In ancient times the Hawaiians
and the native people of Alaska used canoes to reach distant
lands. At the Hawai‘i Maritime Center, a permanent Alaskan
and Polynesian Tradition exhibit opened on Jan. 19, to celebrate
the famous Hawaiian voyage of Hokule‘a and to compare
the tools and materials the Hawaiians and the Alaskans used
to build their canoes.
Canoes allowed Hawaiians and Alaskans to explore different lands,
as well as fish, hunt, and transport people and goods across
To acknowledge the importance of their history, the Polynesian
Voyaging Society (PVS) researches and demonstrates how the early
settlers came to the Hawaiian Islands. Some people argue that
they arrived by accident. The PVS provides evidence that the
early settlers navigated without instruments on board and used
the stars, the sun, the wind, birds, the moon, and the swells
to find land.
The present voyage for the 63-foot Hokule‘a canoe started in January. Bruce
Blankenfeld is the navigator on this mission. The route passes through the Hawaiian
chain and then to Micronesia and Japan.
According to Jan Tenbruggencate, a reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser, the
Hokule‘a’s first mission was to deliver a 54-foot-long canoe. The
canoe called Alingano Maisu was a gift to the Micronesian master navigator Mau
Piailug on the island of Satawal.
Piailug taught Hawaiians how to navigate without instruments, a skill that would
have been forgotten and lost forever. However, through his teachings, the Polynesian
tradition will remain alive for generations to come.
Tenbruggencate has been on the Hokule‘a in past missions.
It’s exciting; sailing is fun. It’s a mystical feeling and important
to the Hawaiian culture,” he said.
Tenbruggencate said that there are usually a total of 10 or 11 people aboard.
Each crew member has a role on the Hokule‘a. There are radio people, doctors,
and everyone helps with the sails. There are no passengers aboard. Potential
crew members must do volunteer work for the Hokule‘a to prove they are
committed to learn and have sailing knowledge.
According to Tenbruggencate, the canoe is navigated by the sun, celestial objects,
the winds, the swells, and the stars. As the crew approaches its destination,
they are able to smell land and see birds flying towards land, and use these
signs as a guide. The people on board have knowledge of astronomy and each has
some kind of special skill to help the voyage.
When the crew reaches land, normally about three people are on the canoe the
whole way and the rest of the people switch with someone. They go to an island
that has an airport to return home for work or family.
For more information, visit www.PolynesianVoyageSociety.edu.