story by Derek Ferrar
photos by Monte Costa
From January to June of this year, the celebrated Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule‘a undertook a truly epic journey, sailing some 9,500 miles through the remote islands of Micronesia to Japan. These were new waters entirely for the traditional-style double-hulled canoe, which was built in the 1970s as an experiment to test the legendary sailing abilities of the Polynesian ancestors who settled Hawai‘i and which ignited a renaissance of indigenous cultural pride throughout the Pacific.
On the first part of the voyage, Hokule‘a—or Hoku, as she is known to her widespread ‘ohana (family) of voyagers and admirers—accompanied the new canoe Alingano Maisu to the tiny island of Satawal in Micronesia, where it was presented as a gift to the master navigator Mau Piailug. When Hoku was first built, it was Mau, one of the few people alive who still practiced the Pacific wayfinder’s art of navigating by the stars, who agreed to come teach the new generation of voyagers in Hawai‘i, and who guided the canoe on her first voyage to Tahiti in 1976. Now getting on in years and in fragile health, Mau had asked that Maisu be built to help perpetuate the voyaging culture among the young people of his own islands.
After the new canoe was presented to Mau in March, Hokule‘a continued on a second mission, dubbed Ku Holo La Komohana (Sail on to the Western Sun), crossing 1,200 miles from the Micronesian island of Yap to Okinawa and then hopscotching through the islands of southern Japan to Yokohama.
The journey was conceived to honor the cultural ties between Japan and Hawai‘i, which began with the visit of King Kalakaua to the Emperor Meiji in 1881 and were strengthened by the subsequent emigration of thousands of Japanese contract laborers to the Islands’ sugar plantations, many of whom remained in Hawai‘i, forever weaving their heritage into the fabric of Island life.
Hana Hou! writer Derek Ferrar joined Hokule‘a for a portion of its sojourn in Japan, and as he reports, it was a voyage like no other.