For years, scholars doubted the navigational prowess of ancient Polynesians, dismissing their ability to traverse vast oceans using only stars, wind, and waves. However, in 1976, a remarkable 62-foot voyaging canoe named Hōkūleʻa, equipped with traditional double hulls, defied skeptics by successfully sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti with a crew of 15. This achievement demonstrated that the ancestral methods were more than sufficient to traverse the expansive ocean. Now, a new generation of Polynesian adventurers is preparing to embark on an extraordinary 43,000-nautical-mile, 47-month journey across the Pacific Ocean, commencing on June 15 from Alaska. Hōkūleʻa, accompanied by her sister canoe Hikianalia, will visit 36 countries, numerous Indigenous territories, and 345 ports, with 400 crew members participating throughout the four-year expedition.
Hōkūleʻa’s Historical Significance
The name Hōkūleʻa, meaning “star of gladness,” pays homage to Arcturus, the zenith star of the Hawaiian Islands. The canoe was conceptualized and constructed by the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS), a Honolulu-based organization dedicated to exploring the navigational methods employed by Polynesian seafarers and their settlement patterns across the vast Pacific Ocean. Since its inaugural voyage, Hōkūleʻa has traveled extensively worldwide, contributing to the rediscovery and revitalization of Polynesian culture, traditions, and their connection to their homeland and the planet.
The Moananuiākea Voyage
In June, Hōkūleʻa’s Moananuiākea (“the vast Pacific”) Voyage will commence from Alaska, thanks to a partnership established in 1990 between the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples of the Sealaska Corporation. After unsuccessful attempts to acquire suitable koa logs for constructing a traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe, the Alaskan Native conservation group generously provided two Sitka spruce logs. This collaboration reflects the voyage’s commitment to acknowledging and supporting global Indigenous communities and their traditional systems in addressing climate change and restoring oceans and landscapes.
Tracking Hōkūleʻa’s Journey
Throughout the Moananuiākea Voyage, Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia’s progress can be followed on Hokulea.com, enabling anyone to stay connected with their extraordinary expedition. The website will also provide updates on specific port dates along the journey. The canoes will traverse the west coasts of North and South America, venture through Polynesia, and sail north along the West Pacific. Hōkūleʻa will then be transported from Japan to Los Angeles before sailing home to Hawaii, followed by a voyage to Tahiti in the spring of 2027.
The Purpose and Legacy
While the crew will undoubtedly face challenges during the voyage, their success will not be measured by the hardships endured. Instead, their responsibility lies in ensuring that the next generation of wayfinders can continue this ancient tradition and explore even further. To support this vision, the Polynesian Voyaging Society has launched Wa’a Honua, the Canoe for the Earth, a virtual global hub intended to inspire individuals to become future navigators for the planet. Captain Lehua Kamalu, Hōkūleʻa’s first female captain and the voyaging director of PVS, emphasizes that the voyage’s impact extends far beyond the sailing crew.