Voyaging into Polynesia's Past
[The following account of the 1985-87 voyage to Aotearoa and back is by Ben Finney, crew member, scholar, and one of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. The account was originally published in "Voyaging into Polynesia's Past" in From Sea to Space (Palmerston North: Massey University, 1992. 5-65). Other parts of this article are on line: The Founding of the Polynesian Voyaging Society; Hawai'i to Tahiti and Return: 1976; Hawai'i to Tahiti and Return: 1980; Voyage of Rediscovery: 1985-87. Finney's account of the 1995 Voyage to Ra'iatea and Nukuhiva, Sin at Awarua, is also online].
At this point, having replicated the first voyage, having extended the experiment by navigating both ways without instruments, and having demonstrated that modern Hawaiians could re-learn ancestral nautical skills so well, Nainoa and the others who had sailed Hokule'a could have relaxed, and gone back to work or returned to their studies secure in the feeling that they had made their contribution. But, they found that they could not simply rest on their laurels. Like so many of their ancestors, they could not be content with voyaging over just one route. Sailing to Tahiti and had awakened their desire to sail to yet more centers of the dispersed Polynesian nation. They began talking of a third voyage, one that would take the canoe beyond Tahiti to Aotearoa, and then back again, calling on many islands and archipelagos on the way. Again the motivation was dual: they wanted to learn more about sailing and navigational problems throughout Polynesia, and at the same time extend their own sailing experience, and the cultural message of Hokule'a, beyond Hawai'i and Tahiti. Hence, this was to be a "Voyage of Rediscovery" both in terms of research and cultural revival.
In July 1985 the canoe left Hawai'i for Tahiti, Ra'iatea and Borabora in the Society Islands. From there Hokule'a sailed to the Cook Islands, and then far to the southwest to Aotearoa. After spending the winter there, the canoe sailed north to Tonga and Samoa, then east back to the Cooks and Tahiti. After a long layover in Tahiti, Hokule'a crossed first to Rangiroa Atoll in the Tuamotus, then headed back to Hawai'i to complete the two-year, 12,000 mile voyage of scientific and cultural rediscovery.
In ranging over so much of Polynesia during this long voyage, Hokule'a sailed over many of the main seaways of migration and post-settlement voyaging celebrated in Polynesian legends, giving us the opportunity to learn much about a range of practical problems and issues such as how to use seasonal winds to sail against the prevailing wind direction, how traditional accounts may contain the key for timing difficult passages so as to be able to sail before favorable winds, and how it is possible to sail over thousands of miles through unexpected calms, wind shifts and other disturbances and still reach an island destination. These lessons can be illustrated by brief accounts of three of the most important segments of the voyage: the crossing from Samoa to Tahiti, that from Rarotonga to Aotearoa and the first and last legs of the voyage which together comprised the third round-trip we have made between Hawai'i and Tahiti.
Although the Samoa to Tahiti crossing was undertaken mid-way during the voyage, it merits attention first because it retraced the first step taken in the spread of the early Polynesians within the Polynesian triangle, that of moving eastwards from the Polynesian homeland at the western edge of the triangle to the archipelagos to the east.
Sailing From West to East Across Polynesia
The first two voyages of Hokule'a made between Hawai'i and Tahiti effectively demonstrated how false Sharp's arbitrary limits on intentional voyaging had been. But, they did not directly bear upon the thesis so central to Heyerdahl's theory of the American origin of the Polynesians. Heyerdahl had claimed that the islands could not have been colonized from the west because the trade winds blowing from east to west across the ocean, and accompanying ocean currents, would have prevented canoe voyagers from sailing directly eastward into the Pacific from the western side of the ocean to spread across Polynesia. By sailing north and south between Hawai'i and Tahiti across the easterly trade wind and current flow we may have demolished Sharp's 1imtations on the range of intentional voyaging, but we had done nothing to demonstrate how it would be possible to sail a canoe eastward across the Pacific against the direction of the trade winds and accompanying currents.
After reaching Aotearoa, we headed north to Samoa in order to position the canoe to sail from there to the Southern Cooks and then on to Tahiti, a crossing which would replicate--in direction if not exact routing--a migrational voyage eastwards from West Polynesia to the center of East Polynesia. Tahiti lies more than 1,200 miles east-southeast of Samoa, upwind with reference to the trade winds which in this part of the Pacific generally blow from between east and southeast. We did not intend, however, to try and tack against the trades to reach Tahiti. Our experiments in sailing to windward had shown how difficult that would have been, and, besides, we knew from the literature that Polynesian seafarers had figured out a much easier way to sail to the east.
A double-canoe like Hokule'a can sail to windward, but not as efficiently as a sleek yacht equipped with a deep keel to resist leeway, and with highly efficient sails. Instrumented sailing trials, and the 1976 and 1980 windward crossing from Hawai'i to Tahiti, had shown us that a double-canoe moves most efficiently to windward when it is sailed "full and by," which means holding the canoe far enough off the wind to keep from making too much leeway and from losing the full drive of the sails. Translating this into a resultant course (i.e., after taking into account leeway) measured in relation to the direction of the true wind (not the apparent wind that sweeps across a moving vessel's deck), it can be said that a double-canoe can "make good" at least 75 degrees off the wind and still keep sailing at a fair rate.
This modest windward ability may be adequate for making long slants across and slightly into the trades, such as is required in sailing from Hawai'i to Tahiti, but it means that progress directly to windward would be very slow as long and shallow tacks are made first to one side and then the other of a direct course. Where, for example, a racing yacht that can make short, acutely-angled tacks to windward only has to tack about 1.4 miles to make good one mile directly to windward, a double-canoe has to tack 3.9 miles to reach the same point. This means that a 1,000 mile voyage made tacking directly against the wind would require a canoe to sail almost 4,000 miles, a figure that can increase steeply if a canoe also has to fight a strong current flowing in the same direction as the wind. Clearly, making long passages by sailing directly to windward were to be avoided, particularly for fully loaded migrational canoes on which crew and passengers would be so exposed to the wind and head seas sweeping over the hulls and deck.
But the issue is not how well Polynesians could sail to windward. No sailor, not even one in a yacht with superlative windward characteristics, wants to beat against the trades and accompanying seas for long distances when he can go where he wants by sailing before the wind. Transoceanic sailors have always sought our favorable winds for crossing the seas. When, for example, Columbus left Spain to sail west across the Atlantic, he first headed southeast to the tropics in order to be able to catch the easterly trade winds for the westward passage. Then, when he wanted to return to Spain, he first worked his way north from the Caribbean to higher latitudes to the zone of mid-latitude westerlies, and then turned east to run before these favorable winds. It could be argued that Polynesian voyagers seeking to sail east might have tried to exploit these mid-latitude westerlies, although the often cold and stormy seas found there would have made survival problematic in their open canoes. But, they had no need to so expose themselves, for they could stay in the warm tropics and utilize westerly wind shifts that occur there periodically.
Heyerdahl not only had the direction of Polynesian settlement wrong, but he attributed a permanence to the trade winds of the South Pacific that does not exist. The error of assuming that trade winds blow constantly, or at least virtually all the time, is common. Globes and maps showing wind arrows curving from east to west across tropical seas give graphic expression to the apparent steadiness and regularity of these global winds. Yet, while the trades may be among the steadiest of global winds, they nonetheless wax and wane, and in some regions of the South Pacific may die down for weeks and sometimes even months at a time.
While the trade winds in the South Pacific are generally steadiest at the eastern side of the ocean, those in the west are subject to a marked monsoonal alternation. Each summer westerly winds blow with some regularity across the western Pacific, and episodically extend into the eastern Pacific. Meteorologists attribute this monsoonal pattern to the summer heating of the Australian continent which in turn causes the formation of a trough of low pressure extending across northern Australia and eastwards over the ocean. While the winds continue to blow from the east-southeast, trade wind direction on the southerly side of this trough, the winds on the northerly side twist around so that they flow from the northwest into the trough. Figure 7 shows the South Pacific covered by rows of arrows which stand for the mean direction and velocity of surface winds throughout the year. Whereas this year-around summary of wind patterns shows no break from the flow of trade winds from east to west, Figure 8, which shows the pattern prevailing in the mid-summer month of January, clearly indicates how this monsoonal interruption of the trades results in a virtual corridor of westerly winds extending eastwards along the northern shore of New Guinea all the way to Fiji.20
Although this monsoonal alternation of easterlies and westerlies usually becomes greatly attenuated beyond Fiji, episodes of westerly winds lasting anywhere from a few days to a week or so periodically sweep across Polynesia during the Austral summer (Figure 9). Furthermore, as has only been recently discovered by oceanographers and meteorologists, more prolonged episodes of trans-Polynesia westerlies often occur during major El Nino events when the trade winds falter across the South Pacific and the regular westerly wind flow normally confined to the western Pacific extends into Polynesian waters for weeks at a time.21
The corridor of westerlies apparent in Figure 9 coincides closely with the Lapita migration from the Bismarck Archipelago into the mid-Pacific, suggesting that these monsoonal winds probably facilitated this rapid population movement across Melanesia to the edge of Polynesia. The more episodic westerlies characteristic of Polynesian waters are the winds which Tupa'ia told Cook that he and his fellow navigators waited for when they wanted to sail to the east. Although we have no ethnohistorical evidence of the exploitation of more prolonged extensions of westerlies across Polynesia during major El Nino events, it seems likely that Polynesians seeking to sail eastward would have taken to the sea whenever these occurred.
There are problems, however, with using summer westerlies to sail eastward across Polynesia. These seasonal winds are often blustery and are frequently accompanied by heavy cloud cover and squalls. Furthermore, the summer period when the westerlies are most frequent is also the time when tropical disturbances are most likely to cross the route between Samoa and Tahiti, particularly during major El Nino events such as that of 1982-83 when four cyclonic storms did so. For these reasons, Nainoa Thompson decided that he did not want to risk attempting to sail from Samoa to Tahiti during the summer westerlies season, even though he knew that westerly winds were most likely to occur then.
Instead, he proposed to try a variant of the strategy of using westerly wind shifts to sail east. In studying meteorological charts of the region, and consulting with University of Hawai'i meteorologists, Nainoa discovered that even during the Austral winter, when the trade winds have a reputation for being at their steadiest, brief spells of westerly winds occasionally interrupt the trades when low pressure troughs extending from subtropical depressions reach into the tropics. Nainoa realized, however, that it would be a gamble to try to work the canoe all the way to Tahiti with these subtropical westerlies, for the meteorological data also showed that in some years the troughs failed to penetrate far enough north to significantly disrupt the trade wind flow. Nonetheless, Nainoa decided to chance it in the hope that on each of the two legs of the crossing--from Samoa to the Cook Islands, and then from there to Tahiti--the canoe would be able to get at least a few days of westerly winds brought on by a passing trough, and that by heading due east before these westerlies, and then sailing obliquely across the trades when the trough had passed and the winds once again were coming from the east-southeast, it would be possible to work the canoe first to the Cooks and then to Tahiti.
The year in question, 1986, turned out to be a lucky choice to try that strategy, for that winter atmospheric conditions in the South Pacific shunted low pressure systems farther to the north than usual so that their troughs repeatedly reached into the trade wind zone where they combined with anomalous local conditions to give rise to frequent periods of northwesterly and westerly winds. This pattern became established early in the summer, as was apparent as one low pressure trough after another passed through the region, bringing spells of winds favorable for sailing to the east. In fact, so confident was Nainoa of being able to tap these westerlies, that he chose to set sail from Samoa when easterly winds became reestablished after the passage of a trough. Since the latitude of Rarotonga was 350 miles south of that of Samoa, Nainoa first wanted to use the easterly winds to head south in order to position the canoe for the passage of the next trough. He reckoned that if they could get far enough to the south when the next trough came through they could head due east and maybe make it all the way to Rarotonga, or at least get close enough so that when the trades returned the canoe could be tacked to Rarotonga or one of the islands of the Cook archipelago.
Hokule'a set sail from the island of Ofu in American Samoa on the afternoon of July 7, and headed south, sailing on the port tack against easterly trades (Figure 10). The canoe continued southward until July 10, when the wind began shifted to slightly north of east, heralding the approach of a low pressure trough and the counterclockwise shifting of the wind direction that a trough's passage brings. The wind continued to shift northward until by the 11th it was blowing directly from the north, allowing the canoe to be sailed due east. On the 12th, a line of dark clouds to the southwest announced the imminent arrival of the trough, which soon engulfed the canoe bringing overcast skies and rough seas. As the trough passed, the wind shifted first to the northwest, then to the west and finally to the southwest, all directions which allowed the canoe to keep heading due east (Figure 11). By the morning of the 13th, however, the winds had shifted to the south, and by that afternoon were blowing out of the south-southeast, indicating that the trade winds were becoming reestablished, and forcing the canoe onto a course somewhat to the north of east.
The wind became progressively more easterly until by the 14th it had forced the canoe onto a northeasterly course that was taking it away from Rarotonga which then was some 175 miles to the southeast. Nainoa planned to continue heading northeast until another trough allowed him to head directly toward Rarotonga, ot, if the trades continued, until the canoe had sailed far enough to the northeast to put it in a position where it could be easily tacked south to Rarotonga. On the evening of the 15th, however, the escort yacht following Hokule'a signaled that it was having trouble with its mainmast, and so the effort was interrupted as the two vessels headed south for the nearest port at the island of Aitutaki, 140 miles north of Rarotonga.
Despite this change of destination within the Cooks, the overall strategy had been successful. Aitutaki lies some 650 miles to the east-southeast of Ofu, and it had been possible to exploit a combination of westerlies and trade winds to make it there in a little over eight and a half days (Figure 12). Nainoa reckoned that after a rest on Aitutaki, the canoe could easily be sailed to Rarotonga, and then from there worked eastward to Tahiti. In fact, because Rarotonga lies four degrees (240 miles) south of the latitude of Tahiti, he thought that in starring out from there the canoe would be in a particularly good position to reach Tahiti through sailing east with westerly winds brought by the passage of a trough, then to the northeast or north-northeast whenever the trades reasserted themselves.
Nainoa was hoping for a spell of westerlies that would boost the canoe close enough to Tahiti so that, when the trades returned, they could reach the island in one long slant across the southeast trades. He got a much more prolonged spell of westerlies than he had bargained for, however. After sailing down from Aitutaki, the canoe left Rarotonga on August 12, sailing due east with northerly winds caused by an low pressure trough approaching from the west. But the trough did not pass by the canoe as expected. On the 13th a wall of solid rain engulfed the canoe, and the wind switched to the southwest, which appeared to indicate that the trough must be passing and that the wind would continue shifting counterclockwise until in a day or so it would be back to blowing from the trade wind direction. Instead, on the 14th the wind shifted back clockwise until it was blowing from the north-northwest once more. These winds continued blowing for the next several days, as Hokule'a appeared to be stuck in the trough which seemed to be moving no faster to the east than the canoe was sailing.
These north-northwesterly winds may have allowed the canoe to head due east, but the squally weather and rough seas accompanying them made for hard sailing. The sails had to be lowered. every time a squall with high winds threatened, and the crew was soaked repeatedly by the heavy rain showers and breaking seas. Furthermore, the almost continual cloud cover made it most difficult for Nainoa to keep his bearings accurately. Ironically, this was just the type of messy weather characteristic of the summer westerlies that he had wanted to avoid by sailing during the winter (Figure 13). Furthermore, as Hokule'a approached the meridian of Tahiti, yet was being kept well to the south of the island by the northerly angle of the wind, an entirely unforeseen problem loomed. After having worried so long about how to make enough easting to reach Tahiti, Nainoa was now faced the prospect of the canoe being driven to the east of Tahiti by these winds, maybe even so far as to be forced into the dangerous labyrinth of Tuamotus atolls!
On the 19th, just as the canoe was at the meridian of Tahiti, a wind shift to the east allowed Hokule'a to be tacked north directly toward the island, but only briefly as northwesterlies soon returned and drove the canoe past Tahiti, while keeping it well south of the island. Finally, on the 20th the trade winds started blowing, allowing the canoe to head back to the northwest toward Tahiti--or where Nainoa hoped the island was located, for the heavy cloud cover and rough conditions had not made him confident of his dead reckoning. Yet, a few hours later Nainoa's dead reckoning was confirmed when the clouds parted to reveal the peak of Mehetia, a tiny island lying just to the east of Tahiti. The canoe arrived off Tahiti the next day to complete, after almost nine days at sea, what had turned out to be one of the most difficult, yet most satisfying, passages yet made aboard Hokule'a (Figure 14).
If any experience could lay to rest the notion that a permanent trade wind barrier had kept canoe voyagers from ever sailing eastward across the tropical South Pacific it would be this crossing from Samoa to Tahiti. During the Austral winter, when the trade winds are supposed to be steadiest, it had proved possible to utilize wind shifts brought about by the passage of low pressure troughs through the trade wind field to work the canoe first to the Cook Islands, and then from there on to Tahiti. These subtropical westerlies of the Austral winter do not occur as regularly as the monsoonal westerlies of the summer; meteorological records from Rarotonga suggest that only in about one year out of ten are they as frequent and prolonged as the ones experienced in 1986. Nonetheless, however irregular their appearance maybe, these subtropical westerlies need to be considered, along with the more regular monsoonal westerlies, as having provided earlier voyagers with innumerable occasions over the centuries to sail eastward against the trade wind direction.
Discussions of how a long lineage of seafarers were able to expand eastward into the Pacific have primarily centered on the development of seagoing canoes capable of crossing the gaps between islands which grow progressively wider the farther one sails across the ocean, and on the development of ways of navigating far out of sight of land. As this crossing has emphasized, it is clear that in addition to deep-sea canoes and navigation methods a third adaptation was required to enable these seafarers to spread so far across the Pacific. They had to learn how to exploit the seasonal westerlies, be they of the monsoonal or subtropical variety, to keep pressing against the direction from which the trade winds often but not always blow.22
Southwest to Aotearoa
Once the Cooks, Societies and the adjacent archipelagos of East Polynesia had been settled, only the distant islands that define the points of the Polynesian triangle--Hawai'i, Rapa Nui and Aotearoa--remained to be occupied in order to complete the colonization of the region. Although we have not yet tried to sail to Hawai'i from the Marquesas (which on linguistic grounds is thought to have supplied the first colonists to this northernmost archipelago of Polynesia), or to work the canoe far to the southeast to reach the lone island of Rapa Nui, we have sailed Hokule'a over the long route to the southwest thought to have been taken by the colonizers of Aotearoa.
Maori tribal traditions are filled with accounts of how their ancestors sailed from a land called Hawaiki to colonize Aotearoa. As a place name, Hawaiki occurs throughout Polynesia in that form and in various cognate forms such as Savai'i (the largest island in the Samoan group), Hawai'i (the island which gives the name for the whole Hawaiian group) and Havai'i (the ancient name for Ra'iatea in the Societies). At the turn of the century, S. Percy Smith, the founder of the Polynesian Society of New Zealand and first editor of its journal, devoted himself to locating the Hawaiki from whence the Maori people came, and to chronicling their migration. He settled upon a greater Tahiti composed of Tahiti, Ra'iatea and the other Society Islands as the Hawaiki from whence the migratory canoes sailed southwest, stopped off in Rarotonga and then made the long crossing to Aotearoa. He then analyzed the various tribal migration traditions to develop an outline of Maori settlement: after the initial discovery of Aotearoa in 950 AD by Kupe, and a subsequent visit there in 1120, a "Great Fleet" of canoes left Hawaiki in 1350 to colonize this great land.23
Smith has been rightfully criticized by David Simmons and other contemporary scholars for having cut and pasted together diverse tribal traditions to come up with such an overly systematized and impossibly precise account of Maori colonization. But, a case can be made that they have taken their rejection of Smith's scholarship a step too far by denying that the Maori migration traditions ever had anything to do with colonization from overseas. Simmons, who has done the most thorough study of the sources used by Smith, has suggested that the Hawaiki of Maori tradition really refers to the first settlements in the north of the North island, and that tales of migrating from Hawaiki refer to colonization movements from the north to the south part of the island, and were composed and recited to justify claims to status and land. Margaret Orbell has taken this debunking even farther. To her, Hawaiki was never a geographical place, but rather to a mythical paradise that was the ultimate source of life. As for the migration traditions, to Orbell these simply are myths: "powerful religious narratives which shaped human lives and made the world meaningful," and which were "more important, not less so, because they took place inside people's heads."24
However flawed the scholarship of Smith and others of his day who attempted to trace the Maori migration through oral traditions, it does not necessarily follow that the traditions themselves should be labeled as myths that had nothing to do with actual voyages from an overseas homeland. In the first place, comparative studies of language and cultural patterns, and analyses of archaeologically-recovered artifacts, indicate that people who colonized Aotearoa came from central East Polynesia. Although this evidence does not allow us to say definitively
from which island or islands they sailed, it points to the Society and Southern Cook Islands as the most likely candidates. For example, possible forerunners of distinctively-shaped Maori clubs and other Maori artifacts have been found in excavations in the leeward Societies, and the languages of Rarotonga and Aotearoa are close enough to be mutually intelligible.25 In the second place, Maori traditions include sailing directions which specify not only a course southwest from Hawaiki but also that a canoe should sail at a time of the year when the winds are most favorable for making that crossing.
When Nainoa first read Elsdon Best's summary of these sailing directions, he did not find them to be very useful, however.26 According to this summary, when Toi, Manaia and other legendary voyagers wanted to sail to Aotearoa they applied to the wise men of the time for sailing instructions that had been brought back by Kupe, the legendary discoverer of this huge land, and were told to sail during the lunar month which roughly corresponds with November, and to keep the prows of their canoes pointed toward the setting sun, or just to one side or another of it. Nainoa was not particularly impressed by such a roughly specified course, although he recognized that, because Aotearoa presents such a wide target for canoes sailing from Tahiti and Rarotonga, heading southwest in November more or less toward the direction of the setting sun would probably result in a landfall somewhere along the long coastline. What Nainoa did not immediately appreciate was how crucial was the specification that the canoes head for Aotearoa late in the Austral spring. This did not begin to become clear until he had made a thorough study of the data on meteorological conditions along the route, and was not fully obvious until the Hokule'a actually reached Aotearoa.
The Society and Cook Islands lie within the tropics where easterly trade winds dominate, whereas Aotearoa extends far into the temperate zone where the wind often blows strongly from the west. In trade wind weather, a canoe can easily sail from Tahiti to Rarotonga on a broad reach across the trades. To continue on from Rarotonga to Aotearoa means, however, leaving the tropical trade wind zone, crossing a zone of light winds and variables, and then sailing into latitudes where long spells of blustery westerly winds generated by low pressure systems sweeping across the ocean from west to east would make it most difficult for a canoe to keep sailing to the southwest. Not only would it be difficult to tack a canoe against strong westerly headwinds, but those on board would suffer greatly from the cold, rain and high seas that often accompany these winds.
Upon analyzing piles of meteorological charts showing the day-by-day surface wind conditions over a period of several years, Nainoa found, however, that there are periods during the late spring and summer (roughly November through February) when high pressure systems dominate the approaches to Aotearoa rather than low pressure ones. Since the wind revolves counterclockwise around these high pressure systems, bringing warm, easterly winds along their northern, equator-facing flanks where Hokule'a would be sailing, this rime of year looked like a good time to sail to Aotearoa. More specifically, a November sailing looked best in order to avoid the tropical storms that sometimes cross the tropical portion of the route in the mid- and late-summer months.
Accordingly, after first sailing with the trades from Tahiti to Rarotonga, Hokule'a set sail from Rarotonga on November 21,1985, leaving at the time indicated both by tradition and modern meteorological analysis. We had to cross some 1,650 miles of open ocean to reach the North Island, and hoped for easterly winds that would allow the canoe to sail easily on a reach toward the southwest. When we left, a light trade wind from the east-southeast was blowing, and the sky was clear except for a scattering of mid-level clouds. After sailing several days and leaving the tropic zone, the character of the sky changed although the wind kept blowing from the same quarter. Instead of puffy white trade wind clouds, high cirrus clouds dominated the sky, apparently indicating that we were on the northern edge of a high pressure system, and that the easterlies we were then enjoying were part of that system. Upon checking meteorological charts after the voyage, we found that at that time a large high was centered about 600 miles south of us at around 35o South Latitude, and was generating these favorable easterlies as it moved slowly across the ocean from west to east (Figure 15).
By the 27th, however, six days after sailing, the winds had turned northerly and light, indicating that the high had passed well to the east of us. Fortunately, the low pressure system following the high hardly affected us as we soon came under the influence of yet another high pressure system moving in from the west, and bringing fresh easterly winds that enabled us to continue sailing to the southwest, averaging over a hundred miles a day for the next six days.
On December 4 light, variable winds and increasing cloudiness indicated that the high must have passed far to the east of us, and that we might be in for a bout of westerlies brought on by a low pressure system following that high (Figure 16). That evening we could see dark clouds and lightning far off to the north, and began to experience light northwesterly winds which, fortunately, were short-lived. Towards dawn, with the winds becoming more easterly, sharp-eyed Stanley Conrad, a Maori serving on our crew, spied the dark outline of an island ahead. It turned out to be Macauley Island, a small rock of an island in the Kermadecs, a volcanic chain located two-thirds of the way from Rarotonga to Aotearoa.
Although Nainoa had been trying to head directly for the Kermadecs and was sure that night that we were in the vicinity of the chain, he counted it as luck that we happened to make a landfall on Macauley. Nonetheless, he was elated with the landfall, for that gave him an exact fix on the canoe's position so that he could with confidence lay a course directly for the Bay of Islands, our destination in the far north of the North Island.
Hitting the coast at or close to the Bay of Islands was not just a matter of pride. Before we left Rarotonga, Tupi Puriri and Hector Busby, Maori elders who had flown to Rarotonga to see us off, had told us to, "be sure to get to Waitangi on a weekend." They were referring to their marae, the Waitangi Marae, where we were to land and be ceremonially greeted. They explained to us that because the people of their marae were busying working all over the North Island during the week, they would only be able to greet us properly on a weekend when they could come to Waitangi, prepare all the food and launch their huge ceremonial canoe to greet us in the bay. If, they warned us, we were to come on a Wednesday, or any other day during the work week, we would be kept in the bay, anchored offshore one of the small islands there and forbidden to step ashore until we could be properly greeted at the marae on the weekend.
When the canoe cleared the Kermadecs at around 5:00 AM on what we had been thinking was Wednesday, we began calculating in earnest whether or not we could make it to Waitangi before Sunday evening. Only then did we realize that since we had just crossed the International Dateline it was not Wednesday, December the 4th, but already Thursday, December the 5th, giving us only three and a half days to make the 450 miles from the Kermadecs to the Bay of Islands. This meant that the canoe would have to sail a very straight course and average 130 miles a day, sailing at the rate of a little more than S knots. Provided there is enough wind, Hokule'a can easily sail in the 5 to 6 knot range, although on long crossings we have found that the inevitable periods of calm and light winds brings down the canoe s average speed down to around 4 knots or about 100 miles a day.
Brisk southeasterly winds that started blowing as we cleared the Kermadecs gave us hope that we might be able to beat the averages and make it to Waitangi Marae by Sunday evening. By the next day these had picked up to 25-30 knots, allowing Hokule'a to forge ahead at six and a half knots. Fortunately, except for a few periods of light winds, we enjoyed strong southeasterly winds almost all the way to the North Island as yet another high pressure system passed slowly to the south of us (Figure 17). Thanks to Nainoa's accurate navigation, and skilled steering by the crew, we made our landfall early Sunday morning only about 20 miles south of the entrance to the Bay of Islands (Figure 18). (Nainoa and the crew were not aware of the canoe's exact position at any time while at sea. After this and other crossings, the canoe's course was plotted at the University of Hawai'i from satellite-derived position fixes, and then compared with Nainoa's dead reckoning estimates which was also plotted at that time from verbal information he had supplied an on-board interviewer each sunrise and sunset.)
Although the winds had by then greatly lightened, by late that afternoon we entered the Bay of Islands to be met by the 136-foot long canoe, Nga Toki Matawhaorua, manned by some eighty paddlers from the Waitangi Marae. Under their escort we slowly sailed deep into the bay to anchor off the marae as the sun was setting, just in time to be welcomed by the thousands of people assembled on shore.
In the many speeches on the Waitangi Marae that followed the vigorous haka by the men of the marae, speaker after speaker lauded out efforts to recreate the voyages by which their ancestors had sailed to Aotearoa. For example, Sir James Henare generously declared that:
The elders at Waimirirangi Marae expressed similar sentiments several days later when we travelled to the far northern tip of the island to be welcomed by the people of Aupouri, the tribe of our Maori crewman, Stanley Conrad. To our Maori hosts, the crossing of Hokule'a from Rarotonga to the Bay of Islands in just sixteen and a half days had dramatically demonstrated how their ancestors had once sailed from distant Hawaiki to this land, and shown that those who had said such voyages could never have been undertaken on purpose did not know what they were talking about.
While we greatly appreciate such sentiments, and are proud of Hokule'a 's role in renewing pride in the sometimes maligned seafaring heritage of the Polynesians, we cannot claim that our voyage exactly replicated any earlier crossing from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. Nonetheless, we believe we have realistically demonstrated how to sail a double-canoe of Polynesian design from Rarotonga to Aotearoa during the late spring, and that our voyage lends credence to the hypothesis that at least some of the original Maori settlers could have exploited the easterlies common that time of the year to make their way to Aotearoa. That another reconstructed double-canoe, the Hawaiki-Nui, the product of a joint Maori-Tahitian project initiated by the Maori carver Metahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell), successfully crossed from Tahiti to Rarotonga to Aotearoa just a few weeks after us, further supports this hypothesis.
Once onshore, we realized that this late spring window of opportunity for sailing to Aotearoa is encoded in the tales of the arrival of such famous colonizing canoes as the Aotea, Arawa and Tainui. According to these traditions, as these canoes approached land the weary voyagers on board caught sight of the scarlet blossoms of the pohutukawa tree lining the shore. Thinking that they were seeing flocks of red-feathered birds perched in the trees, the voyagers threw into the sea their battered and salt-stained headdresses decorated with red feathers, sure that they could make new ones ashore and decorate them with fresh red feathers from the birds they saw in the trees. The joke was on them, however, when they realized that the trees with covered with red flowers, not red-feathered birds.
We carried on board the canoe English translations of these tales, which some of us read between watches. But, why this incident is repeated in story after story did not really make any sense to us until we too noticed the brilliant red flowers blooming on the pohutukawa trees around the Bay of Plenty, and remarked to our Maori hosts that they looked exactly like the flowers of the '6hi'a tree of the uplands of Hawai'i. (In fact, the two trees are closely related species of Merrosideros of the myrtle family.) Our interest in the pohutukawa flowers, which start blooming in that area of the North Island in the late spring just when the winds are most favorable for sailing to Aotearoa, led our Maori host Hector Busby to reminisce how, when he was a young boy, the elders used to tell him that "when those flowers bloom is the time our ancestors came here from Hawaiki."27
Multiple Voyaging Between Hawai'i and Tahiti
The choice of the Hawai'i-Tahiti route for the first overseas voyage of Hokule'a was inspired by a series of Hawaiian legends linking these two Polynesian centers. Unlike the famous Maori traditions, these tales are not about initial discovery and colonization. Rather, they tell about voyages made between a far-off land called "Kahiki" and an already populated Hawai'i. Furthermore, these are not about one-way trips, but recount multiple voyages back and forth that linked Hawai'i and Kahiki sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries A.D, according to calculations based on the genealogies of those who claimed direct descent from these voyagers. The most famous of these tales of multiple voyaging revolve around a chief named Mo'ikeha and around a priest named Pa'ao.
Mo'ikeha was said to have been the grandson of Maweke, a great chief from Kahiki who settled on O'ahu sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries A.D., and who founded the chiefly line that came to dominate the leeward islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. While some versions of the saga of Mo'ikeha and his sons begin in Kahiki, others start in Hawai'i, where Mo'ikeha was living with his brother Olopana and his wife Lu'ukia until a great flood devastated their valley and forced them to flee to Kahiki. Once in Kahiki, with Olopana's consent Mo'ikeha and Lu'ukia became lovers until they had a falling out, after which the disappointed Mo'ikeha set sail for Hawai'i where he eventually settled on Kaua'i, married the daughters of the ruling chief there, and in turn became the chief of the island.
As Mo'ikeha aged, he longed to see La'a, his son in Kahiki, and so sent Kila, his eldest son from Kaua'i, back to Kahiki to fetch La'a. After overcoming, with supernatural help, the perils of the sea, Kila reached Tahiti where after further adventures he finally located La'a and told the latter of their father's desire to see him. Then La'a (called in full, La'a-mai-Kahiki, or "La'a-from-Kahiki") set sail for Hawai'i to see his aged father. After their reunion on Kaua'i, La'a sailed for O'ahu, then to Maui, where he stayed for a while in the Kahiki-Nui ("Great Kahiki") district. From there, La'a crossed to the small offshore island of Kaho'olawe, and then sailed back to Kahiki passing through the channel between Kaho'olawe and the neighboring island of Låna'i which ever since has been called Ke Ala i Kahiki, "The Way to Kahiki." Later, when he heard that his father had died, La'a made another round-trip to Hawai'i and return to bring his father's bones back to Kaua'i to be buried alongside those of his ancestors. Sometime later, Kaha'i, a grandson of Mo'ikeha, is said to have sailed to Kahiki, and then returned to Hawai'i bringing back with him the breadfruit tree.28
The other linked series of voyages involve a high priest named Pa'ao who is said to have originally been from Upolu, which, although that is the name of an island in the Samoan group, is generally identified with Taha'a, an island in the leeward Societies that was formerly known as Upolu. The story begins with a dispute between Pa'ao and his brother Lonopele, which led to the death of both of their sons, and caused the distraught Pa'ao to set sail for Hawai'i. After battling heavy winds and high seas magically sent by Lonopele, Pa'ao landed in the district of Puna on the east coast of the island of Hawai'i. There he built the walled heiau, or temple, of Waha'ula which still stands today surrounded by the lava flows which devastated that part of Puna in 1989-1990. From there, Pa'ao continued around the island to Kohala in the northwest where he built the even more massively walled heiau of Mo'okini which also still survives.
During his sojourn on Hawai'i, Pa'ao found that the chiefs there had indiscriminately mixed with the commoners and were neglecting the rituals necessary for protecting chiefly power and the welfare of the people. To correct this situation, Pa'ao sailed back to Kahiki to fetch the high chief Lonoka'eho and bring him back to Hawai'i to introduce proper chiefly rule and ritual behavior. Lonoka'eho refused, however, recommending that another chief, Pili Ka'ai'ea go in his stead. Pa'ao and Pili then sailed back to the island of Hawai'i where Pili was installed as the ruling chief of the island, with Pa'ao as his high priest. It is said that from Pili the ruling chiefs of Hawai'i down to the time of Kamehameha counted their descent, and that the descendants of Pa'ao served those chiefs as high priests up until the abolition of the official religion after the death of Kamehameha 1.29
The identification of the legendary Kahiki with the island of Tahiti is an obvious hypothesis that springs from the fact that "Kahiki" is the Hawaiian way of pronouncing Tahiti, or, more exactly, the windward Hawai'i way of doing so. At the leeward end of the chain, the word was formerly pronounced in the Tahitian manner, and is still so uttered on the remote leeward island of Ni'ihau, where the windward way of speaking and the missionary orthography based upon it still have not fully penetrated. It is true, however, that at the time of European contact Hawaiians were using Kahiki in such a general way that it could refer to virtually any land overseas, even to sectors of the celestial dome, and that it had taken on a magical aura as a source of wondrous things. The explanation for this situation that came to be widely accepted by late 19th century scholars of Hawaiian traditions was that whereas Kahiki originally referred only to the island of Tahiti, in the centuries after voyaging between there and Hawai'i ceased the word Kahiki became generalized to refer to virtually anywhere beyond the bounds of the Hawaiian archipelago and the encircling horizon.
After conducting archaeological excavations during the 1950s and 1960s in Hawai'i and on Tahiti and some of the other Society Islands, and comparing the artifacts found with those uncovered by other researchers working in the Marquesas, Kenneth Emory and Yoshihiko Sinoto concluded that after initial settlement of Hawai'i from the Marquesas there had been contact between Tahiti and Hawai'i sometime around the 12th to 14th century period of voyaging featured in the traditions. They based their claim not only on changes in Hawaiian artifacts that they attributed to Tahitian influence, but also on the presence in Hawaiian of Tahitian words and concepts, as well as on the apparent diffusion to Hawai'i of such distinctively Tahitian cultural traits as chiefly investiture with feather girdles. Although some archaeologists have rejected their formulation on the basis that the changes in Hawaiian artifacts that they attribute to Tahitian influence could have been internally generated, no less an authority on Polynesian prehistory than Patrick Kirch accepts that there is some element of historical reality in the Hawaiian traditions of multiple contact."30
Nonetheless, there has been considerable skepticism that there ever was a period when, as described in the legends, canoes freely sailed back and forth between Tahiti and Hawai'i. In part, this skepticism stems from the same ahistorical ways as have been applied in the Maori case of looking at voyaging traditions as myths composed and employed for functional or structural-symbolic purposes. For example, Ross Cordy suggests that the voyaging traditions refer to intra-archipelago conquests from a Kahiki located somewhere within the Hawaiian Islands, and that they were told by the descendants of the aggrandizing chiefs to establish their genealogical right to chiefly rule, while to Valerio Valeri Kahiki was not even a real island, but "an invisible place . . . out of which comes the gods, ancestors, regalia, edible plants and ritual institutions--the life of the Hawaiians and the means to reproduce it."31
Refusal to believe that it would have ever been possible for voyagers to sail back and forth at will between such distantly separated islands as Hawai'i and Tahiti also lies behind this skepticism that the voyaging legends have any basis in actual events. Here is where having made not one but three round-trip voyages between the islands speaks directly to the issue, particularly since on the third voyage the canoe made it back and forth between Hawai'i and Tahiti despite contrary winds, unexpected calms and other unwelcome conditions.
Whereas by a long stretch of the imagination the success of our first two voyages from Hawai'i to Tahiti and back might be attributed to the beginner's luck of enjoying relatively benign conditions en route, that could not be said about our third one composed of the first and last legs of the Voyage of Rediscovery. The 1976 and 1980 voyages had proceeded just about as anticipated, with Hokule'a sailing first one way and then the other through fairly regular trade wind conditions, and with the navigators skillfully guiding the canoe almost directly to the desired landfalls. On the 1985 crossing from Hawai'i to Tahiti, and the return from Tahiti to Hawai'i in 1981, our confidence about the routine nature of sailing over this route was shaken by doldrum calms alternating with sharp squalls where steady trades were expected, by winds that blew from the "wrong" quarter, and by the sighting of scores of landfinding birds that clashed with dead reckoning calculations indicating that the canoe was still hundreds of miles from land. Yet, as will seen in the brief summaries of these crossings that follow, despite these problems it proved possible to once more sail Hokule'a between these Polynesian centers, and to do so without recourse to instruments or other navigational aids.
In 1976 and 1980 Hokule'a had set sail in the spring (in the months of May and March, respectively), primarily because we had wanted to be back in Hawai'i well before the late summer when tropical storms generated in the eastern Pacific often cross the return route just south of Hawai'i. Although in 1985 we planned to leave by early summer, because of delays in getting the canoe and the escort vessel ready for the two-year voyage, Hokule'a did not set sail until July 10 when she left her anchorage off the fishing village of Miloli'i on the southwestern coast of the island of Hawai'i and headed south. Although not anticipated at the time, this late departure was to have repercussions that lasted until land was finally sighted a month later.
Soon after clearing the southern tip of Hawai'i trade wind skies gave way to a heavy cloud cover, the wind became irregular and the occasional squall swept over the canoe. Then, on the 14th, the fourth day out, the canoe ran into a tropical disturbance, something we had not experienced on the first two crossings because these disturbances do not generally start forming until mid-summer. Sharp squalls with strong, variable winds and heavy downpours interspersed with periods of absolute calm beset the canoe for a couple of days, after which trade wind conditions returned--but only briefly, for on the following day, the 17th, the canoe entered that dreaded zone called the doldrums where calms and light variable winds often mark the transition between the northeast and southeast trade wind belts. For the next six days Nainoa and the crew worked the canoe slowly southward under leaden skies until on the 23rd the weather finally cleared, and steady winds returned, this time blowing from the south-southeast, indicating that the canoe had entered the southeast trade wind zone.
The canoe had encountered the doldrums between about 11 degrees North and 7 degrees 30' North (between 660 miles and 450 miles north of the equator), some four degrees (240 miles) north of where they had been encountered on the 1976 and 1980 crossings. Although a study of meteorological data after the voyage indicated that such a northerly shifting of the doldrum belt is not unusual during the mid- and late summer, at the time it was confusing to run into the doldrums so far north of the equator. Particularly after the wildly shifting conditions of the first few days at sea and then the unwanted encounter with a tropical disturbance, these northerly displaced doldrums and their debilitating calms, squalls and overcast skies were particularly hard on the navigator. Constantly working to catch whatever wind there was while making sure that sudden squalls did not overwhelm the canoe, and then trying to read vague clues from the swell pattern to keep the canoe heading toward the southeast while at the same time keeping a running picture of the actual course of the canoe, was utterly exhausting for Nainoa, leading him to voice this concern in a tape recorded interview:
How these conditions affected Nainoa's dead reckoning can be seen in Figures 19 and 20, which show the actual course of the canoe and its position on July 17 (just before the doldrums) and on July 25 (two days after exiting the doldrums) compared with where Nainoa thought the canoe was at these times. Whereas on July 17 his dead reckoning was about 70 miles off, by the 25th that gap had tripled as Nainoa thought the canoe was some 210 miles southwest of where it really was. Failure to factor in a period of sailing due east with a southerly wind, and the unperceived effect of the Equatorial Countercurrent that sometimes flows strongly eastward between the trade wind zones, may have been crucial in making Nainoa think the canoe's track was bending to the west of south when in fact the canoe had made a little easting in the doldrums and immediately upon exiting them.
Whatever may have been the exact cause or causes of this gap between actual and read reckoning positions, Nainoa continued to picture the canoe having been driven west of the desired course to Tahiti as they sailed crossed the equator and slowly approached the latitude of the Society Islands. Repeated sightings south of the equator of fairy terns, usually one of the most reliable species for indicating proximity to land, had the effect of reinforcing this mental picture. Although Nainoa realized that juvenile fairy terns and other young landfinding birds may sometimes fly far from their island homes, he had to consider that these sightings indicated that the canoe might in fact have been driven so far off course that it was passing near the few scattered atolls of the Southern Line Islands, which are located well to the west of the meridian of Tahiti. Accordingly, he prepared himself for a landfall at the leeward end of the Society chain, a couple hundred miles to the west of Tahiti.
When, therefore, landfall was finally made at dawn on August 10th on an atoll, Nainoa at first thought it was tiny Tupai north of Borabora at the western end of the Society chain (Figure 21). But, as the sun rose and revealed the great length of the atoll, he realized that because of its size it could not be Tupai or any other of the comparatively small atolls of the Society group, and that they must have reached one of the large atolls of the Tuamotus. Nainoa even guessed the right one: Rangiroa, which extends 44 miles in an east-west direction.
Despite the difficult sailing and navigational conditions and the westward skewing of Nainoa's mental picture of the track of the canoe, Hokule'a had made landfall in the northwest Tuamotus very close to where the canoe had intercepted these islands on the previous two crossings. As in 1976 and 1980, the canoe was easily sailed from there to Tahiti, arriving there in August the 12th, 31 days after leaving Hawai'i. Figure 22 shows that all three of these voyages had in fact followed more or less the same curving track to Tahiti, although that of 1985 is more irregular than the previous two. Even given the far from ideal conditions encountered on this third crossing, it is clear that a double-canoe is capable of sailing over the long seaway from Hawai'i to Tahiti.
In terms of non-instrument navigation, reaching Tahiti would also appear to be repeatedly attainable--primarily because Tahiti is not a lone island lost in the vastness of the Pacific, but is one of many islands that form a wide arc extending from the atolls at the western end of the Societies for over a thousand miles eastward to the atolls on the eastern fringe of the Tuamotus. It is difficult to imagine that a competently-crewed canoe approaching this arc of islands from the north passing through without someone on board spotting an island, or signs of one such as the sight of landfinding birds fishing out at sea, or of changes in swell patterns caused by the interference of an island over the horizon. Once any island in the arc was sighted and identified, a canoe could then make its way upwind or downwind to Tahiti.
Had Nainoa's worst cast scenario of a landfall at the western end of the Societies came true, Hokule'a could have been sailed to Tahiti, either by waiting for favorable wind shifts or by slowly tacking it along the chain. There was, of course, no need to implement either strategy, for just as it had on the previous two voyages the canoe arrived off the western Tuamotus, the ideal place along the long Society-Tuamotu arc to make landfall on the way to Tahiti. While Nainoa's navigational reckoning may have been somewhat off, steadfast application of the strategy of sailing hard into the trades succeeded once more in bringing Hokule'a to Tahiti.
Whereas in 1976 and 1980 the canoe sailed swiftly back to Hawai'i, reaching across strong and steady trade winds, the return crossing from Tahiti to Hawai'i in 1987 turned out to be one of the longest and most difficult voyages made by Hokule'a. In retrospect, it got off to a bad start with the decision to leave in late March so as to be able to call upon the Marquesas on the way and still get back to Hawai'i by May 23rd in time for a scheduled welcoming ceremony that was to be a key part of the State's "Year of the Hawaiian" celebration. Even in ordinary years it would have been better to wait several months until the unsettled conditions of the Austral summer had fully given way to the steadier trade wind conditions of the Austral winter. Unfortunately, 1987 turned out to be a particularly poor year to leave early, for an El Nino event developed then bringing unsettled weather and a northerly wind flow that delayed the departure from Tahiti and then kept the canoe anchored in the Rangiroa Lagoon as Nainoa and the crew waited for a break in the weather to head for the Marquesas (Figure 23).
Finally, on April 24th, 20 days after arriving at Rangiroa, a tropical cyclone forming near Samoa broke up the northerly wind flow and allowed easterly winds to be reestablished. Since only a month remained before the scheduled welcome in Hawai'i, the plan of returning via the Marquesas was abandoned, and Hokule'a headed directly for Hawai'i, reaching across easterly trades. Hopes for a swift passage home were soon dashed, however, as the trades failed, and a series of squalls came through. During the following weeks the crew had to endure long spells of light and variable winds, several stretches with heavy cloud cover and rain, and periods when heavy squalls repeatedly struck the canoe, each time forcing the crew to lower the sails and drift.
As had been the case during the 1985 crossing to Tahiti, these unwelcome conditions made it difficult for Nainoa to keep a running mental picture of all the twists and turns of the canoe, and thus to have any great confidence in his dead reckoning calculations. For example, in an interview tape recorded on May the 14th, when the canoe was about 400 miles southeast of the island of Hawai'i, Nainoa exclaimed that:
Although Nainoa maintained a fairly accurate idea of the north-ward progress of the canoe, during the last stretch of the voyage his dead reckoning positions began to skew to the west of the actual track, and for a while he even worried that the canoe might be headed on a course that would pass to the west of the Island of Hawai'i, instead of drawing abeam its eastern, leeward coast. Although by the time the canoe reached the latitude of Hawai'i Nainoa had realized that they were on the eastern, windward side of the island, his reckoning was still too far to the west. For example, on May the 16th Nainoa pictured the canoe as being about 50 miles east of Hawai'i when in fact it was about 200 miles east of the island (Figure 24). After turning down-wind to intercept Hawai'i and discovering that it was not close at hand, Nainoa of course recognized that he had overestimated the westward trend of the course. So, he and the crew bided their time until, after slowing moving westwards in the extremely light winds, the lights of the port of Hilo were finally seen on the night of the 21st.
Counting from the departure from Tahiti on April the 3rd, to the arrival at Kualoa on May the 23rd, this return to Hawai'i took longer than any other segment of the entire Voyage of Rediscovery. Even the sail from Rangiroa to Hilo took a comparatively long time: 28 days in comparison to the 22 days it took in 1976, and the 24 days it took in 1980, to sail the longer distance from Tahiti to the latitude of Hilo. Nonetheless, despite the difficult conditions that so lengthened this crossing and so impacted Nainoa's dead reckoning, the fact remains that the canoe made it back to Hawai'i, arriving, as planned, abeam the windward side of the island of Hawai'i so that it could be turned downwind to make landfall on that island and then be sailed from there to Kualoa for the welcome home (Figure 25).
This third round-trip voyage of Hokule'a between Hawai'i and Tahiti demonstrates how even under adverse conditions it is possible for a voyaging canoe, navigated without instruments, to sail back and forth over this route. To be sure, our voyages do not prove that the tales of Mo'ikeha, Pa'ao and other legendary voyagers are literal records of actual events. But the success of this and the two previous round-trips between Hawai'i and Tahiti does show how well adapted the double canoe and non-instrument navigation methods are for making such long crossings, and suggests that we must take seriously the possibility suggested by the voyaging traditions that during the early centuries of this millennium canoe voyagers repeatedly sailed back and forth between these widely-separated Polynesian centers.
Experimental Voyaging and Cultural Revival
When Hokule'a 's twin prows touched the sands of Kualoa to complete the Voyage of Rediscovery the canoe and her crew were welcomed home by a huge throng, greeted with chants and dances and then honored with speeches from Hawaiian leaders who stressed how this voyage had made all Hawaiians and other Polynesians proud of their voyaging heritage, giving them extra strength needed to face the challenges of today's world.
This transformation of Hokule'a into a symbol of resurgent Polynesian pride, and the way this and previous voyages have galvanized Hawaiians and other Polynesians, demonstrate how well the cultural goals of the project have been fulfilled. As such, this effort to revive voyaging represents an oceanic example of a common process whereby various peoples around the world, ranging from embattled ethnic minorities to whole nations, have consciously sought to recreate and elaborate ancestral ways for contemporary purposes. Examples from Great Britain in which symbols and rituals inspired by precedents from the past have been consciously elaborated to elevate ethnic or national pride range from the Scottish adoption of the kilt woven in distinctive clan tartans as well as the bagpipe as emblems of resurgent Scottish nationality to the late Victorian efflorescence of royal ceremonies celebrating Britain's imperial glory. Distinguishing our effort from these and other such movements is the direct linkage of cultural revival with an experimental voyaging plan to solve issues in Polynesian prehistory, based on the hope that the cultural and research approaches would reinforce one another for mutual benefit.32
At first these approaches coexisted uneasily, and at times clashed. But, as the project has matured, partisans of each approach have learned to respect each other's concerns. Where at first many crewmembers rejected research as an alien, non-Hawaiian activity, now they have not only come to accept the experimental procedures, but even to vie for the opportunity to collect data on canoe performance and navigation because of how much these can tell them about their ancestral technology. At the same time, researchers have realized how much rituals and beliefs concerning Hokule'a and its voyages that have been developed by participants, but do not exactly duplicate ancient precedents, make the project more meaningful to the Polynesian communities involved. These cultural elaborations have included the development of rituals to mark the departure and arrival of the canoe in Hawai'i and at various islands along the way, the building by Tahitians of a neo-traditional marae in honor of the canoe and her crew, and the declaration by our Maori hosts that, following their model of counting tribal descent from the those who had arrived together on an original migrating canoe, those who sailed Hokule'a to Aotearoa now constitute the "Sixth Tribe" of the Tai Tokerau region.
That this joining of research and cultural revival has ended up working together synergistically for mutual benefit has been most gratifying. Just as the initiative to solve an anthropological dispute through experimental voyaging has led Hawaiians and other Polynesians to gain a new appreciation for the nautical achievements of their ancestors, so has the skill and enthusiasm with which Hawaiians, Marquesans, Tahitians, Rarotongans, Maori, Tongans and Sa-moans have sailed Hokule'a over their ancestral seaways enabled the project to more than fulfill its original experimental goals. In particular, the insistence of those Hawaiians who have led the project over the last decade that the canoe continue to sail around Polynesia, and their enthusiasm in working with oceanographers, meteorologists and astronomers as well as anthropologists has enabled the project to extend the scientific work far beyond the original conception of a single voyage between Hawai'i and Tahiti to settle a controversy about the intentional sailing range of Polynesian voyagers. Had, for example, there been no drive to undertake the Voyage of Rediscovery, we would never have had the chance to validate experimentally how it is possible to use westerly winds shifts to sail from west to east across Polynesia.
This culturally-motivated insistence to keep sailing Hokule'a has also led us to recreate legendary voyaging patterns much more closely than we had ever planned. For example, whereas multiple voyages made back and forth between Kahiki and Hawai'i stand out as a distinctive features of the Hawaiian voyaging legends, when we conceived the project we planned to make only one round-trip voyage as a virtual "crucial test" of the feasibility of long-distance voyaging and navigation. Although completion of that voyage essentially fulfilled this experimental objective, those Hawaiians who had learned to sail Hokule'a were not content with this single sailing venture. Once having tasted blue water sailing and the thrill of making landfalls on distant shores, they wanted to continue and extend those experiences, and did so by organizing and leading the second voyage to Tahiti and return in 1980, and then the Voyage of Rediscovery between 1985 and 1987. Thanks to their initiative, not only has a more complete picture of Polynesian voyaging and navigation emerged, but in making three round-trips between Hawai'i and Tahiti, we have ended up reproducing the legendary pattern of multiple voyaging.
Furthermore, the 1986 voyage to Aotearoa followed the timing and manner of sailing there contained in Maori traditions, even though that had not been originally planned. Nainoa Thompson spent most of his time preparing for that voyage by studying meteorological records and orienting his navigational thinking to the star patterns and elevations of unfamiliar southern skies, rather than by pouring over traditional texts. Yet, his researches led to a sailing plan that largely conformed to that contained in the legends. Hokule'a left Rarotonga just at the time of year specified in Maoritradition as being most favorable for sailing to Aotearoa, followed the indicated course toward the setting sun, and arrived just when the fabled blossoms of the pohutukawa were in full flower.
This unanticipated reproduction of multiple voyaging between Hawai'i and Tahiti, and of the best time to sail to Aotearoa, not only brings us closer to the manner of voyaging portrayed in the legends, but also evokes a Polynesian way of thinking about and employing oral traditions that escapes us if we think of these traditions as either being orally-transmitted history, or mythical compositions. As the Danish scholar of religion, J. Pritz Johansen, recognized, "the Maori himself did not make any nice distinction proper between myth and history," for to him myth was history, but a history with contemporary reality. Johansen's examples include the "kinship I" wherein the Maori employed the first person to talk of their legendary ancestors and tribal adventures, as well as the proverbs and rituals by which Maori understood present actions in terms of legendary events of the past.
When, for example, the Maori wanted to say no without directly saying so, they would rhetorically answer a request with "Should Kupe return?," recalling how Kupe himself first uttered these words in Hawaiki to reject a plea that he undertake a second expedition to Aotearoa. Similarly, each year Maori farmers would ritually re-enact the tale of how voyagers fetched the kumara, the sweet potato, from Hawaiki and thereby made life fruitful in this new land where the first food plants introduced grew poorly or not at all.33
Seen from this cultural perspective, the Hawaiians' renewed enthusiasm for the sea that has led them relive the legendary voyaging exploits of their ancestors and those of kindred Polynesians begins to look much more Polynesian than had ever been originally imagined. What began as an effort to settle a scholarly controversy with a single voyage has through the leadership of the people whose seafaring heritage was being investigated evolved into a cultural celebration of Polynesian voyaging which not only has produced a wealth of new insights into Polynesian prehistory, but also brings us closer to the original role and meaning of the voyaging legends that inspired the effort in the first place.
20. Hessell 1981; Steiner 1980; Wyrki and Myers 1975.
[This account was originally published in "Voyaging into Polynesia's Past" in From Sea to Space (Palmerston North: Massey University, 1992. 5-65). Other parts of this article are on line: The Founding of the Polynesian Voyaging Society; Hawai'i to Tahiti and Return: 1976; Hawai'i to Tahiti and Return: 1980; Voyage of Rediscovery: 1985-87. Finney's account of the 1995 Voyage to Ra'iatea and Nukuhiva, Sin at Awarua, is also online].