Kawika Kapahulehua, Hōkūle‘a’s captain on the first voyage to Tahiti in 1976
Elia Davud Ku‘ualoha Kawika Kapahulehua was a native of Ni‘ihau, born July 13, 1930 to father Levi Kapahulehua Sr. and mother Sarah Mamali‘ili‘i Loa.
Kawika Kapahulehua became the first Hawaiian to Captain the first voyage to Tahiti in 1976 since our ancestors stopped voyaging. “This voyage was the turning point, a time of change during the resurgence of Hawaiian culture and re-birthing of Polynesian Voyaging canoes” said Nainoa Thompson, President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
As a result of the maiden voyage from Hawai‘i to Tahiti and back, the birthing of more voyaging canoes arrived, canoe builders became inspired, and an increased interest and desire of watermen and women were trained to be navigators, captains, and crew.
“Kapahulehua, Hōkūle‘a, and its 1976 crew brought back the life and pride of Hawaiian-Polynesian culture through voyaging canoes…. If it wasn’t for the brave voyage to Tahiti, all crew members who had committed themselves to the unknown at sea, and the Captain who held it together on that first voyage, Polynesian voyaging would not be where it is at in today’s time culturally and spiritually” said Ka‘uhane Lee, President of Ke Ala `Olino Native Cultural Center and friend of Kapahulehua. “Therefore, the voyage continues to greater things ahead for the next generations.”
Prior to being selected as the first Captain aboard Hōkūle‘a, Kapahulehua was an exceptional waterman and experienced sailor. His sea training came from the early years in his life of sailing catamarans and yachts between Hawai‘i and America. He was also very active in catamaran and yacht racing. Kapahulehua traveled the world when he worked for Western Airlines and shared his Hawaiian cultural ways of life and living with many through his music, story telling, and just simply through his aloha spirit. He connected with people from all walks of life and always kept a bright smile on his face. “He always made people feel good about themselves, about each other, about Hawai‘i,…just pure aloha”, said niece Zeni Kapahulehua-Iese.”
Kapahulehua also taught Hawaiian Language and culture at the University of Hawai‘i and was honored at the Maohi Native Cultural Festival in 2005 for his lifelong accomplishments and contributions in preserving Hawaiian Culture through voyaging canoes and Hawaiian Language teachings.
See “Sail for Kawika” (on Hōkūalaka‘i, from Hanalei, down the western side of Kaua‘i, then around Ni‘ihau, 2007) by Carlos Andrade (pdf file, 6.8 MB).