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The Star of Gladness

Weighing eight tons, the 62-foot, double-hulled canoe known as Hokule’a is only overshadowed by who and what she represents and the hopes and dreams filling her masts.

Although I’ve only seen Hokule’a once with my own eyes, I stared in awe of this great voyaging vessel’s sheer size while feeling pride in the rich Hawaiian culture and kuleana (feeling of responsibility) she brings to her navigator and crew every time she sets sail.

I was on the beach in Waikiki when I heard a slow murmur crescendo into a wave of cheers. The locals knew Hokule’a was just stretching her masts, but the tourists gathered had no idea what they were lucky enough to witness.

As she glided across the water, she embodied the past and the future, the heart and soul of Hawaii. Through the efforts of countless dedicated people, she has resurrected thousands of years of “wayfinding” (non-instrument navigation) in Hawaii, linking together the common heritage of Polynesian seafaring cultures. Fittingly, her name translates to the Star of Gladness.

When I think of Hokule’a, I see one of my heroes, Eddie Aikau, sitting atop the mast, watching over the lives of those he saved while sacrificing his own. Eddie’s life has turned to legend since he disappeared in 1978 while paddling for help after Hokule’a capsized in the channel between Molokai and Oahu during the voyage to Tahiti.

He is the only casualty in the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s (PVS) three decades on the open ocean. He made a name for himself as a lifeguard on Waimea Bay and a big wave surfer in the ’70s. A competition is named in his honor. To Hawaiians he simply embodies “aloha spirit.”

The man at the helm of the current renaissance of Hawaiian culture and wayfinding is one of Eddie’s best friends. Nainoa Thompson is a navigator for the PVS and Hokule’a. He was the first Hawaiian in more than 500 years to navigate a canoe retracing traditional Polynesian migratory routes when he and his crew successfully sailed more than 2,500 miles from Honolulu to Tahiti in 1980.

To make things clear, it should be spelled out that these voyages are made in the old way by using the stars, sun, moon, cloud formations, wave directions, wind movement and, with a little luck, some birds flying overhead. No maps. No compass. No radios.

Fortunately for Nainoa, Hokule’a also comes equipped with mana—spiritual power—and the blessings and guidance of her ancestors.

Since his first successful journey in 1980 as navigator (he was also on the initial voyage to Tahiti in 1976 as a member of the crew), Nainoa has led expeditions all over the South Pacific and throughout Polynesia. Each journey has been its own adventure, and each adventure has had its own cast of characters from Hector Busby, the lighthouse guy in Aotearoa, to Judson Brown, or “Gushklane” as he is known in his Native Alaskan Tlingit nation.

People all around the world have been responding to Nainoa’s stewardship and perpetuation of Hawaiian culture.

The main character in his journey, however, has been Mau Pialug, a traditional master navigator from the Island of Satawal in Micronesia. It is Mau who is directly responsible for teaching Nainoa the traditional wayfinding methods used by both their ancestors.

It was a navigational art that had been slowly fading away from the face of our planet. Mau had learned the techniques from his grandfather, not as a means for discovery, but rather survival.

Living on the tiny island of Satawal meant sailing for food. Mau grew up living in harmony with the ocean and nature, but he had a passionate and dedicated disciple in Nainoa who fused traditional education with na’au, what Hawaiians refer to as instinct, and the two men have together raised the awareness of Polynesian wayfinding and resuscitated it back to a life.

The 2007 voyage of Hokule’a is set to honor their teacher and master navigator Mau Pialug with a journey to his island home in Satawal with a gift. Hokule’a will sail alongside the Alingano Maisu, a canoe for the people of Satawal from the people of Hawaii, which will surely be filled with mana and aloha.

The second leg of this journey will bring Hokule’a to Japan between Apr. 20 and June 20 with stops in Okinawa, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Ehime and finally Yokohama.
Nainoa and his crew have as much enthusiasm for education and cross-cultural exchanges as they do for sailing, ensuring Hawaii, Polynesia and the Pacific Rim will not have to wait 500 years for another journey of hope.

Glenn Killian is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, but for the past 12 years has made Fukuoka his second home. Spending time away from home helped him reconnect with what it meant to be from the islands.
He now runs Alohana, a Hawaiian restaurant in Fukuoka, and has plans to open a second in Yokohama later this year.

Hokule’a Voyaging Schedule

Yap (Micronesia) to Okinawa (Itoman Harbor)
Estimated Travel Time: 14 days
Estimated Arrival: Apr. 19/Apr. 20
Days in Port: 5 days

Okinawa to Kumamoto

Est. Travel Time: 7 days
Est. Arrival: May 1/May 2
Days in Port: 4 days

Kumamoto to Nagasaki
Est. Travel Time: 1 day
Est. Arrival: May6/May 7
Days in Port: 3 days

Nagasaki to Fukuoka
Est. Travel Time: 2 days
Est. Arrival: May 11/May 12
Days in Port: 5 days

Fukuoka to Oshima (Yamaguchi)
Est. Travel Time: 2 days
Est. Arrival: May 18/May 19
Days in Port: 4 days

Oshima to Hiroshima
Est. Travel Time: 1 day
Est. Arrival: May 23/May 24
Days in Port: 5 days

Hiroshima to Uwajima
Est. Travel Time: 1 day
Est. Arrival: May 29/May 30
Days in Port: 4 days

Uwajima to Yokohama
Est. Travel Time: 7 days
Est. Arrival: June 9/June 10
Days in Port: 8 days

Note: Hokule’a will be shipped back to Honolulu on June 23.

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