#202 in the Moʻolelo series, there is so much that can be said about Hokuleʻa and its centrality in contemporary Hawaiian culture, that this topic must be broken into parts, hereʻs part one:
Hokule’a was built in 1975 to recreate the central object of Polynesian culture. This canoe proved skeptics, such as Thor Heyerdahl, who had drifted from South America into the South-central Pacific islands, wrong. Mau Piailug was a navigator from Satawal, in Micronesia, who taught Nainoa Thompson and others how to navigate this canoe to Tahiti, an area where he had no experience. Using the stars as a compass, the navigators recreated their ancestors’ knowledge of the oceanic world. The achievement of reaching Tahiti silenced the skeptics who had previously dismissed the idea of purposeful voyaging.
The website of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which was established to support Hokuleʻa’s voyages, recounts the first of the voyaging canoeʻs many travels:
Hōkūle‘a’s first voyage to Tahiti in 1976 was a tremendous success. The Tahitians have great traditions and genealogies of ancestral canoes and navigators. What they didn’t have at the time was a voyaging canoe. When Hōkūle‘a arrived at the beach in Pape‘ete Harbor, over half the island’s people were there, more than 17,000 strong, and there was a spontaneous affirmation of what a great heritage we shared and also a renewal of the spirit of who we are today.pvs.org
But the vessel’s second attempt in 1978 was not successful, and ended in tragedy:
Crew member Kiki Hugho remembers, “We were hours away from losing people. Hypothermia, exposure, exhaustion. When he paddled away, I really thought he was going to make it and we weren’t.” But the crew was rescued; Eddie was lost at sea. After the tragedy, Nainoa Thompson recalls, “we could have quit. But Eddie had this dream about finding islands the way our ancestors did and if we quit, he wouldn’t have his dream fulfilled. He was saying to me, ‘Raise Hawaiki from the sea.’” [Hawaiiki is the shared, semi-mythical homeland of, among others, Maori – semi-mythical because it could very well be a real place, in the opinion of Tongan scholar Tevita Kaʻili, Euaiki, an island in the Tongatapu group].
Hokuleʻa sailed to Aotearoa/New Zealand, Rapanui, Alaska, Japan and other ports between 1980 and 2000. In 2014, the PVS undertook its most ambitious voyage to date, a three-year worldwide voyage called Mālama Honua (Care for the Earth) that took Hokuleʻa 15,000 nautical miles to 26 islands and six countries. The canoe returned in 2017 to a great celebration at Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu.