Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

1992 Voyage: Sail to Ra‘iatea

Dennis Kawaharada

Photo below: Sol Kahoohalahala videotaping the Bay and Valley of Tautira, Tahiti

Two days after landing in Pape`ete, Tahiti, on July 15, Hokule`a sailed to the village of Tautira, where the canoe would be tied up at a small harbor for two months, awaiting the continuation of the voyage for education in mid-September.

Tautira is a small town at the end of the paved road on the northeastern end of the island of Tahiti. Its location and character reminds one of Hana, Maui; like Hana, it's far from the island's urban and tourist development and retains a rural and fishing life-style.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society and Hokule`a have a special relationship with Tautira. The canoe first stopped there for festivities in 1976 during a trip around the island Tahiti. Before the 1980 voyage to Tahiti, Puaniho Tauotaha, a canoe-carver from Tautira, made several canoes in Hawai`i and demonstrated the ancient art of canoe carving to interested members of the Voyaging Society. The Maire-nui Canoe Club of Tautira, once the champion of Tahiti, has raced in Hawai`i, and some clubs in Hawai`i have adopted their training and racing techniques. And before sailing back to Hawai`i in 1987, the Hokule`a crew stayed in Tautira waiting for the right winds. The friendships established have lasted over the years. (For more on Tautira, see Sam Low's "Tautira: Hokule'a's Home in Tahiti" and "The Old Men of Tautira").

On September 19, 1992, a new crew under Kapena Billy Richards arrived in Tautira to continue the Voyage of Education. The crew was divided into three groups, and each group was hosted by a family-Puaniho and Mahine Tauotaha; Terevaura and Octaze Tihoni; and Robert and Mary Wahler. Tautira mayor Sonny Matehau and his family provided breakfast and dinner for the crew each day.

After a week-and-a-half of preparation , minor repairs, and provisioning, Hokule`a departed from Tautira for the island of Huahine on the morning of September 10. A few days earlier a stone statue had been placed on the shore of Tautira Bay to commemorate a marae named Taputapuatea that once existed nearby, an offshoot of the marae in Ra`iatea, where Hokule`a would head after Huahine. Town people and schoolchildren gathered around the stone god to bid farewell to the canoe with songs and dances. After last hugs and exchanges of gifts, Hokule`a set sail with a light southeast tradewind at its stern. Huahine lay about 150 miles to the northwest.

On this sail, the canoe was guided for the first time by apprentice navigator Keahi Omai (left, on board the canoe Eala). He backsighted on the peak of Maire-nui in Tautira for most of the day, keeping it dead astern. As evening fell the stars Hokule`a (Arcturus) and Hikianalia (Spica), setting ahead of the canoe, provided clues to direction. Later, Ka-maile-mua and Ka-maile-hope (Alpha and Beta Centauri) setting on the port beam were guides. Because the night sky was often cloudy, the steersmen also used the ocean swells to orient the canoe, two swells from the northeast and one from the southeast rolling under the canoe from stern to bow. For confirmation of the canoe's heading, `Omai waited for the appearance of the constellation Iwakeli`i, or Cassiopeia, which he expected to rise off the starboard beam before midnight. The appearance of this constellation confirmed his course. After midnight, a whole set of navigation stars called Ke Ka o Makali`i ("The Canoe Bailer of Makali`i") rose in the east behind the canoe. While these stars were rising, `Omai sighted Huahine faintly lit by moonlight in the direction pointed out by sailmaster Nainoa Thompson. Before sunrise, he also sighted in the light refracted over the eastern horizon the outline of the island of Tahiti, which had already disappeared from view.

In the morning, the green hills of Huahine appeared dead ahead of the canoe. (The excitement of landfall was tempered by a radio report that Hurricane Iniki was heading for Kaua`i.)

As the canoe approached the harbor of Fare, it was greeted by four six-man racing canoes and a motorized double-hulled canoe. The canoe anchored off the Bali Hai Hotel, near the site where, in 1979, Bishop Museum Archaeologist Yoshihiko Sinoto found the remains of an ancient voyaging canoe-two 23-foot planks from the hull, a 12-foot steering paddle with a six-foot blade, and a 36-foot mast. These remains were embedded and preserved in the swampy land overgrown with hau trees and rushes near the hotel. The canoe parts were dated between 850-1000 A.D.

Dr. Sinoto and his staff are currently working on Huahine to restore the Mata`ire`a Hill Complex at Maeva on the north end of the island, an area where the chiefs of Huahine lived along the fish-rich lagoon and in the fertile uplands. Unlike on most islands in Polynesia, where the chiefs lived in separate valleys or districts, the chiefs of Huahine lived together in one area after the island was unified under one ali`i family. At Maeva are concentrated dozens of closely situated marae, house foundations, burial platforms, and agricultural terraces. The mile-long trail through the complex begins at a wall where the people of Huahine resisted the French marines who landed on the island in l846. The trail goes past the Marae Mata`ire`a-rahi, an ancient community marae shaded by a huge sacred banyan tree. The trail culminates at the Marae Paepae Ofata, built on a dry, fern-covered hillside with a spectacular view of the lagoon and its fish runs, the coconut-tree lined shore and offshore island, and in the distance, Huahine-iti, the southern half of the island.

Hokule`a left Huahine before dawn on September 16. Its next stop was the marae of Taputapuatea in the district of Opoa on the southeastern end of the island of Ra`iatea. Ra`iatea is eighteen miles east of Huahine, easily seen across a channel, with the downwind islands of Taha`a and Borabora beyond Ra`iatea to the northwest.

Ra`iatea, anciently called Havai`i, is considered the homeland of central Polynesian ali`i culture and a major center of Polynesian religion and learning. On this island in the district of Opoa, Peter Buck tells us, "The priests"gathered the warp of myth and the weft of history together and wove them into the textile of theology." The general pattern of Polynesian religion was developed there, with a Sky father (Atea or Wakea) and an Earth mother (Papa) giving birth to children who had special functions: Tane, or Kane, forestry and craftsmanship; Tu or Ku, war; Ro`o, or Lono, peace and agriculture; Ta`aroa, or Kanaloa, marine affairs and fishing; and Ra`a, or La`a, wind and weather. In the district of Opoa, houses of learning were established, where scholars could study religion, genealogies, heraldry, and oratory, as well as astronomy, geography, and navigation.

From this island in central Polynesia, the pattern of ali`i culture was carried abroad on voyaging canoes by adventurers, conquerors, and colonizers- west to the Cook Islands and Aotearoa; south to the Austral Islands and Rapa; east to the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, and Rapanui, or Easter Island; and north to Hawai`i. Laniakea on O`ahu's north shore is the Hawaiian form of Ra`iatea; at Laniakea was a heiau named Kapukapuatea, which was a navigation heiau, like the marae of Taputapuatea in Ra`iatea; at Poka`i Bay in Wai`anae is Ku`ilioloa heiau, also associated with navigation and built by the same priest who built Kapukapuatea. Perhaps Kapukapuatea in Laniakea was founded with a stone taken from the marae of Taputapuatea in Ra`iatea, as was the custom. Since Kapukapuatea no longer exists, a stone from Ku`ilioloa in Wai`anae was carried on board Hokule`a in 1992, as a gift for the return home.

The district of Opoa in Ra`iatea eventually became the center for the worship of the war god `Oro. `Oro, son of Ta`aroa, or Kanaloa, is said to have been born in Opoa. The marae of Taputapuatea became dedicated to him. Human sacrifices, first made to Ta`aroa to free the island from a severe drought, increased when the more demanding god `Oro began to be worshiped.

The cult of `Oro spread to other islands of the region, sometimes through peaceful persuasion, but more often through conquest. An international alliance eventually formed in the region, and its meeting place for religious observances and political deliberations was Taputapuatea. From the eastern and southern islands, called Te Ao-uri, or "Blue-green lands," came canoes from Huahine, Tahiti, Mai`ao, and the Austral islands; from the western islands, called Te Ao-tea, the "White lands," came canoes from Rotuma, Taha`a, Porapora, Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and Aotearoa, or New Zealand. On an appointed day, the canoes entered the sacred pass of Te Ava Moa in double file, the canoes of the blue-green lands from the south and the canoes of the white lands from the north.

One of the meanings of "Tapu-tapu-atea" is "Sacrifices from abroad." On the deck of each canoe were offerings to `Oro, including human sacrifices, laid out alternately with ulua, shark, and turtle. The canoes were brought ashore using human corpses as rollers. On shore, the human sacrifices were drilled through the head and hung by sennit from the trees while the gods of each of the islands were brought into the inner sanctum, where an image of `Oro was kept-a figure woven of sennit covered with red and yellow feathers and wearing a girdle of red feathers; then the most sacred of all the rites took place, the pai-atua, or assembly of the gods. During these sacred rites, kapu were enforced.

According to oral traditions, the people who settled the other Society islands, and who migrated to other islands like Hawai`i, had fled Ra`iatea because of the oppressive, tyrannous rule of the priests of `Oro. One story recounts a tragedy brought about by this tyrannous rule. Kapu were imposed on the the district of Opoa in preparation for a ceremony for `Oro worship: no cock could crow, no dog bark; no person or pig could leave its dwellings. The wind died off and the sea grew calm. However, a young girl named Tere-he went bathing in a river. The gods drowned her for breaking the kapu. A giant eel swallowed her and was possessed by her soul. The angry eel tore up the land between the two islands and swam off. This gigantic fish swam to the east and became the windward island of Tahiti; its back fin formed the mountain of Orohena, which dominates the western end of Tahiti. Another fin fell off and became the island of Mo`orea. Other bits of the fish became the islands of Meti`a, Te Tiaroa, and Mai`ao-iti. According to Peter Buck, each of these bits of fish in the story represents a group of people fleeing the oppression of `Oro.

Eventually, the international alliance centering on `Oro worship at Taputapuatea fell apart in bloodshed. The priest of the white lands to the west was slain by a high chief of the blue-green lands to the south and east. The priest of the blue-green lands was struck down in retaliation, and the two sides parted, never again to reconvene their meetings at the marae.

According to the traditions of the cultural group Pupu Arioi, the last canoe to leave Taputapuatea was Hotu Te Nui. It sailed to Hawai`i and left behind a kapu on the sacred pass. Since that time-centuries ago-all the canoes from Mo`orea which had tried to sail to the marae had failed to reach their destination. The Pupu Arioi believed that only when a canoe from Hawai`i returned to the marae through the sacred pass could the kapu be lifted. The group conveyed this message to the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

When Hokule`a first visited Tahiti in 1976, the crew took the canoe to Taputapuatea to pay homage to the voyagers who had set forth from there during the great migrations of the 12th to 14th century. However, Hokule`a came to the marae through the shipping channel near the port town of Uturoa rather than through Te Ava Moa, "The Sacred Pass," through which the ancient canoes traditionally came to the marae.

In 1985, on the Voyage of Rediscovery, Hokule`a lifted the kapu which prevented the Mo`orea canoes from reaching Taputapuatea. After a fire- walking ceremony for purification and other ceremonies on the island of Mo`orea, Hokule`a sailed under Navigator Nainoa Thompson and Captain Gordon Pi`ianai`a to Ra`iatea. A rainbow appeared ahead of the canoe, and the canoe glided toward the center of the rainbow, as if guiding itself, as it sometimes does when the wind is on its beam. The steering paddle was taken out of the water and tied down. Eventually Ra`iatea appeared beneath the rainbow. Crew member John Kruse reported everyone got "chicken skin." When the crew landed, the people of Ra`iatea greeted the returning descendants with song.

In the early morning on September 16, 1992, Hokule`a left Huahine for Ra`iatea to participate in a ceremony planned at Taputapuatea. Because the winds were light, the canoe was towed across the channel by its escort boat Kamahele. As the canoe approached Ra`iatea, which was misted in rain and under layers of dark grey rainclouds, a rainbow arched above the sacred pass. From offshore, the crew sighted an `iwa, or frigate bird, the shadow of `Oro, soaring above the marae. Na`ia (dolphins), honu ( turtles), and mano (sharks) were also sighted as the canoe approached land. All of these were signs of a reconciliation to take place. On board Hokule`a were Hawaiians and Tahitians, descendants of some of the Ra`iateans who had fled the oppression of `Oro 500 years earlier; also on board were Cook Islanders and Maoris, descendants of the people whose priest had been slain at Taputapuatea. Hokule`a was paddled through Te Ava Moa. The crew landed and was challenged, then greeted by the Ra`iateans after the good will of the visitors was established. As the crew marched toward the marae past the nine-foot high stone of chiefly investiture, a heavy downpour began. One observer pointed out a stone called the queen, and another one known as the bird. "The queen," she said, "has not spoken since the ancient navigators deserted Taputapuatea. Today she is weeping tears of joy because they have returned. Her tears are washing away the kapu that have kept us from the marae. Now the bird is flying out through the sacred pass to spread the word to all the people of Polynesia."

For some of the visitors and hosts, a prophecy was fulfilled: according to oral tradition, the kapu imposed when the last canoe of people fled the marae 500 year ago could only be lifted when the descendants of those who had fled returned in search of knowledge and for peaceful and spiritual purposes. Now that the descendants were returning, the people of Ra`iatea who had been silenced by the kapu and who were spiritually asleep were reawakened. The heavy downpour seemed to signify that the ancient period of human sacrifice, which had begun with the attempt to persuade the god Ta`aroa to end a severe drought, was coming to a final closure.

Hokule`a's Kapena in the Society Islands was Billy Richards (right, photo by Anne Kapulani Landgraf), a crew member on the canoe's first voyage to Tahiti in 1976. During that historic voyage he and other Hawaiians came into conflict with the haole crew members. The conflict stemmed from two very different views of the voyage: for the haole, the voyage was a scientific experiment to learn the techniques by which Polynesians had explored and settled the Pacific; for the Hawaiians, the voyage was an highly emotional journey toward cultural reawakening. The crew's frustrations in preparing for Hokule`a's first long voyage, and the hardships and inequities during that voyage aggravated their differences. After landfall, both sides vented their frustration and anger, which eventually erupted in physical hostilities on board the canoe.Richards was portrayed as one of the instigators of the clash, so although he had been chosen as the Kahu of the canoe prior to its departure from Hawai`i, he was not allowed to sail on Hokule`a when it first visited Taputapuatea in the summer of 1976. Instead, Richards was brought to the marae by a man from Huahine who had been hanai to his family. Richards participated in the ceremony at Taputapuatea first by making sure that everything was pono with the spirit of the marae, and then by reciting the names of his fellow crew members, for he was also there to represent them.

Kapena Richards saw the sail from Tautira to Taputapuatea in 1992 as the closing of a circle-the completion of his 1976 voyage. The anger was gone. In 1985, he had sailed as a watch captain on Hokule`a from Rarotonga to Aotearoa with Dr. Ben Finney, one of the targets of his anger in 1976. Although some were concerned he still felt hostility toward Finney, Richards assured them that he had already made things right through self ho`oponopono.

As the rain poured down on the marae of Taputapuatea, Kapena Richards saw a cleansing occurring; the rain was washing into the purifying sea the centuries-old blood of past human sacrifice, like the cleansing that had already taken place within himself.

The crew of Hokule`a arriving at Taputapuatea in 1992 brought the gift of a drum, fashioned by Keone Nunes of Wai`anae from a coconut trunk, the drumhead lashed on in the traditional style. The drum, called "Poki`i," "younger brother or sister," was a descendant of the drum introduced to Hawai`i centuries ago by La`a-mai-kahiki, son (or foster son) of Mo`ikeha, who was from Ra`iatea (or from the northwest region of Tahiti ruled by the `Oropa`a or `Olopana clan).

The Kamehemeha Schools dancers who performed at Taputapuatea under the direction of Randie Fong and Kalena Silva performed hula to the pahu drum as a tribute to the Tahitians who had introduced the drum and hula to Hawai`i. The performance was another connection in the cycle of the return of the descendants to the ancestral homeland. In Tahiti, the drumbeat represents the heartbeat of the land and the people of Tahiti.

In 1929, during a Bishop Museum expedition, Anthropologist Peter Buck visited the marae of Taputapuatea. There among the ruins he lamented the loss of the Polynesian spirit: "I had made my pilgrimage to Taputapu-atea, but the dead could not speak to me. It was sad to the verge of tears. I felt a profound regret, a regret for-I know not what. Was it for the beating of the temple drum or the shouting of the populace as the king was raised on high? Was it for the human sacrifices of olden times? It was for none of these individually but for something at the back of them all, some living spirit and divine courage that existed in ancient times and of which Taputapu-atea was a mute symbol. It was something that we Polynesians have lost and cannot find, something that we yearn for and cannot recreate. The background in which that spirit was engendered has changed beyond recovery. The bleak wind of oblivion had swept over Opoa."

On the morning of September 17, 1992, over sixty years after Buck's visit, a meeting of navigators, the first in over 500 years, took place in the cafeteria of the community center at Opoa, where the crew was housed.

Four navigators from Hawai`i, seven from the Cook Islands, and one from New Zealand discussed their sail plans and course strategies for voyages they were about to make, or had already made. It was a final class in navigation and a rite of initiation for those embarking on their first voyages. The meeting was presided over by navigator Nainoa Thompson; also in attendance was his teacher Mau Piailug, the master navigator from Satawal in Micronesia. The meeting was a way of showing Piailug that his knowledge of wayfinding was being passed on to others, that this knowledge, once planted by his teaching, had taken root, branched, leafed, flowered, and was now bearing fruit. Taputapuatea, which could mean "sacredness radiating outward," had once again become a place of learning. After spending 17 years recovering the ancient knowledge of voyaging and navigating, Thompson had begun to recreate what the anthropologist Buck had lamented was lost forever-the "living spirit and divine courage that existed in ancient times."

CREW MEMBERS (As of August, 1992): TAUTIRA - HUAHINE 1992

Nainoa Thompson, Sailmaster; Chad Baybayan, Navigator; Keahi Omai, Navigator; Billy Richards, Captain; Gilbert Ane; John Eddy, Film Documentation; Tiger Espera; Brickwood Galuteria, Communications; Harry Ho; Sol Kahoohalahala; Dennis Kawaharada, Communications; Reggie Keaunui; Keone Nunes, Oral Historian; Eric Martinson; Nalani Minton, Traditional Medicine; Esther Mookini, Hawaiian Language; Mel Paoa; Cliff Watson, Film Documentation; Nathan Wong, M.D.