Hokule‘a crew focused on building connections

For apprentice navigator Ka’iulani Murphy, Hokule’a means hope.

“As a young kid growing up, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to come from the place I come from. All of us who are Hawaiian, someone in our family came here on a voyaging canoe, and to think of that inspires me to dream big,” Murphy said after a community talk story session last week at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei.

The Hokule’a vessel and crew arrived on Maui two weeks ago, and they are scheduled to depart for Kahoolawe this week. For the next four months, the 62-foot-long, double-hulled voyaging canoe will be sailing to various ports in the main Hawaiian Islands with a mission to “Malama Honua,” or care for the Earth. The 1,000-mile voyage is designed not only to train crew members for the upcoming worldwide voyage to begin next year, but also to engage members of the community back home in Hawaii.

Since arriving at Maalaea Harbor on June 18 and then moving to Lahaina Harbor on Friday, crew members said more than 2,000 people, including students from Paia Elementary School’s Hawaiian language immersion program, have come to visit and learn about the canoe.

“Everyone is just eager and thirsty to know what we’re doing,” said Lesley Iaukea, a crew member, medic and Makawao native. “A lot of people on Maui are connected to the 1976 voyage, and to see that we’re doing that again, people are eager to greet us.”

Hokule’a’s maiden voyage in 1976, led by the vessel’s first navigator, Mau Piailug, launched from Honolua Bay to Papeete, Tahiti.

“This is something huge,” Iaukea said of the worldwide voyage. “It’s not about us. It’s about our future, our children. It’s about building those connections and pride for our traditions.”

Next May, Hokule’a will be embarking for its farthest journey yet, which will take the canoe on a four-year, 47,000-mile trip around the world. Over the four years, the 38-year-old canoe will travel to 28 countries and stop at 85 international ports, including ones in New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and New York. As is tradition, the navigators aboard Hokule’a will be relying mostly on celestial navigation, as their ancestors did when they first settled the islands.

Murphy said that while the voyage’s goal is to navigate without instruments, there have been adjustments over the years, like the addition of a Global Positioning System device, for use in emergency situations.

“Culture is continually evolving; our kupuna used technology that was available to them, and now we have certain technologies that are available that weren’t around a thousand years ago,” Murphy said. “It’s trying to continue this lifestyle and knowledge but keeping it safe.”

Safety is a priority now more than ever, and Hokule’a has sat in port for weeks waiting for better weather. Crew members said that the 1978 voyage in which Eddie Aikau lost his life after the canoe capsized just hours after launching into a storm was “a lesson learned.”

Escort boat and sister vessel Hikianalia, equipped with the latest technology to dispatch photos, videos and stories of the voyage back home, will be following Hokule’a both on water and online. Teachers and “community educators” have volunteered to share the experience with student groups and organizations in Hawaii through the duration of the voyage.

More than 200 crew members will take turns aboard Hokule’a through the four-year voyage. Each 12-member crew will stay on the vessel from one port to another, an average of 30 days at sea. (The longest stretch between ports will be from Australia to Madagascar, which will take about 45 days.) New crew members will be flown from Hawaii to the various stops, through a sponsorship with Hawaiian Airlines, to replace other members.

Most crew members will be sleeping aboard Hokule’a while at sea and in port.

The crew will be eating two meals a day and also fishing along the way, crew leader and cook Kealoha Hoe said. While meals may range from Spam and eggs to spaghetti, he will be focusing on preparing indigenous foods, “what our kupuna lived off” – taro, ulu (breadfruit), limu and sweet potato.

“We’re trying to not ship Costco around the world,” he said.

As much as Hokule’a’s voyage is to spread Hawaiian culture, the priority lies first and foremost in educating the next generation back home, Murphy said.

“There’s a lot of reasons we think it’s valuable to go, but taking care of home is most important,” she said. “It’s about those connections with schoolchildren, and building relationships not just around the world but here at home.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.