With a National Geographic film crew on board, the PVS embarked on its maiden voyage in the purpose-built double canoe in 1976. Hōkūle’a (the same sailboat on which Lehua Kamalu is now captain). On the sea voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti, only the traditional knowledge of Piailug and his students was used. It took the crew 34 days to reach Tahiti, where they were welcomed by a delighted crowd of some 17,000. It had been at least two hundred years – and probably much longer – since a traditional vessel had made this journey.
The successful first sea voyage of the Hōkūle’a heralded a revival of traditional Polynesian nautical art and the beginning of a movement aimed at reviving the historical and cultural heritage of the Pacific, a movement that continues to this day. Nearly half a century later, the PVS has trained thousands of young navigators and seafarers. The association’s work is based on ancestral knowledge, archival research and – in more recent times – learning processes and innovation. The training program is now being followed in numerous Pacific island states, where residents want to learn all about traditional seafaring methods from their past.
“The Polynesian migrations are one of the great stories of man,” says Christina Thompson, author of the book Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia† “It is very important that people all over the world are aware of this fraught and powerful history.”
According to her, the construction of the Hōkūle’a set against the backdrop of a wider movement in the 1970s to decolonize the island nations of the Pacific and restore their traditions. The trips of the double canoe mainly took place in the context of a revival of interest in the Hawaiian language and history. ‘It is a story of power and achievement, of success and incredible achievement. That is what this form of navigation symbolizes.’
Respect for the sea
“I can see the point now,” Kamalu said, barely audible due to the wind. “It’s rising beyond the horizon.” We had little time left to talk. Shortly afterwards, the Hōkūle’a reach the departure point of the ancestral sea route between Hawaii and Tahiti, a point marked by a combination of trade winds and ocean currents – the so-called ocean ‘entry and exit ramps’. According to seafarers, they make the journey quite pleasant, provided you have a good understanding of your position.