STARS LEAD THE WAY
ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kaimana Barcarse showed knot-tying techniques yesterday at crew training for the voyaging canoe Hokule'a. The three-day session was held at the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.
Future Hokule‘a crew use planetarium
HILO » Planetarium operator 'Ahia Dye touched a few buttons in the darkness at the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center, and the horizon-to-horizon dome overhead suddenly glowed with stars.
Dye touched another button, and a zigzag line appeared, connecting certain stars from north to south.
This is what 45 potential crew members for the voyaging canoe Hokule'a came to see this past weekend. The viewing was part of a Hawaiian spatial orientation to sea and sky that can take them anywhere in the Pacific.
About 14 of these students will be chosen to crew the Hokule'a on the final legs of its voyage in April through early June from Palau, through a series of landings in Japan, to Yokohama just outside Tokyo.
The Saturday-through-Monday training session at 'Imiloa presented skills from first aid to tying knots.
But the planetarium was the big attraction.
"It condensed all the knowledge that took years of experience, and we can see all of the skies in one evening," said trainee Keala Kai, of Kauai.
But 'Imiloa, with exhibits from ancient voyaging to modern astronomy, has more. The grounds are landscaped entirely with Hawaiian plants. The building features three large cones representing Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai. All interpretive signs are in Hawaiian as well as English.
"This place has mana (spiritual power)," said session organizer and Hokule'a veteran Chad Kalepa Baybayan.
Even three decades after the first voyage of Hokule'a, Kai can go home to Kauai and "feel like a foreigner" trying to talk navigation with friends. At 'Imiloa, people speak his language.
For example, that zigzag "star line" that Dye showed is an "ohana hoku," or family of stars, Baybayan said. That is not the same as a constellation, although Hawaiian culture also recognizes constellations such as Maui's Fishhook -- called Scorpio in Western culture.
While one long line of ohana hoku is setting, others are rising though the night so navigators have a continuing frame of reference. Unlike the Western idea of stars going from east to west, Hawaiian stars always stay in their own "house," east or west, Baybayan said.
Further visualization comes by placing a bird with outstretched wings over a star compass, Baybayan said. The upswept bow and stern pieces of the canoe are called "manu," or birds, he said.
Plotting a course is much more than drawing a straight line. A sailing plan has to compensate for danger spots, such as windy channels between islands. A navigator heading toward an unfamiliar port has to arrive in the daytime, Baybayan said.
It's also nice to know where you're going to sleep. In the case of the weekend training, sponsor Nawahi Hawaiian language immersion school provided floor space.
With 'Imiloa, four large canoes in Hilo and a roof over their heads, Baybayan is looking forward to making voyaging training in Hilo an annual event.
"We're going to be the No. 1 center in the world for indigenous learning of the night sky," he said.