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East Meets West: Hokule‘a Sails Up the East Coast

This is the fifth installment in a series documenting the historic undertaking of the three-year voyage of Hōkūle‘a, a full-scale replica of a wa‘a kaulua (Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe) around the world by the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Cultural Survival has been blessed by the arrival of Hōkūle‘a on the shores of Boston, our home base, in July. From the time I left Hōkūle‘a in Cape Town, South Africa until she has arrived here, much has transpired. Hōkūle‘a crossed the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Brazil, continued along South America and through the Caribbean, and made a historic landing in once off-limits Cuba, a first for a Hawaiian voyaging canoe.

Each stop up the eastern coast of the United States was a first time experience for the crew, who were greeted by the Indigenous Peoples and local residents. These ports included Florida’s Kennedy Space Center; Washington, D.C.; the United Nations in New York; Block Island, Rhode Island; Mystic Seaport, Connecticut; Martha’s Vineyard, Woods Hole, New Bedford, Boston, and Salem, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Hurricane Island and Mt. Desert, Maine; and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, among many others.

At each port, local Indigenous tribal elders were sought out so that the crew could ask permission to enter the ancestral lands of these tribes, as is the custom of our Hawaiian people. Once permission has been granted and we are welcomed, we continue the formal ceremonies with a cultural exchange, and once that is done, we share food. Of my many experiences aboard the deck of the canoe, from swimming in crystal clear lagoons to enduring open ocean storms to sailing under a cloak of stars on a cloudless night, my favorite experience has been the greeting ceremonies at each port; a chance to meet as culturally diverse individuals and leave as family, as brothers and sisters, of our island Earth.

“The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) was truly honored to welcome the crew of the Hokule’a to our Island. Through sharing song, dance, and our traditional foods, our time spent with the Hokule’a and her crew was a cultural event that will not ever be forgotten. They are now woven into our collective oral history and we are proud to be part of their Hokule’a family,” said Bettina Washington, the Tribe’s historian.

Jonathan Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag) was one of the local leaders who met the crew on Martha’s Vineyard. “We really appreciated the crew’s accordance with traditional protocols and being acknowledged,” he said. Weeks prior to Hōkūle‘a’s arrival, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe sent a strand of wampum to the crew as an official invitation and permission to enter their territory. “To show due respect to her voyage and message, we burned out a traditional ocean-going mush8n (pronounced mu-shoon) on our tribal lands,” Washington said.

Members of the Wampanoag Nation paddled out to meet the voyagers, as the proper way to greet a traditional canoe is with another one. The canoe builders were able to launch it only the day before Hōkūle‘a arrived, and paddled out to greet the crew after just a few minutes of paddling practice. “This was the first time in 300 years that we made a beaked open ocean canoe. Its beaked shape allows it to go into deeper and rougher waters,” said Perry.

Soon Hōkūle‘a will make its way south and continue through the Panama canal, making its way to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Tahiti, and home to Hawai’i in the summer of 2017. And we, the crew, the people of Hawai’i, those who came to visit and make a connection from every corner of the voyage, will celebrate her voyage around the world through song, chant, dance, and story for generations to come. E ola Hōkūle‘a, may the legacy of Hōkūle‘a live on!

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 Photos by Justyn Ah Chong/PVS

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