoe project nears completion

For more than 17 years, members of Hui O Wa’a Kaulua have been building Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani, their 62-foot, double-hulled canoe, at Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina.

Now the canoe is more than 90 percent complete, and the group is aiming to get it into the ocean in December. But the group still needs community support and donations of nearly $50,000 to buy items needed to make the canoe seaworthy and so that it can serve as a classroom for the youth and community of Maui.

Needed items include anchors, chains, line, sleeping canvas, life jackets and more, the group says. Volunteers are needed for crew members, daily work on the canoe and rigging. Kupuna are being sought to give daily tours.

“This canoe has been touched by many people in the community, and it is now her turn to do what she was meant to do,” the nonprofit hui said. “Students on board the deep-sea voyaging canoe will have the chance to learn leadership values and cultural knowledge in a unique environment that is not bound by walls.

“It is the Hui o Wa’a Kaulua’s mission to conduct model educational programs to excite and challenge the youth and their communities to learn, respect and care for their natural and social environment,” the group said. “Through the importance of sustainability and respect for the environment stressed on the wa’a, Lahaina will only benefit from the people the canoe touches and her presence is a symbol that honors the rich maritime history of these islands. Mo’okiha is for our community and youth.”

Crew member and apprentice navigator Kala Baybayan, 30, lives in Wailuku but spends most of her time in Lahaina, working on the voyaging canoe project.

She has been learning ocean navigation, based on ancient Hawaiian traditions of way-finding from observing stars, from her father, Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a captain and navigator.

The planned Dec. 21 launch date is auspicious, she said, because it’s the date of the winter solstice (the shortest day in the northern hemisphere) and it’s about a week after the beginning of the makahiki season, or Hawaiian new year.

While work is ongoing on finishing touches for the canoe, there’s also a push to rally community support needed to complete the project, Kala Baybayan said.

“Without community support, the canoe is not going to get in the water,” she said. “She needs to get in the water and do what she’s meant to do.”

The canoe is designed to hold as many as two dozen people, she said.

Initial plans call for sailing the canoe statewide to better understand its capabilities and see how it reacts on the open ocean, Kala Baybayan said.

“We’ll be reaching out, touching different parts of the community,” she said.

During a ho’olaule’a Saturday, the hui hosted canoe exhibits, canoe rides, makahiki games, awa ceremonies, youth activities, entertainment and food booths. All proceeds went toward the completion of Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani.

“We need generous supporters who understand the need for cultural awareness and education,” the hui said. “Your kokua will enable us to continue our youth programs, begin sailing and sustain these ancient traditions.”

For more information or to make donations, go online to, check out the group’s Facebook page at, call 667-4050 or send email to Donations are tax deductible.

* Brian Perry can be reached at