Hokule’a and the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage Visits NYC

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For the first time in history, Hokule’a (a traditional Polynesian double-hulled canoe) has docked in New York City during its Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Founded in the 1970s, Hokule’a and the Polynesian Voyaging Society represents the essence of Hawaii – respect for tradition, cultural understanding, exploration, and environmental sustainability. And on Sunday, June 5th, I had the privilege of attending the Hokule’a welcoming ceremony and witnessing one of the most amazing cultural exchanges I’ve ever seen.

Due to harsh weather conditions, Hokule’a docked at Battery Park’s marina a day ahead of schedule. But because the welcoming ceremony wasn’t set up until the day after, the crew was under kapu – that is, they wouldn’t leave the canoe or interact with press members until the next day, when they would be granted permission to come on land by the indigenous people of the area. How amazing is that? In a world so hellbent on power, land and money (not to mention, Hawaii was overtaken by Western expansion), the Hokule’a crew still upheld our island traditions in terms of respecting the native people.

The day of the ceremony was met with eerie weather. It was overcast, you could feel the electricity of an oncoming storm in the air, and my hair was frizzing out like no other. All of a sudden, I heard Hawaiian chanting in the distance as the ceremony drew closer, and seriously… it was the most surreal experience I’ve had since moving to New York City.

“We will never be well unless we strengthen ourselves and be well culturally first.” -Nainoa Thompson

The ceremony consisted of several native tribal leaders welcoming the Hokule’a crew and bestowing gifts upon them – wampum, whale baleen and sweet grass, to name a few – and they all performed their own traditional chant or song. I was so intrigued by what was going on, I didn’t even care that I got caught in a torrential downpour (thank you to the cameraman who offered me his raincoat).

hokulea1As a Kailua girl, however, I have to say the most monumental part of the whole day was listening to Nainoa Thompson (the president of the P0lynesian Voyaging Society) speak. Hearing Nainoa’s speech and seeing the Hokule’a captains sitting in the front row was like taking a step back in history for a much-needed lesson in my own culture. Nainoa spoke about respect for other indigenous people. He spoke about the legacy of ancient Polynesians and how they were the world’s best explorers, relying only on an advanced understanding of the water, wind, and stars. He spoke about the importance of environmental conservation, and how the Pacific islands are sinking. (Side note: Hawaii has the highest endangered species rate on the planet.) He spoke about how we all have the capacity to do something good for the Earth; and in honoring the native tribes of the land, he showed how we can all come together as one, even if we originate from different corners of the world.

“What you hold, what you do, what you protect is not just for you. It’s for all of us.” -Nainoa Thompson

Another touching part of Nainoa’s speech was when he honored Eddie Aikau. Eddie was one of the best surfers Hawaii has ever produced, and the only man deemed worthy enough to tackle Hawaii’s monster waves. As the first lifeguard of Waimea Bay, he was called out to save roughly 600 people over the course of his short career – and he saved every last one of them. In 1978, Eddie joined the Polynesian Voyaging Society as a crew member aboard the Hokule’a when the canoe started leaking and capsized off the coast of Molokai. Being a veteran at saving lives, Eddie set out on his surfboard to find help; but even though the entire crew was eventually rescued, Eddie was never seen again. He has since become a legend of the islands – Polynesians are familiar with the phrase “Eddie would go” – but I can’t even begin to explain how humbling it was to see his brother at the ceremony. A link to one of the most honorable individuals in Hawaii’s recent history.

hokulea2To be honest, I was overwhelmed by the end of the Hokule’a ceremony. Overwhelmed by pride in my culture, overwhelmed by the fact that I never really thought about “my ancestors” until recently, and overwhelmed by how homesick I am for the simple life back in the islands. Looking at the canoe, I almost felt like E.T. trying to phone the mother ship to take him home. But I think that’s one of the best messages of the Malama Honua voyage, which means “caring for our island Earth” – it doesn’t matter where we are geographically. We can all be in touch with our roots, honor our culture, and care for the environment no matter where we may be at the moment.

Having lived in cosmopolitan cities for so long, I admit it’s easy to lose sight of my cultural heritage; so I’d like to personally thank the Polynesian Voyaging Society for reconnecting this Kailua girl with her roots, reigniting my passion for environmental care and conservation (specifically for the oceans and marine life), and reminding me where I came from. I may live in NYC, but the Pacific islands will always have my heart.

If you’d like to learn more about Hokule’a and the Poylnesian Voyaging Society, please visit www.hokulea.com.

Main Image: Polynesian Voyaging S ociety