On August 18, 1997, at the age of 53, kahuna kālai wa‘a Wright ‘Elemakule Bowman, Jr. passed away during an single-car auto accident on the Big Island. "Wrighto" or "Bo," as he was affectionately known, was a master canoe builder of Hawai'i.
Tommy Holmes, in his book The Hawaiian Canoe, noted Wrighto, with Sonny Bradley, "developed and modified tools that have revolutionized canoe building." In addition to carving numerous six-man racing canoes from koa logs, he took on the monumental task of building the 57-foot Hawai‘iloa, the first double-hulled voyaging canoe carved from logs in since the time of the Kamehamehas.
During this project, designed to help recover and perpetuate canoe-building traditions in Hawai‘i, Wrighto introduced many people, young and old, to the art of canoe building, generously sharing his knowledge with anyone who was willing to learn.
Hawai‘iloa was launched in 1993 and sailed to the Marquesas Islands and back to Hawai'i, via Tahiti, in 1995. The Friends of Hokule'a and Hawai'iloa continues his legacy to perpetuate ancient Hawaiian canoe resources by building, restoring and sharing traditional canoe building skills.
Wrighto (left) with Carlos Andrade, a former Student. Photo by Kapulani Landgraf
Memories and Thoughts of Our Friend Wright Bowman, Jr.
Wally and Keali'ipū'aimoku Froiseth
He was a friend to everyone he associated with. "Wrighto," as we called him, loved to create things. He was a master of woodworking and canoe building. He could cut down koa trees, haul the logs, carve the hulls, and do the finishing work.
Working with him showed us he was also a jack of all trades, including welding, rigging, and so on. With the truck he drove for his work at Gaspro, filled with his tools, he could fix just about anything that needed fixing.
One of his greatest atrributes was getting along with people and treating everyone with respect. He was open to everyone and listened to and considered ideas from anyone, no matter who they were.
He was a hard worker and would take on a challenge that most of us would be afraid to start. It was a joy to work with him because he was a doer, not a talker, and a true leader. Everyone who ever worked with Wrighto came away feeling they had helped and contributed something to his projects.
After the day's work was done and time to relax came, we all have fond memories of talking with Wrighto about ideas or plans for the next job or another project.
His positive attitude, energy, and enthusiasm motivated others to want to work with him and be a part of his projects.
Emotion wells up in us just thinking of all the enjoyment, satisfaction, and accomplishments we have known from our association with Wrighto. He inspired many of the young men and women who came down to the canoe to help and learn.
Wrighto, our thoughts will always be with you. We are thankful to have known you and are better because of it.
Wright Bowman, Jr.’s legacy in canoe building is carried on by The Friends of Hokule‘a & Hawai‘iloa:
The Friends of Hokule‘a & Hawai‘iloa was established in 1996 by master canoe builder, Wright Bowman, Jr., who was concerned that the art of canoe building would be lost. The Friends would ensure that cultural treasures, such as the voyaging canoes Hokule‘a and Hawai‘iloa, be properly maintained. Finally, the group wanted to ensure that the traditional canoe building skills be made accessible to any who are interested in learning this very special part of Hawaiian culture.