Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Hawai‘iloa’s Northwest-Alaska Journey / May-July 1995

Photo Below: Hawai‘iloa Sailing in the Icy Strait, Alaska

In May-July 1995, the voyaging canoe Hawai‘iloa journeyed from Seattle, Washington to Juneau, Alaska. It participated in cultural and educational exchanges in Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., and Juneau, as well as numerous nat ive American and Canadian towns and villages along the way. The canoe stopped at Hollis on Prince of Wales Island, west of Ketchikan, Alaska, where the two Sitka spruce trees used for its hulls originally came from. The logs were donated by Sealaska, a na tive corporation owned by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tshimshian tribes, to the people of Hawai?i for building the canoe.

The mission of the voyage was to express appreciation to SeAlaska and its member tribes for their generous gift. We hope to bring pride and honor to the peoples of Alaska by showing them that their Sitka spruce logs have a new life in assisting us to recover our voyaging traditions.

On this journey, the Polynesian Voyaging Society planned to:

--Participate in cultural exchanges with native peoples, particularly with those who depended on ocean and forest resources and canoes for survival. Events will include the traditional welcoming of the canoe at each village; potlatches; and singing and dancing performances.

--Share information and educational materials on the values, practices, and arts (including canoe building) that enabled the first peoples of the Pacific and the Pacific Northwest to survive successfully in their environments for centuries and to insure the health and productivity of their lands and seas for future generations. Slide shows and canoe tours will be conducted by crew members.

--Document the journey to educate students and the public in Hawai'i and nationwide about how native peoples in different part of the world are facing similar cultural and environmental challenges and what steps they are taking to meet these challenges.

The Voyaging Canoe "Hawai'iloa"

On July 24, 1993, a beautiful new Hawaiian voyaging canoe was launched at Pier 36 in Honolulu Harbor. The canoe, named Hawai'iloa, took two years to build. At first, the plan had been to build the canoe out of indigenous materials of Hawai'i in an effort to recover ancient canoe building arts; the hulls were to be carved from koa logs. However, after a nine-month search in 1989-90, it was discovered that the forests of Hawai'i no longer had koa trees large enough for the hulls of a voyaging canoe. Over the years, the forests had been cut down for lumber and to clear land for cattle ranching.

When the Sealaska Corporation, owned by the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian tribes of Southeast Alaksa, heard of Hawai'i's need for logs to build a traditional voyaging canoe, they donated two Sitka spruce trees. The 200-foot tall trees, seven feet in diameter, were found on Shelikof Island in Soda Bay, Prince of Wales Island, west of Ketchikan, Alaska. The two trees were over 400 years old.

Traditionally, Hawaiians used drift logs from the Pacific Northwest to make canoes. Menzies, a surgeon and naturalist accompanying Captain George Vancouver to Hawai'i, reported in 1793: "the largest single canoe we had seen amongst these islands [was] about sixty feet long and made of one piece of the trunk of a pine tree which had drifted on shore on the east end of the island of Kaua'i a few years back" The Hawaiians considered these logs gifts from their gods. The two 66-foot, 25 ton spruce logs for Hawai'iloa came by ship rather than on the ocean currents. The gift highlighted the possibility and the need for native peoples to work together in their efforts to maintain their cultural traditions in the modern world.