Amidst the modern-day cruise ships and shipping freighters making their way up and down the Atlantic seaboard is a small Polynesian canoe that looks as if it was plucked from history centuries ago and set into the ocean by some marvel of time travel.
This is the Hōkūle’a, a double-hulled sailing canoe built by the Polynesian Voyaging Society in the 1970s. It has in fact been pulled from the pages of history — more than 600 years had passed since a canoe like this had last been seen.
Canoes like this had once brought the first Polynesians to the Hawaiian Islands. Today, the Hōkūle’a is circling the globe on a three-year journey to bring awareness of the need to “Malama Honua” (Care for Earth) and to sustain the islands and oceans of the world.
The Alpha Kappa Iota Chapter at Honolulu Community College in Hawaii has been following the voyage of the Hōkūle’a for the last three years as its Honors in Action Project.
“Many of our chapter members and leaders, especially those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, share their common personal values of Aloha (Love) and Malama (Care) for our Honua (Earth) and our peoples and communities — values rooted in Hawaiian and other cultures,” chapter co-advisor Rob Edmondson said. “They feel the need to restore the balance of nature in our lives in the face of rapid urbanization on our islands.
“They want to help Hōkūle’a share this message of Malama Honua with other peoples across planet Earth.”
In 2013, Alpha Kappa Iota chapter leaders were studying the cultivation of taro and how sustainable taro production might be restored in Hawaii as part of their Honors in Action Project. They participated in A Lo’i Kalo Community Work Day, during which they worked in the taro fields in the Kahana Valley.
As they broke for a picnic lunch at the Kahana Beach Park, they saw the Hōkūle’a anchored just offshore. They swam out and toured the canoe, which was preparing for its journey around the world.
As the 2014 Honors Study Topic, Frontiers and Spirit of Exploration, was introduced, chapter leaders found a way to expand their work of preserving Native Hawaiian cultural values through the Hōkūle’a’s upcoming voyage.
“Our Honors in Action Project for 2014 focused on the spirit of exploration that propel past Hawaiian voyagers and Hōkūle’a’s current crew to embark on a world-wide three-year voyage, visiting 27 nations and carrying its message of Malama Honua,” advisor Lena Low said. “Our Honors in Action Project for 2015 focused on the message of Hōkūle’a’s world-wide voyage: Malama Honua. We undertook several recycling and other environmental projects.”
Chapter members also interviewed faculty members and students on their involvement with the Hōkūle’a, including those who were experts in the ancient art of “wayfinding” — navigating without the use of modern instruments but instead relying on the winds, stars, waves and other cues from nature. Crewmembers are using wayfinding to navigate the Hōkūle’a on its worldwide voyage.
The Hōkūle’a is no stranger to Honolulu Community College. Following several voyages in the Pacific Ocean after it was built in the 1970s, the canoe was restored and housed at the college’s Marine Education Center. Several students and faculty members helped re-fit and launch the canoe in May 2014, and some have sailed on parts of the journey around the world.
“Many of our students have learned the value of participating with others in working to Malama Honua and that it will require the wills and actions of all of us individually and collectively to Malama Honua,” Edmondson said.
The Hōkūle’a is currently docked in New York through June 18, when it will depart for several engagements in the New England area. By the end of its journey, it will have covered more than 60,000 nautical miles, stopped in 100 ports and visited 27 nations.
More than 200 volunteer crewmembers have helped sail Hōkūle’a, and as of the end of April the worldwide voyage had reached more than 47,000 people.
“We hope our students will achieve a broader perspective on our interconnected world and how the traditional values of native people can help restore balance to the oceans and islands of our planet,” Low said. “We hope our students understand that it will take the collective efforts of all of us in every community in every nation to preserve and pass on the limited resources and the joyful beauty of our Planet Earth to future generations.”