Not GPS but Stars help the voyaging canoe, Hokule’a to travel the World

To bring back the ancient culture alive, a group of Native Hawaiians and anthropologists built Hokule'a, forty years ago, which was long forgotten

Hokule'a arrival in Honolulu from Tahiti in 1976
Hokule'a arrival in Honolulu from Tahiti in 1976, source: Wikimedia Commons

Hawaii’s famous Canoe, Hokule’a is making a journey engraving its mark on history book pages, traversing the globe by wayfinding. Ancient Polynesian wayfinding technique requires memorizing hundreds of stars from where tey rise and set on the ocean horizon.

“As a navigator, your job is to look at the shape of the ocean,” told Naiona Thompson, the president of Polynesian Voyaging Society to in an interview. “You have to be on your feet and to be able to feel one wave when it comes through from one foot to another. You only know where you are by memorizing where you come from.”

Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe Hokule'a
Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe Hokule’a, Wikimedia Commons

Onboard this east coast leg is a 12 member crew, a mix veteran native Hawaiian navigators and young, lean learners who have taken their time off as pro surfers and educators.

“This floating island is a representation of the values people should have for the islands we all live in — whether that’s Hawaii, the U.S. mainland or Tangier Island. It’s been really interesting to see how people see themselves in that message. They get it.” said Na’alehu Anthony, 36, who is a crew member.

To bring back the ancient culture alive, a group of Native Hawaiians and anthropologists built Hokule’a, forty years ago, which was long forgotten.

At the time, no one knew the celestial navigating technique, no one knew how to build voyaging canoe -for the 600 years, no voyaging canoe has existed. But a man named Mau Piailug in Micronesia, a Wayfinder taught them how to sail by following cues from nature – not only observing the stars but by observing the bird species and observing the direction of the wind.

In 1976, Mau and a group of Native Hawaiians bet their lives that they could travel from Hawaii to Tahiti on a boat without any present day navigational equipment, to prove the theory that the original people who settled on the islands of Hawaii reached there with the intention of discovering the islands and not by accident.

voyaging canoe Hokule’a at Suo Oshima channel, Japan, Wikimedia Commons

After more than a month , the team finally reached its destination. This victory evoked the hope that the Hawaiian culture is still alive. People on the island demanded that the state should start teaching the Hawaiian language in the schools again.

The Hokule’a gave them the identity.

Since 1976, 25 more sea voyaging canoes have been built across 11 countries, more than 180 crew have taken a turn aboard on global trip.

Till now, Hokule’a has traveled 26,000 miles.

“This canoe is a school that’s about relearning the genius of our ancestors, and about our reconnection to our ocean,” said Thompson, one of the crew member, in an interview conducted by “This voyage is not my vision. It’s that of my teachers. I’m just a bridge between them and” — he points to his young crew — “them.”

This voyage would be the last voyage for Thompson and other elder crew members. After that, a new generation of Wayfinders will come onboard and will guide the canoe ahead.

-by Akanksha Sharma

Akanksha Sharma is a student of Journalism and an intern at Newsgram. Twitter @Akanksha4117