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The Nāhiku delegation dance for the alakaʻi and kūpuna of Rapa Nui.

Wa'a Wednesday: Students experience Rapa Nui and Tahiti

March 15, 2017

Contributed by Shaundor Chillingworth

Throughout the Hōkūleʻa Worldwide Voyage, students, staff and alumni have been blessed with many opportunities to grow into leadership roles, representing the Hawaiian community and sharing the global message of Mālama Honua here locally and abroad. Kamehameha Schools is proud to be the education sponsor of the Hōkūleʻa Worldwide Voyage.

Over the past two weeks, ten high school students from KS Kapālama and four from Ke Kula ʻo Samuel M. Kamakau Laboratory Public Charter School have represented the Hōkūleʻa and the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the Hawaiian community, and their respective schools on a unique cultural-educational travel experience. The group has been posting daily reflections of their experiences to so friends, family and teachers see all that they’ve learned throughout their journey.

This group identifies itself as Nāhiku, the "Big Dipper", named after the constellation that serves as a key latitude marker for the apprentice navigators in finding Rapa Nui. From leaving the Galapagos islands to head south, upon seeing Nāhiku at a certain height in the nights sky, navigators will know to start turning west to pull the small island of Rapa Nui out of the sea. 

While in Rapa Nui, students were able to study the early and contemporary environmental conditions of Rapa Nui and the socio-cultural issues connected to people and landscape (one example of which is the iconic moai, huge ancestral stone images). Students also had the kuleana of honoring the Hōkūleʻa through oli and hula during ceremonies, especially the large landing ceremony at Anakena.

The exchange of song and dance is an effective way to share about Hawaiian culture and lift up the mission of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. It also allows these students to learn about the other cultures and feel what’s in the hearts of those they meet.

To get to and from Rapa Nui (where Spanish and Rapa Nui are spoken), the midway transit stop is the Polynesian archipelago of Tahiti, French Polynesia (where French and Tahitian are spoken). While in transit students were able to interact with the small island community of Moʻorea where they met with scientists at two marine environmental agencies to learn about lagoon reef restoration, a turtle hatchling program, dolphin research, and a range of coastal and inland archaeological sites. Two school visits also provided opportunities for Hawaiʻi teachers to engage with Moʻorea teachers and to support the value of education for Polynesian youth across the Pacific.

In both Rapa Nui and Moʻorea, students were able to participate in cultural exchanges at schools, elderly homes, and offices of governing officials and engage in community service projects to lift up the sustainability goals of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

Read more about each of the fourteen days on their experience in their Nāhiku blog at

On March 9, Hōkūleʻa marked its 42 birthday in Rapa Nui. Then on Friday, Hōkūleʻa departed Rapa Nui as they continue on their Mālama Honua voyage to the Pitcairn Islands. This is the first time the waʻa will return to Pitcairn since their Polynesian Triangle voyage in 1999.

The Pitcairn Islands are a cluster of volcanic islands and atolls in the southern Pacific Ocean forming the last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific. The area around Pitcairn Islands is one of the most pristine places on the Earth.

Following Pitcairn, Hōkūleʻa will head to the Marquesas Islands and to Tahiti, where she will be greeted by the local community in mid-April.  From Tahiti, the crew will continue their journey home to Hawaiʻi and will be welcomed at Magic Island, on June 17, 2017.

For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Worldwide Voyage, visit or find the society on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+. To see more Wa‘a Wednesday stories and much more about the Mālama Honua Voyage, go to the KS Online Mālama Honua page(if you are on a KS Network) or see related articles below.

The Educational Impact

Leg 27 school visit

In her crew blog, Dr. Shawn Kanaʻiaupuni shares more about the educational impact of the Worldwide Voyage. Kanaʻiaupuni has served as a crew member on multiple legs of the voyage and files this blog reflecting on her experiences on the Galapagos islands Leg 27 of Mālama Honua.

What is the education our children experience in todayʻs schools? What kind of education do they deserve, that best prepares them for the future? Kanaʻiaupuni and her fellow crewmembers explore these questions as they visit and experience educational settings around the world throught the voyage.

Read her blog:

“Learning the “Language” of Nature”.

Nāhiku is the name for the Big Dipper constellation, which is a key marker in finding Rapa Nui using traditional navigation.

Hoʻokahua staff including Randie Fong and Laiana Kanoa-Wong help coordinate many of the important protocols for the Hōkūleʻa in visiting these places.

The Nāhiku group visits an English class at the College de Paopao in Moʻorea.

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