Monday, June 14, 1999

By Rod Thompson, Star-Bulletin
An assistant raises a bowl of awa for distribution to the crew
of the Hokule'a during a departure awa ceremony yesterday
beside Hilo Bay. Tomorrow or later this week, the
Hokule'a will sail for Rapa Nui.

seeks safe return as
Hokule‘a readies
for Rapa Nui

The canoe's navigator says
conditions are so difficult, chances
of success are low

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


HILO -- It wasn't enough in ancient times for a Polynesian voyaging canoe to sail off to new lands, says Kaipo Frias of the Edith Kanakaole Foundation on the Big Island.

"It's important to go," he said yesterday. "It's more important to come back."

Sometime tomorrow or later this week, the voyaging canoe Hokule'a will sail for Rapa Nui, the speck of land also known as Easter Island. In the old days, there was a good chance it would not have come back.

Sailing conditions to Rapa Nui are so difficult, the chances of success are extremely low, says Hokule'a navigator Nainoa Thompson.

To help assure success, the crew, family and friends of the Hokule'a held departure ceremonies yesterday on the edge of Hilo Bay.

Experienced Hokule'a crewman Chad Baybayan advised the new, younger crew members to put things right with their families. "Before you leave, make sure things are pono with them," he said.


Hokule'a Special


Participants chanted for guidance from their ancestors and for help from the winds and currents.

Awa, the juice of the bitter root, was offered to the sea, to the canoe, to the crew and friends.

"We sail to close the Polynesian Triangle," Baybayan said, referring to the great triangle formed by Hawaii, New Zealand and the only area not yet sailed by the Hokule'a, Rapa Nui.

Former Rapa Nui Gov. Sergio Rapu said, "We are so remote but we are not untouchable."

Rapu hopes the Hokule'a will revive interest in Polynesian culture, now in decline among the island's youth.

But sailing there is difficult.

Some other islands can be seen at sea because of the clouds over them which their vegetation creates, Thompson said. Rapu said the forests of his island were cut down long ago, the canoe-making energies going instead to creating the great statues, or moai, for which the island is known.


'It's important to go.
It's more important
to come back.'

Kaipo Frias


Some islands have swarms of birds flying from them, Thompson said. Rapa Nui lost most of its birds, too, he said.

The Hokule'a sails this week for the Marquesas Islands, in August to Mangareva in French Polynesia, and in September to Rapa Nui.

Sailing directly from Mangareva is impossible, since that means sailing directly against the winds and current. The Hokule'a will have to tack back and forth, trying to see directly an island smaller than Niihau.

The crew give themselves 35 days from their departure from Mangareva southeast of Tahiti to find Rapa Nui. They will be able only to guess where they are, but 100,000 Hawaii schoolchildren will know exactly where they are due to satellite reports from the canoe's escort vessel.

After 35 days, "the kids will tell us, 'you blew it,'" Thompson said.

But the voyage will not be a failure. "Our project is about learning, period," he said.

Whether their final navigation is by ancient methods or modern, the Hokule'a and its crew will be welcome on Rapa Nui.

"We will have our hearts and our arms open to you," Rapu said.

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