Scores of Big Island residents and visitors alike descended upon Kawaihae on Saturday feting the birth of Makalii, a third Hawaiian voyaging canoe launched from the South Kohala shoreline some 18 years ago.
Charley Erck, of Holualoa, came specifically to the Malama Makalii Ocean Festival to experience Makalii in all of her glory. After swimming alongside her hulls in the calm waters at Kawaihae, Erck said he felt “connected” to the vessel.
“It was so awesome, so special,” he said just after climbing out of the water. “I always wanted a chance to visit, to see, Makalii, and, now, I got a good feel for it.”
Makalii, which follows the voyaging canoes Hokulea and Hawaiiloa, was “born” at Kawaihae on Saturday, Feb. 4, 1995. The educational canoe’s maiden voyage took her to Taputapuatea, Raiatea, in Tahiti, and Nukuhiva in the Marquesas Islands.
“Makalii is a catalyst. It’s a piko. It’s a means by which we can practice every tradition we ever thought we knew about the canoe,” said Pua Case, kumu of Halau Hula Kealaonamaupua and Makalii Ohana member. “The canoe (has its ties) from the mountain to the sea and everywhere in between.”
Hundreds of people of all ages attended the free festival held near Pelekane Bay. The drug-and-alcohol free event was hosted by Na Kalai Waa and the Makalii Ohana. It was sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Na Pua Noeau: Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children, and the Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
The event, now in its second year, provides a gathering place for Big Island communities where awareness can be raised about the Makalii educational and voyaging canoe and the importance of stewardship and caring for the ocean, said Lehua Ah Sam of Na Kalai Waa. It also raises awareness for ocean access rights.
Na Kalai Waa, a nonprofit organization that conducts community educational programs utilizing Hawaiian voyaging and noninstrument navigation, took part in the building and uses Makalii as its primary classroom. The organization’s programs strive to perpetuate and preserve Hawaiian culture and traditions through education for future generations.
Saturday’s festival featured an array of information booths hosted by various community organizations, as well as activities such as seamanship, knot tying, navigation, safety, lashing, canoe maintenance and dry dock and sailing, among others. Young and old also had the opportunity to either paddle out to board Makalii or jump right in the water and swim to the vessel.
In addition, the event also worked to promote and invite the community to festivities this June to see off Hokulea, which will depart from Hilo, on a lengthy voyage. The double-hull canoe will leave when weather is permitting, said Case.
“You can take part no matter where we are when Hokulea leaves for its four-year voyage,” she told attendees before teaching several chants, or oli, to greet the canoe and open the event.