Saturday, May 29, 1999

Hokule‘a readies for
historic Rapa Nui voyage

By Susan Kreifels


Lashed to the stern of the Hokule'a are two new ki'i, wooden carvings from Maui draped in lei. One depicts a blind man holding a star above his head. The other is a woman with eyes.

The ki'i represent the joining together of people. Together, the crew believes, they will guide Hawaii's first traditional voyaging canoe home safely.

The Hokule'a has been built by Hawaii volunteers who have worked a half-million hours, its captain said, to prepare the canoe for its last voyage of the century. And the Hokule'a is stronger now than when it was built 25 years ago.

This weekend the Hokule'a sets sail for the Big Island, and later in the month it leaves for Rapa Nui, the most difficult island Hawaii's star navigators have ever set out to find.

Traditional navigators use only the stars and other signs of nature to guide them.

The 50-square-mile Rapa Nui, also called Easter Island, is the most isolated island in the world: 1,400 miles from the nearest land.

The Hokule'a will also be sailing the 1,450-mile leg of the voyage against prevailing winds.

In a news conference yesterday, Nainoa Thompson, captain of the Hokule'a, said Hawaii's navigators always felt the Rapa Nui voyage was too difficult.

But "the instinctive spirit of all Polynesians to want to be ohana," he said, convinced them to make the trip before the century ends.

With this voyage, Hawaii's traditional navigators will have retraced all of the major migration routes of their Polynesian ancestors who discovered, then populated every inhabitable island of the Pacific.

The Hokule'a has logged close to 100,000 miles -- the equivalent of sailing around the equator 2 times.

Thompson called Polynesian deep-sea navigating "the match that ignited cultural revival." The canoe has been greeted by an outpouring of affection wherever it has gone.

He said the Rapa Nui voyage will also teach valuable lessons to Hawaii's children about the importance of protecting the environment.

Rapa Nui, a Chilean island known for huge heads carved of stone called "moai," suffered a tragic past. Its delicate ecosystem was virtually destroyed by a population that reached almost 20,000 in the 17th century. Depleted resources, war and Western diseases left only 111 native Rapa Nui people by 1877.

Today, two out of three of the total 3,000 people on Rapa Nui are native Polynesians. Sergio Rapu, former governor of Rapa Nui, said the voyage will be "tremendously stimulating to reviving our culture and opening opportunities to our children. Beyond Chile, there is a whole Pacific world to teach us."

Educating young Pacific islanders is the most important mission of the Hokule'a. The voyage will be tracked by 100,000 students throughout Hawaii and 1 million worldwide via Internet and satellite telephone and radio calls from the canoe. They will also be following a special classroom curriculum.

On the return home, the original navigators will also hand over leadership to a second generation who will continue the Hokule'a mission.

"The core of one's wellness," Thompson says, "is being proud of who you are. Hokule'a is the reminder."

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