The Story of Hōkūleʻa, Hawaii’s historic sailing canoe.

Sep 9, 2019 | General Information

Hōkūleʻa — Star of Gladness – has a unique and inspirational place in Hawaii’s history. Double-hulled sailing canoes brought the first Polynesians to Hawaii. They were last seen more than 600 years ago. With their disappearance, native Hawaiians felt the ominous threat of their own cultural extinction. Then artist and native Hawaiian descendent Herb Kane had a brilliant idea: revive the Polynesian legacy of exploration and discovery by rebuilding a sailing canoe similar to the ones that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaii.

First built and launched in the 1970s, Hōkūle’a brought people in Hawaii together from all walks of life. More than just a legendary voyaging canoe, Hōkūle’a represented the desire, shared by people in Hawaii and everywhere else, to protect and reinforce their most cherished values.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society had to find a traditional navigator for the canoe voyage to Tahiti. None existed in Hawaii. They found Mau Piailug , a navigator from a small island called Satawal, in Micronesia. He agreed to come to Hawaii and guide Hōkūle‘a to Tahiti. Without him, the voyage would never have taken place. The Hōkūle‘a’s first voyage to Tahiti was in 1976. It was a great success. When Hōkūle‘a arrived at the beach in Tahiti’s Pape‘ete Harbor, over half the island’s people were there to greet it.

In 1978 the Hōkūle‘a set out again for Tahiti. The heavily loaded canoe capsized in stormy seas off of Molokai. The next day, crew member Eddie Aikau left on a surfboard to get help. Tragically Eddie was lost at sea ,but the crew was rescued. Eddie’s courage kept a Hōkūle‘a voyage to Tahiti and its heritage alive. In 1979, Mau returned to Hawaii to train Nainoa Thompson to navigate Hōkūle‘a. In 1980, Nainoa not only replicated Mau’s 1976 voyage, he also navigated the Hōkūle‘a from Tahiti back to Hawai’i and Mau sailed both to and from Tahiti to support Nainoa.

After the first two voyages to Tahiti, the Hōkūle‘a continued to sail. The next voyages included a two-year voyage to Aotearoa Ow Tay a row a (1985-1987) and, years later, in 1999, a voyage to Rapa Nui. Rapa Nui is one of the most isolated islands on the planet, located at the far southeastern corner of the Polynesian Triangle. Each of these voyages over a period of 25 years yielded new revelations about how native Hawaiian ancestors navigated the open ocean and discovered and settled both Hawaii and Polynesia.