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Moananuiākea four-year voyage connects indigenous communities and the world

KS affirms its nearly 50-year heritage kuleana

June 13, 2023

This week representatives from Kamehameha Schools will be in Juneau, Alaska, for the global launch of the Polynesian Voyaging Society's Moananuiākea: A Voyage for Earth. The delegation consists of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama haumāna and kumu, and a cultural protocol team from Hoʻokahua Cultural Vibrancy Group that will continue the Schoolsʻ nearly 50-year kuleana as culture bearers and heritage keepers for the Hōkūleʻa. The specially trained team will be leading the Hawaiʻi protocols for the 100-plus member Hawaiʻi Delegation that will be there in Juneau when Hōkūleʻa arrives in the ancestral lands and waters of the Áak'w Kwáan clan of the Tlingit Tribe.

Earlier this year, Kamehameha Schools CEO Jack Wong affirmed its ongoing commitment to the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Moananuiākea four-year circumnavigation of the Pacific. Ever since Hōkūleʻa first entered the waters of Kualoa in 1975, KS has provided cultural leadership in caring for and perpetuating PVS’ Hawaiian-Polynesian identity, heritage and protocols. A Manu O Kū sponsor, named for the bird that voyagers and navigators depend on to help them find home, the legacy of kuleana is remarkable and holds deep meaning.

The 1976 voyage of Hōkūleʻa proved that our ancestors were able to way find across Moananuiākea without contemporary instruments. Hōkūleʻa itself was made using modern materials. In 1990, the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program set out to build a canoe from traditional materials. The search for trees led them beyond Hawai'i forests and across the Northern Pacific to Southeast Alaska. Judson Brown was a revered elder and chairman of the Sealaska Foundation. He and Byron Mallott, CEO of the Sealaska Corporation, worked with forest manager Ernie Hillman to identify two cherished Sitka spruce trees from Shelikoff Island in Soda Bay. As one elder shared with us recently, cutting these trees was of no small cultural significance; ancient giants, their biological, spiritual, and ancestral role in the forest compounded their importance to Alaska natives and to the land itself. Brown told master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, "When you sail, don't be afraid, because when you take your voyage we will be with you. When the north wind blows, that is our people sailing with you."

The spruce logs given by Sealaska were shipped to Hawai'i and carving began in 1991. The logs were shaped into hulls at the Bishop Museum by master carvers led by Wright Bowman Jr. The canoe was named after the navigator Hawaiʻiloa and was completed and launched in 1993. Hawaiʻiloa embarked on a maiden voyage to French Polynesia in February 1995. That same year in May, the canoe set sail on a voyage of gratitude to Alaska.

The gift of two spruce trees to build Hawaiʻiloa led to a commitment for reforestation on our ʻĀina Pauahi, so that our koa could one day be used for new generations of waʻa. Representatives from Sealaska and honored elders came to Hawaiʻi in 1990 to help plant those first seedlings at Keawewai, Keauhou on Hawaiʻi Island, the start of programs for restoration led by Kamehameha Schools that would involve countless students, staff, and community members for decades. In 2019, representatives from Sealaska and Kamehameha Schools returned to the site, not only to plant new seedlings, but to sit in the shade of the trees they had planted nearly 30 years earlier.

In reflecting on the gift of Hawaiʻiloa and the voyage to Alaska in 1995, Nainoa Thomspon recollects, "When our ancestors built and sailed voyaging canoes, it required the labor and arts of the entire community." Wa‘a are the legacies of treasured relationships that bridge rivers, lakes, and oceans to unite our peoples.

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