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by Ashley Whitehead, student writer


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 great distances.

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.



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