Early days of the Hokulea, 1975.

Canoes blessed, voyaging society tests the water

Advertiser Science Writer

At least a thousand people sat silent on the beach yesterday, watching a Polynesian canoe-blessing ritual not seen since the days of Kamehameha.

Then with hoots and hollers from the crowd, a hundred hands tugged on the lines to send a spanking-new double-hulled canoe down the ways and into Kaneohe Bay. After some two years of dreaming, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was afloat.

The society is a nonprofit group made up of everyone from just average folks to highly skilled artisans and scientists and they are all pursuing the same goal:

To attempt to send the 6–foot canoe launched yesterday to Tahiti and back next summer, using the methods and tools of the Polynesians who first sailed to Hawaii more than a thousand years ago.

PROTOCOL FOR the canoe launching was suggested largely by Dr. Kenneth P. Emory, Bishop Museum anthropologist and dean of Pacific scholars on Polynesia. Emory dug into the museum’s archives to learn how the vessels were given a proper launching in the old days.

Kaupena Wong, Hawaii’s foremost chanter, conducted a ceremony for the gods while atop the canoe stood Emory and Voyaging Society leaders Herb Kane and Dr. Ben Finney.

Food on platters of coconut leaves were passed out to paddlers seated next to the canoe, along with six coconuts for drinking.

KANE THEN SPOKE out in Hawaiian, “This is the canoe which has been built. Its name is to be Hokule’a. Ask our hods to bless it.” A short time later as Hokule’a hit the water, Wong called out: “How is the canoe? It is good?” “Yes, the canoe Hokule’a is indeed very good,” responded the men.

The two-masted vessel splashed into the water at Kualoa Regional Park. It is 15 feet wide, draws 18 inches of water…

The sailing canoe returns to shore after its maiden voyage.

Photos on this page by Advertiser photographer Gregory  Yamamoto and Robert B. Goodman for the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Hand clasp and facial expressions tell the story of a triumphal maiden sail.

…beneath its hulls, and weighs a little more than five tons.

Kane said that some 20 men and women, most of them of Polynesian stock, will be chosen to make the attempted voyage.

Finney pointed out that the project is more than an adventure. “It represents a well-planned experimental approach to one of the most intriguing and disputed questions in Polynesian history: How were the may Islands of Polynesia first discovered and settled?”

Critics of the Polynesian voyaging tradition maintain that the people who settled the Pacific did so through accidental and random drift voyages. The Hawaiian canoe and those behind it hope to refute the drift voyage theory.

Finney said, “Accidental drift voyages to Hawaii are out of the question as a canoe drifting up from the Marquesas or Tahiti would have been pushed far to the west of Hawaii by the prevailing easterly tradewinds.”

The Polynesian Voyaging Society will use only Polynesian navigation methods on its trip. Kane said the next step in the project is to begin sea trials in Kaneohe Bay in the weeks ahead.

(Star-Bulletin & Advertiser, 5/9/1975, p. 3)


Sunday Star-Bulletin and Advertiser, Page A3, March 9, 1975.

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