Celebration tells awe-inspiring stories of voyaging, canoes
She came out of a dream and offered a chance to recreate an important tradition.
Twenty years later, Mauloa is more than a canoe built in the ancient way, using native materials and no power tools. Living up to her name, which means “perpetual or everlasting,” she continues to inspire generations and connect many to their culture.
In honor of her milestone anniversary, a special celebration for Mauloa was held Saturday at Keauhou Bay. The free event featured three canoes — the Mauloa, Makalii and Hokulea — along with entertainment, cultural exhibits and food. It was held by Na Kalai Waa, a 501(c)(3) education-based nonprofit that strives “to protect, perpetuate and honor the Hawaiian traditions and practices of canoe culture through the Makalii voyaging canoe programs for the past, present and future generations.”
What brought many to the bay Saturday was the opportunity to step aboard and tour Hokulea. The famous 62-foot-long double-hulled voyaging canoe, belonging to the Polynesia Voyaging Society, has been sailing to various ports throughout Hawaii, sharing its message of “Malama Honua,” particularly the importance of caring for each other and our resources, as well as developing a network of change-makers who will help better the Earth’s future. It will be embarking on an ambitious four-year worldwide voyage next year.
Kaiulani Murphy, a student navigator for the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Waimea resident, said Hokulea will carry the aloha and mana of all who touched it around the world. During the event, keiki and the keiki-at-heart were encouraged to make peace flags, which will distributed by crew members to the students, educators, indigenous groups and others met during the upcoming voyage. Hokulea will be visiting more than 20 countries and making roughly 60 stops, with the intent of exchanging ideas and practices linked to environmental sustainability, as well as building relationships and connections.
Murphy has found the vessel’s presence inspires some to dream big or pursue the impossible. For others, she said it instills tremendous pride in who they are and where they came from. All of the canoes increase awareness, pride and involvement in this living seafaring heritage, she added.
Another major highlight Saturday was hearing the stories associated with Mauloa, particularly how the vessel came to be, and meeting her builders who later created Na Kalai Waa.
Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society had long dreamed about using only native materials to build a traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe. He envisioned something vastly different from Hokulea, a modern fiberglass canoe that proved indigenous peoples indeed deliberately explored and colonized Pacific islands using ancient seafaring skills, said Tava Teikiheepo, a Kona resident who’s a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Na Kalai Waa.
Building such a big canoe proved to be an impossible task in the early 1990s when native trees, large enough for the hulls, could not be found in Hawaii’s forests. Numerous teams of crew members from around the world, paniolo, forest managers, kupuna, hunters and volunteers walked over hundreds of miles looking for the perfect tree. Teikiheepo said he spent many weekends with Thompson searching the remains of the Big Island’s once-dense koa forests.
After months of searching and years of planning, the society turned to tribes in Alaska for help. They were gifted massive spruce trees. These trees, along with drift logs from the Pacific Northwest, native koa and ohia wood, were ultimately used to create the 57-foot Hawaiiloa, Teikiheepo said.
It was from this effort that Mauloa, a smaller sailing canoe, was born. The crew members and others from the Big Island who helped search for a tree for Hawaiiloa remained determined to produce a canoe using native materials, as well as traditional practices, tools and techniques, Teikiheepo said.
A tree was found in the Keauhou Forest in Ka’u, donated by Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools and felled slowly, with the proper protocols, prayers and chants. The 26-foot Mauloa was built at Honaunau by a group of apprentices. They were trained and guided by Mau Piailug, a master canoe builder and navigator schooled in traditional Micronesian wayfinding. He was the first navigator on Hokulea, Teikiheepo said.
Participants learned how to carve a koa log for the hull. The main construction tool is the stone adze, which they created with stone found on Mauna Kea. They weaved coconut fibers to make sennit, made water-tight caulking out of breadfruit tree sap, used kukui nut oil for the canoe’s finish and wove a 110-square-foot lauhala sail.
The construction, which began in 1992 and ended a year later, was a cooperative project of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, National Park Service, Bishop Museum’s Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program, the Hawaii Maritime Center and Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate. Teikiheepo was Piailug’s contracted assistant.
Waimea resident Maulili Dickson belongs to Na Kalai Waa and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. He said Saturday’s celebration is important because it’s a chance to expand the canoe ohana and get more of the community involved, as well as share the valuable knowledge and practices that were gifted to them.
Dickson spoke about the importance of training the next generation of voyagers. He also excitedly shared Na Kalai Waa’s plans to launch canoes again at Kahaluu Bay and offer regular educational programs there.
For more information, visit nakalaiwaa.org or hokulea.org.