The traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule`a docked at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria on Sunday, greeted by local hula dancers, traditional musicians, regional indigenous tribesmen, and curious passersby like myself. Erected canopies toppled in the same wind that set the U.S. and Hawaiian flags on the boat to snapping. A tent selling New Zealand-style lunch pies did a brisk trade. Audience members wove through each other, changing vantage points, greeting friends, and murmuring “mahalo” as they ducked past their peers. Hokule`a is on the Malama Honua world tour.
Hokule`a, the boat, is named for Hokule`a, the “Star of Gladness,” known as Arcturus in English astronomy. Hokule`a sailed the main routes of the Polynesian triangle, bounded by Hawaii, New Zealand, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in six major voyages between 1975 and 2000. The crew charted those courses with traditional navigation techniques and the trips inspired increased interest in and dedication to traditional Hawaiian culture. Hokule`a’s current epic journey subtly encourages other indigenous cultures to value their own histories. Before the public welcoming ceremony in Old Town, Hokule`a docked at the tribal lands of local Native Americans, honoring the first peoples of the canoe’s latest port.
Nainoa Thompson is the current chief wayfinder of Hokule`a. Back in 1976, he managed to convince Mau Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia, to teach him traditional Polynesian navigating techniques despite their differing ancestry.
In its most basic translation, Malama Honua means “to care for our Island Earth,” but the deeper meaning encompasses broader notions of sustainable environmental stewardship. These ideas include ways of monitoring all natural resources as if they were truly limited, like they are for one living on an island (or out of a canoe).
I left Sunday’s festivities with a smile, a new appreciation for Hawaiian culture, and a renewed commitment to compost. That last especially seems a reductive interpretation of Malama Honua… but surely, every little bit counts.
Hokule`a is in Washington, D.C. for a week! Head out to the Washington Canoe Club (3700 Water Street, NW, C&O Canal National Historic Park, across the canal from Georgetown University) on May 20th from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., May 21st from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m., or May 23 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for tours of the Hokule`a and conversation with crewmembers.
This Thursday, May 19th, attend the “Navigating by the Stars” lecture at the National Air & Space Museum at 10:30 a.m. Hokule`a navigates the oceans by interpreting the stars and signs from waves, birds, and other elements of nature.
The National Museum of the American Indian is holding events throughout the end of May celebrating Hokule`a and the Malama Honua journey. Check out their calendar here.
Chief navigator Nainoa Thompson is giving a lecture on Monday, May 23rd at 11 a.m. in Bethesda at the National Institutes of Health, hosted by the National Library of Medicine. Members of the public are advised to arrive at 10am to allow for time to get through security. “Thompson will discuss the rich history of deep sea voyaging, exploration, and oceanic wayfinding, the indigenous system of orientation and navigation at sea, and the efforts to use these experiences to revitalize Native Hawaiian culture and health. He will explain the symbiotic relationships between land, sea, sky, and people, and their cultural, ecological, and personal health.”
The next stop is New York City. The official welcoming ceremony is Sunday, June 5th at 9 a.m. at North Cove Marina. Check out the Holuwai website for more information on NYC events.