On Tuesday, I went to dry dock for Hokule’a at the Marine Training Education Center. Volunteers with the Polynesian Voyaging Society and their young sailing group, kapu na keiki, were there, refurbishing the double-hulled canoe. Here are some photos by Cole Allen.
Here I am, in Waikiki, staying in a modest hotel across from Kapiolani Park, a block from the beach. Waikiki is, of course, overrun with tourists from all over the world who’ve come to explore the most isolated archipelago on Earth.
They’re — we’re — always out walking around. Seriously, always. Heavy pedestrian traffic had started, or never ceased, by the time we went for a run at 8:30 a.m. It was happening at 5 a.m. when we awoke, still on West Coast time. Returning from dinner, I remarked that Waikiki’s sidewalks appeared more crowded than New York City’s. My sister (my week No. 1 traveling companion) said, no, New York is busier. I told her it’s exactly the same.
We’ve been here two days and already had enough sun exposure, and burns, to personally insult a dermatologist. Today, we swam with fishes, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed when I managed to stop freaking out about the possibility of stepping on corral and killing a precious living creature long enough to watch as tang and butterfly fish passed by, or stopped for a nibble.
It’s fitting I’m based in Waikiki for this little 15-day adventure — the tourist trap where culture comes to die. Or live? I’m not quite sure. There are, after all, plenty of free hula performances, ukulele playing and “mahalo” floating around. We must surely take something away from this cultural exposure, right? Oh, yes, traditionally speaking, Native Hawaiians pass down stories through hula song and dance. Ah, “mahalo” means thank you in their native language.
But there’s also the Gucci, Cheesecake Factory, Victoria Secret, Forever 21, street performers, club-goers, teenager runaways, honeymooners, tweakers, Japanese women in high heels. As a 20-year resident described Waikiki this afternoon: “It’s like driving through a mall.” Just with more interesting, and diverse, characters.
I get the impression Waikiki isn’t exactly a place locals appreciate. But many of them work here, behind the counters of ABC shops, as waitresses in perpetually busy restaurants, as instructors giving surf lessons on the beach.
In a few days, I finally get to meet with some of my interviewees for the article. I expect about seven of them. But that’s all I’ll say for now. I don’t want to show my whole hand! (or whatever that saying is. I’m bad idioms.)
The Polynesian Voyaging Society celebrates the 35th anniversary of its maiden voyage this year. Here’s a look back on one piece of the group’s history …
In 1990, the Polynesian Voyaging Society went on a mission throughout the Islands of Hawaii. The goal: find a large and healthy koa tree so it could construct a double-hulled voyaging canoe made entirely of natural materials.
This turned out to be easier said than done.
For centuries, Hawaiians had prized the resilient, reddish wood and built canoes from the logs. They used cordage woven from coconut husks and tree bark as lashing, and coconut fibers and sap from breadfruit and other trees to seal cracks and seams. They lashed two hulls together with crossbeams and added a deck between the hulls to create double canoes capable of voyaging long distances.
The depletion of the koa population, due to grazing and logging, prevented the crew from locating a single koa tree adequate for the hulls of a canoe. So, after a nine-month search without any luck, PVS volunteers gave up.
Under the leadership of Wright Bowman, Jr., the Polynesian Voyaging Society did end up building the canoe — with the help of native Alaskans who supplied two, 400-year-old spruce logs in a priceless gesture of friendship. They named it Hawai’iloa, after the fisherman who, it is believed, discovered and settled two islands, which he named Hawai’i after himself and Mau’i after his eldest son.
In 1995, Hawai’iloa traveled from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska to give thanks to the Tlingit, Haida and Tshimshian people for the donation of the spruce logs. During the spring of that same year, voyages took Hokule’a to the Marquesas Islands, where Hawaiian settlers are believed to have originated. On the way back, five other canoes accompanied Hokule’a, four of which also used traditional navigational methods.
They relied on the direction of birds’ flights, the movement of waves and swells, the rise of the sun to travel the open seas.
But the Polynesian Voyaging Society learned a valuable lesson from the koa tree debacle. Succeeding with their continued efforts to revitalize and maintain traditional navigation meant caring for, and preserving, island ecosystems — and encouraging others to do the same. So, they wrestled with a question: How could they motivate people to change their behaviors for the sake of our oceans?