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Hawaiian Canoe to Navigate Around the World

The Hokulea (left) and the Hikianalia sailing off the Hawaiian Islands (date unknown). (Oiwi TV and the Polynesian Voyaging Society)
The Hokulea (left) and the Hikianalia sailing off the Hawaiian Islands (date unknown). (Oiwi TV and the Polynesian Voyaging Society)
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A Hawaiian voyaging canoe named Hokule’a first sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976. At the time, no one thought the trip would lead to a renewed interest in Polynesian voyaging throughout the Pacific Ocean. The double-hulled canoe became an important sign of local culture. The boat has two support floats, which are tied together.

Ben Finney was the first president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which made the canoe. Mr. Finney is now 82 years old. He says he and his team wanted to demonstrate it was possible for Polynesians to have explored and settled islands in the Pacific.

“Our primary motivation in building and sailing and navigating canoes was to have Hawaiians and other Polynesians, and other Pacific Islanders, take over the leadership in relearning, reinventing the technology, and then putting it to use, and demonstrating its use, so it becomes their project, not my project.”

Ben Finney says the Polynesian Voyaging Society wanted to bring back the art of wayfinding – navigating or sailing a canoe without instruments. Years ago, crews guided their boats only by the stars, winds, waves, birds and other signs of nature. The tradition had been lost in Polynesia.

The Society turned to an expert navigator in Micronesia. Under his guidance, Nainoa Thompson became the first Hawaiian in 600 years to use the art of wayfinding. He also combined the tradition with modern science. Since then, Mr. Thompson has trained a whole new generation of navigators.

Now, he is going on an around-the-world trip called Malama Honua, or Caring for our Earth. He says several people influenced his decision to make the trip. They included his friend, the former American astronaut Lacy Veach.

“And he kept saying, Nainoa, you need to know how beautiful your island Earth is. It’s just one island in space. It’s all we got. There’s no other island we can go to. And it’s fragile, and it needs to be protected, and Hokulea needs to help us learn and find the way. Take it around the world. That was 22 years ago.”

To prepare for the trip, Nainoa Thompson and his crew spent a year sailing around the Haiwaiian islands. They used Hokule’a, which means Star of Gladness, and a new canoe called Hikianalia. Both are named after stars that navigators use to guide them back to Hawaii.

The crew plans to visit more than 20 countries. One goal of the trip is to influence young people and strengthen a new generation of sailors and navigators. That is why half the crew is under the age of 30. Nainoa Thompson hopes many people will follow the trip online, at

“If you don’t teach children how to take care of the world, they won’t have the tools to do that. We’re not going to go save the world. All we’re trying to do with Hokule’a and Hikianalia is do our part. And our part is to sail. And so we want to join that human movement of kindness and compassion on the planet with the belief that collectively we can make a difference.”

Once the canoes leave Hawaiian waters, they are not expected to return until 2017. I’m Mario Ritter.