2012: Events and News
2011: Events and News
Kau Wela (Dry Season) 2011
Hoʻoilo (Wet Season) 2011
2010: Events and News
December 2009: Training Sail to Palmyra
December 2008: Plan for a Training Sail to Palmyra and Christmas Island
January 2008: Ku Holo Mau (Voyage to Satawal) and Ku Holo Komohana (Voyage to Japan)
September 2006: Hokualaka‘i Launching; 2006 Malama Wa‘a (Caring for the Canoe)
August 2006: Kapu Na Keiki: Youth Training Program
December 2004: Navigating Change: NWHI Voyage Completed
Winter 2003: Northewestern Hawaiian Islands Voyage Postponed; Sail to Nihoa
Summer 2003: Marine Education Training Center; 2003 Statewide Sail
Spring 2002: Plans for Northewestern Hawaiian Islands Voyage
Summer 2001: Ocean Learning Academy
Spring 2001: 2001 Statewide Sail
Ho‘oilo (Rainy Season) 1999: Closing the Triangle: the Quest for Rapanui; Malama Hawai‘i Initiative
Kau (Dry Season) 1998: Restoring Hokule‘a; Center for Marine Sciences
Kau (Dry Season) 1997: Aloha, Wrighto; Project Ho‘olokahi
Ho‘oilo (Rainy Season) 1996-1997: Malama Hawai‘i: 1996-97 Statewide Sail
Ho‘oilo (Rainy Season) 1995-1996: Exploration Learning Center Launched
Kau (Dry Season) 1995: A Safe Successful 1995 Voyage; Northwest and West Coast Tours
Makali‘i (November-December) 1994: North to Hawai‘i, the Marquesas Connection, by Ben Finney
Hilinama (August-September) 1994: Hawai‘iloa Sea Trials, after Modification
Ka‘aona (May–June) 1994: Training and Education Sails; 1992 Voyage: 4. The Voyage Home
Nana (February–March) 1994: 1992 Voyage: 3. Sailing in the Cook Islands
Makali‘i (November-December) 1993: First Sea Trials for Hawai‘iloa Completed; Modifications Begin; 1992 Voyage: 2. Sailing in Tahiti
Fall 1993: Blessing and Launching Hawai‘iloa; 1992 Voyage: 1. Hawai‘i to Tahiti
March 1992: Building Hawai‘iloa
December 1990: Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program; search for logs to build Hawai‘iloa
March-April 1984: Announcing the 1985-1987 Voyage of Rediscovery
August 1975: A Voyage into Hawai‘i’s Past (1976 Voyage to Tahiti), by Ben Finney
1974: Plans for Launching of Hokule‘a on March 8, 1975
September 1974: Announcement of 3 day Polynesian Sailing Workshop at Kualoa Park
April 1974: Wa‘a Kaulua...Double Canoe, by Herb Kane. (Training on Nalehia, a 40 ft. double-hulled sailing canoe built by Ben and Ruth Finney in 1966; plans to build Hokule‘a.)

PVS Newsletter / August 1975


Ben Finney

A large double-hulled canoe, a 60 foot long replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging craft, has recently been launched in Hawaii. The organization responsible for its construction is the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a new and unique non-profit community group dedicated to research and education concerning Polynesian voyaging canoes, navigation systems and all the other arts and artifacts that made the first, Polynesian, discovery and settlement of these islands possible. The canoe is now undergoing sea trial * s in Hawaiian waters, and a crew is being trained to sail it to Tahiti and return using only Polynesian navigation methods, eating only Polynesian foods, and relying on as many other-aspects of the Polynesian voyaging tradition as can be reconstructed and duplicated today. The voyage, which will take place in mid-1976, will be an official part of Hawaii's celebration of the United States Bicentennial.

Hokule‘a off Lanai, May 1975 on its initial inter-island voyage from Oahu to Maui. Photo by Tip Davis.

This project is more than an adventure. It represents a well planned experimental approach to one of the most intriguing and disputed questions in Polynesian history: how were the many islands of Polynesia first discovered and settled? This is a question that puzzled Captain James Cook and the other early European visitors to these islands who wondered how the Polynesians, who lacked metal tools, ships, navigation instruments and all the other items that made the European exploration of the Pacific possible, could have spread over such a huge portion of the globe, a vast triangle bounded by Hawaii in the north, tiny Easter Island(off Chili's coast) in the southeast, and the huge islands of New Zealand in the southwest. And it is still a question subject to dispute today among anthropologists, geographers, historians, and others concerned with reconstructing the history and movements of the Polynesian people.

Since 1956 the debate over Polynesian voyaging has been highly polarized. In that year a New Zealand scholar, the late Andrew Sharp, attacked the then dominant view that intentional voyages of exploration and colonization played a major role in Polynesian settlement by declaring that the discovery and settlement of the many islands of Polynesia was an accidental process that occured through a fortuitous series of unintentional drift voyages and randomly directed exile voyages. Sharp maintained that the Polynesians did not have-the means to sail out to distant and unknown islands and, once having discovered them, to retrace their course to their home island and then send out colonizing expeditions on canoes loaded with men and women, domesticated animals and plants, and all the other ingredients necessary to found a new colony.Polynesians could, according to Sharp, carry out planned two-way voyaging between islands separated by up to a few hundred miles, such as between Tahiti and the neighboring Tuamotu atolls, but beyond that range voyaging and any resultant discoveries and settlements could only hav~ been "accidental", not intentional. In Sharp's scheme, distant islands like Hawaii were out of the range of Polynesian voyaging capabilities and could only have been discovered and settled by one or other of two means: either by the chance arrival of a canoe load of people driven by adverse winds from some short voyaging route (as between Tahiti and the Tuamotus); or by the fortuitous arrival of a canoe load of exiles who had been forced to leave their home island because of war, famine, or overpopulation, and who were searching blindly for an uninhabited island on which to settle. Once a canoe load of Polynesians had reached a distant island they were marooned there since according to Sharp, they did not have the means to return to their homeland.

Sharp's argument is based in large part on his negative assessment of Polynesian marine technology. He maintained, for example, that since the Polynesian navigation system relied on non-instrument observations of the stars, winds, sea swells, andotherphenomena it could not possibly be accurate enough to guide a canoe over hundreds, if not thousands of miles of open ocean to a landfall on a small island. Polynesian canoes also came in for severe criticism. Since they lacked keels or centerboards they could make little progress to windward. Since they were held together with vegetable fiber rope instead of metal fasteners they would easily break apart in rough seas. And since they had a low freeboard they were easily swamped. To Sharp these and other technoloqical deficiencies meant that long range and intentional twoway voyaging, involving exploratory probes followed by colonizing expeditions, was out of the question. Polynesia was settled "accientally" and that was that.

Although a dose of Sharp's skepticisim about Polynesian marine capabilities was perhaps a healthy corrective to some extravagant claims that the Polynesians sailed with ease and regularity throughout the Polynesian triangle, and at times, beyond it as far as Antarctica and South America, many students of Polynesian history felt that Sharp had gone too far in denying that the Polynesians had exercised any significant control over their movements. Thay argued that these movements--which archaeologists say occured over the last three or four millenia and trace from Tonga and Samoa (the two candidates for the immediate "homeland" of the Polynesians) to the Marquesas and Tahiti and then to Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand and other islands in the triangle--must have involved some degree of intentional and planned voyaging.

But it soon became apparent from the controversy which followed between Sharp and other partisans of the accidental voyaging thesis, and his critics, that we really had very little precise information on how well Polynesian canoes sailed, on how seaworthy they were on long voyages, on exactly how the Polynesians used stars for navigation and on many other technical points crucial to these questions. Since voyaging canoes were no longer to be seen in Polynesian waters, and traditional navigational skills had all but disappeared, investigators were forced to search for records of canoes and voyaging in old legends, explorers' accounts and other documents. However, the abundant traditions of long distance voyaging in past centuries proved to contain little information of a technical nature and, besides, were subject to criticism because of either their lack of precision, or the possibility that they were in part latter-day fabrications. Furthermore, close examination of the records left by Cook and other early foreign visitors was also generally disappointing since they generally neglected to inquire into and record with precision how well the canoes sailed and handled, and exactly how the Polynesian navigation system worked. Given this lack of information, it is not surprising that discussions about Polynesian voyaging that appeared in books and scholarly journals quickly came to be marked more by polemics than progress in understanding the subject.

In the mid-1960's a number of researchers began looking to experimental methods as the only way in which they could obtain new data that might help clarify the question. In 1965, David Lewis, a New Zealand physician who has since becomean authority on indigenous navigation systems in the Pacific, conducted an innovative experiment in Polynesian navigation by sailing his catamaran from Tahiti to New Zealand to test some aspects of the Polynesian star navigation system. While Lewis was sailing in the South Pacific, a group of students and I were building a 40-foot replica of a traditional Hawaiian double-hulled canoe, which was used in 1966 for a series of paddling and sailing tests that gave us our first good data on the sailing characteristics of Polynesian vessels, and on the energy cost of paddling heavy canoes over long distances.

Then, in the late 1960's, Lewis went to sea again--this time to locate Pacific islanders who still practised traditional navigation,and then to have them take him sailing on their canoes or his yacht and demonstrate their skills over voyaging routes. This search led him to the Santa Cruz Islands in Melanesia where descendants of Polynesian immigrants still navigated canoes in the Polynesian manner, and to the Carolines Islands in Micronesia where a navigation system closely related to the Polynesian one was in everyday use. The most dramatic experiment in his research was a 1, 100 nautical mile round-trip voyage made between Puluwat atoll in the Central Carolines and Saipan in the Marianas, which was navigated without instruments by Hipour, a master navigator from Puluwat. While these field experiments were going on, a group of geographers and computer experts from Australia, England a-nd 'the United States were attempting to simulate, with the aid of a computer, the probable voyaging patterns that would result from randomly driftirig canoes on the one hand, and intentionally sailed canoes on the other hand.

The results of these experimental efforts indicated that: 1) it was unlikely that drifting canoes could have been the major means by which Polynesia was settled. The computer simulation study showed, for example, that there was only a slight probability that drifting canoes could have passed through the barrier posed by contrary winds and currents between, on the one hand, Samoa and Tonga in Western Polynesia, and, on the other hand, the Marquesas and Tahiti in Eastern Polynesia and that there was little or no probability that canoes could have drifted to the more distant islands of Hawaii, Easter, and New Zealand: 2) the Polynesian double-hulled canoe was well adapted for deep-sea voyaging Linder sail. Sailing tests conducted in Hawaii with the 40-foot double-hulled canoe indicated, for example, that it sailed well downwind and across the wind, and had a definite (though limited in comparison to a racing yacht) ability to sail to windward 3) the Polynesian navigation system was probably accurate enough for long-distance intentional voyaging, particularly when one considers that most of the putative voyaging routes are between groups of islands, not isolated single islands. A navigator sailing to Hawaii would not, for example, have to depend on pinpoint accuracy in order to hit Oahu or any other single island, but could carry out his mission by hitting any one of the Hawaiian Islands which together form a huge target, especially for the navigator approaching from the south. Taken together, the results of these experiments allow us to hypothesize that while drift voyaging might have accounted for some island discoveries, the main way in which most of the islands of Polynesia were discoveredand settled was through intentionally sailed voyages of exploration. These probably involved both one-way exile voyages as Sharp proposed as well as more truly exploratory voyages in which discovery rather than immediate settlement was the motive. It can further be posited that in some cases voyages of discovery were followed by return voyages to the homeland and then planned and fully navigated voyages of colonization.

A case in point involves Hawaii and its Polynesian neighbors below the equator, the Marquesas, 1,300 nautical miles to the southeast, and the Society islands (more conveniently referred to as "Tahiti", after the main island of the group), some 2,400 nautical miles to the south-southeast. Evidence from archaeological excavations and linguistic analyses, combined with the results of the voyaging experiments outlined above and data on wind, sea, and current conditions prevailing in this part of the Pacific, point to the Marquesas and Tahiti as the most probable jumping---off points for the Polynesian voyagers who reached Hawaii.

Accidental drift voyages to Hawaii are out of the question. A canoe drifting up from either the Marquesas or Tahiti would have been pushed far to the west of Hawaii by the prevailing easterly tradewinds and currents. A canoe must be intentionally sailed to reach Hawaii from the -south. An intentionally sailed voyage from the Marquesas would have been fairly easy as a canoe sailing north or north-northwest from there would be sped along by steady trades blowing at right angles to the canoe, or slightly from behind the canoe, both ideal directions for fast canoe sailing. But the sail back to the Marquesas would have been very difficult, perhaps too difficult for a Polynesian canoe, in that it would have to be forced back against the wind. Modern racing yachts are not easy to sail from Hawaii to the Marquesas and it might have been difficult to sail a Polynesian canoe close enough to the wind to reach, at least directly, the Marquesas. Once Marquesans had arrived in Hawaii it is therefore likely that they stayed there. Indeed, the Marquesas- Hawaii seaway may have been witness to more than a few one-way voyages as early European observers in the Marquesas remarked how readily Marquesans took to their canoes and sailed off in search of new lands.

But, what about two-way voyaging? This could have occured between Tahiti and Hawaii for these islands lie almost on a north-south axis,across which the easterly tradewinds blow. This is an almost ideal situation for two-way voyaging as one need only sail slightly into the wind in order to overcome the tendency for the wind and current to push a craft westwards to be able to make the run either way. One could imagine that a Tahitian canoe, sailing north and slightly into the wind on a deliberate exploratory expedition, might have run across Hawaii, then sailed home to spread the news, thereby initiating a period of two-way contact between the two island groups. There is some traditional evidence for this possibility; Hawaiian chants and legends do tell of a period of two-way voyaging between Hawaii and Tahiti initiated by high ranking voyagers sometime after the original settlement of Hawaii. If this reconstruction- is correct, the Hawaii-Tahiti route may have been an outstanding example of long-distance two-way voyaging inpolynesia. In fact, if canoes did make intentional round trips across the thousands of miles of blue water that separate the two groups, this would have been one of the great voyaging feats of the early world, one that was not surpassed by Europeans until their age of discovery dawned in the late 15th century.

But this model of Polynesian voyaging between the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Hawaii, and the more general research results on which it is based, may be challenged on the basis that more extensive and realistic canoe sailing and navigation experiments must be conducted before we can make general statements about Polynesian voyaging or propose particular models of inter-island voyaging patterns. The canoe sailing experiments conducted in Hawaiian waters with a 40-foot long canoe, the navigation experiments conducted outside Polynesia proper and the computer simulation experiments, may have yielded some valuable information, but there is still a need for the kind of data that might be gathered on long--distance voyages in Polynesia with a large voyaging canoe. The Polynesian Voyaging Society is attempting to meet this challenge by sailing its specially constructed 60-foot long voyaging canoe from Hawaii to Tahiti and return, using only Polynesian navigation methods. This project is, therefore, an experimental effort designed to provide new information to be used in refining our ideas about Polynesian voyaging.

The long voyage is not, however, what philosophers of science call a "crucial experiment". That is, a successful voyage to Tahiti and return cannot definitively prove that the ancient Polynesians could have made, or did make, such a voyage; just as a failure to complete the voyage would not prove that the ancient Polynesians never did make, or could never have made such a voyage. The project has been criticized in the press as being "unscientific" precisely because the voyage is not a crucial experiment. This criticism rests on a false impression that all scientific efforts consist of crucial experiments. Truly crucial experiments are rare in science and much scientific work consists of patient research designed to produce new data needed to build and refine hypotheses and models and not necessarily to prove them right or wrong for all eternity. The canoe project is, therefore, an-. experimental research effort not because the outcome will provide positive proof for any theory, but because it will provide otherwise unobtainable data on a range of problems involved in Polynesian voyaging that will allow us to construct a more precise and realistic model of Polynesian discovery and settlement.

Before going into the details of what we hope to learn from the voyage, a word about the canoe and the sailing strategy to be followed is in order. The canoe is a double-hulled vessel. For long distance voyaging the Polynesians favored the double-hulled canoe over the single-hulled outrigger canoe because the two hulls securely lashed together provided much more stability and carrying capacity than the single hull-outrigger combination. The canoe has an overall length of 60 feet, a beam of 15 feet, and each of the two hulls is 3.5 feet wide and five feet deep. Ten crosspieces, each of which is 17 feet long and weighs 185 pounds, and many thousands of feet of % inch line-hold the two hulls firmly but flexibly together. The canoe weighs about five tons and can carry up to 7.5 tons of people, food, water, and supplies. At this load the hulls would draw two feet of water. It has two masts, each with a single Polynesian sprit sail. Large steering paddles and sweeps are used for steering and the crew uses smaller paddles to propel the vessel through calms and for maneuvering close to shore.

The canoe has been designed to represent, as closely as is now possible, the design of the type of canoe that would have been used for long voyages in Eastern Polynesia some 800 or so years ago. The principal design features have been derived from a study of voyaging canoes observed and described (and in some cases faithfully drawn) by the first European visitors to Polynesia, based on the premise that features common to these canoes would represent general Polynesian design features of some antiquity and not recent innovations or local adaptations. For example, the semi V-shape hull (a hull with a V-shaped keel but bulging, rounded sides), which can be seen in contact period voyaging canoes from Tahiti, the Tuamotus, Tonga, and some other islands, was chosen over the less widespread and more specialized full V-and rounded U-shape hulls.

Similarly, the simple Polynesian sprit sail (a triangular sail mounted with the apex downward), as can be seen in most Eastern Polynesian canoes of the contact period, was chosen over the more specialized and historically recent lateen sail of Samoa and Tonga.

In times past, a 60-foot hull would have been made from a huge log, which would have been dug out to form (depending on the diameter of the tree) either a keel piece, or a whole lower portion of the hull, and numerous planks which would have been carefully fitted edge-to-edge and then lashed together and to reinforcing ribs with coconut fiber line to form the gunwales of the hull. We, unfortunately, have neither the logs nor the skills at our disposal to build hulls exactly in this traditional manner. Except for the upper gunwale portions, which are made of fitted and lashed planks, our hulls are made in a modern manner, although in shape and weight they duplicate what we believe to be the basic characteristics of ancient hulls. When it comes to performance, then, our hulls probably closely approximate ancient ones. A great effort has been made, however, to obtain traditional materials for two portions of the canoe where the nature of the materials may greatly affect performance: the line that will be used for the lashings that hold the two hulls together and the rope that will be used for the rigging and the sails. Although at present we are using modern line and sail materials, for the voyage we will use coconut fiber line specially made for us by the men of Nanumea Atoll, and pandanus mat sails specially woven by women of Kapingamarangi Atoll. We have been forced to have these vital components made on these out of the way atolls. (Nanumea is on the western edge of Polynesia and Kapingamarangi is an isolated Polynesian colony located in Micronesia just a few hundred miles north of New Guinea) because only there could we find craftsmen who still have the skill and the time to fabricate high quality materials suitable for the voyaging canoe. The men of Nanumea are particularly delighted and honored to make the essential lashing and rigging line, for the people there have some Hawaiian ancestry, derived from a Hawaiian sailor who settled there in the last century.

Departure for Tahiti is scheduled for April 1976, and the canoe should return by August of that year. Although each leg of the voyage should take somewhere between 25 to 40 days, six months must be allowed for the round trip in order to have enough time available to wait for favorable winds at each departure point, and to refit the canoe in Tahiti. Each leg of the voyage will probably be close to 3,000 nautical miles long, a longer distance than a straight course because our sailing and navigational procedure will require us to follow a curved path.

Since Tahiti lies slightly east of Hawaii, and since the prevailing easterly tradewinds and currents tend to push a vessel westwards as it sails south towards Tahiti, the primary sailing problem is that of making sufficient 11 easting" (progress to the east) so that the canoe reaches the latitude of Tahiti on i ts eastern, windward side. The canoe will wait for a favorable wind, ideally a strong to moderate northeast (as opposed to an east or southeast). tradewind. Upon departure the canoe will sail in a southeast direction, pointing slightly into the wind, in order to make as much easting as possible before the wind switches southeast, as the tradewinds do in the southern hemisphere, and forces the canoe onto a more southerly course.

The star compass formed by rising stars as they break the eastern horizon, and the circumpolar stars like the Southern Cross, will be used to steer by at night. By day, observations of the sun, winds and ocean swell patterns will be used for steering. Although this method of navigation does not require any instruments, it is a task that calls for great skill and constant attention.

The first obstacle we anticipate is that posed by the doldrums, a belt of calms and light, irregular winds usually found between 9 degrees and 5 degrees north of the equator. Here the crew of some 18 persons, many of whom will be experienced outrigger canoe racing paddlers, may be called upon to paddle the canoes for days on end should we encounter a full calm.

Another anticipated obstacle is the Tuamotu Archipelago, a group of atolls south of the equator which forms a screen of jagged coral reefs through which the canoe must pass to reach Tahiti's latitude. Much caution must be exercised here as these islands, which are known on some old charts as the "Dangerous Archipelago", have claimed many a European ship and perhaps not a few carelessly sailed canoes. Because they stand only a few feet above the ocean's surface the Tuamotus cannot be directly seen until a few miles away. On dark nights a vessel can easily be virtually on the crest of a wave ready to break on the reef before the menace of land is detected. Here great skill on the part of the navigators is needed to gain warning time, through observation of the zenith stars that mark the latitude of the atolls, of interruptions made by atolls on ocean swell patterns, of atoll based birds which range only a short distance from land, and of all the other signs of land island navigators know how to read, so that the atolls can be anticipated and a safe course steered around them.

Once past the Tuamotus the next task is to determine when the canoe is on the latitude of Tahiti by observing when one of several possible zenith stars for Tahiti (stars which cross directly overhead Tahiti) is directly overhead the canoe, not a few degrees south (in which case the canoe would still be north of Tahiti), or a few degrees north (in which case the canoe would have run too far south past Tahiti's latitude).Once the canoe is on Tahiti's latitude it will be turned due west and sailed downwind until the island of Tahiti, or any of the other islands of the Society Group is spotted. In case -this sounds too easy, remember that the absolute requirement for success on this last leg is that the canoe must have been on the windward side of Tahiti before turning downwind. We will have no instruments to tell us this; we shall have only the navigator's skill at steering the canoe in just the right direction to put us on the eastern, windward side of Tahiti. If a mistake were made, through, for example, underestimating the amount of set and drift to the west, and the canoe were to reach Tahiti's latitude on the western, leeward side and then were to be turned downwind away from Tahiti, we would be lucky to fetch up in the Cook islands or Samoa or Tonga far to the west.

The same basic strategy will be followed on the return voyage,except that the canoe does not necessarily have to be sailed so close to the wind as Tahiti lies slightly east of Hawaii. If the canoe truly has mana, or spiritual power, it should virtually seek the latitude of Hawaii for the canoe is named Hokule'a (Star of Joy) after the star that marks the latitude of Hawaii when it is at its zenith. Once on . Hawaii's latitude the canoe will be turned downwind until the landfall is made on Hawaii, Maui, or whichever of the islands is first sighted.

What can we learn from this voyage and the testing that precedes it? Research will be concentrated on four main areas: 1),canoe performance, handling, and seaworthiness; 2) noninstrument navigation; 3) diet and physiology; 4) transport of plants and animals. In effect, our research in each of these will constitute a sup-experiment within the total experiment of the voyage.

One of the most important questions we hope to answer is simply, what are the performance characteristics of a large double-hulled voyaging canoe? In particular, we want to know how well it sails to windward, as a reasonable degree of windward sailing ability is needed for intentional two-way voyaging between islands. A research grant from the National Science Foundation is making it possible to conduct the experiments necessary to answer these questions. During sea trials the canoe is being instrumented to measure exactly how fast it sails under different wind and sea conditions, and how close it can sail to the wind. This information will not only constitute. the most precise and comprehensive body of data on Polynesian canoe sailing performance available, it will also have the immediate utility of aiding us to map out our sailing strategy for the voyage and, once on the voyage, to enable the navigators to closely estimate how the canoe is sailing so that they may be able to better plot its progress on the mental map of the route they will carry in their heads. During the voyage, however, no speed, angle measuring, or any other instruments will be carried; it will therefore be impossible for us to make a precise on-board records of our performance. This function will be carried out by the schooner New World that will track the canoe, out of sight, by radar. Their record of course heading and speed, in conjunction with a log we will make of sail and steering configurations and decisions aboard the canoe, will enable us to construct an accurate and continuous record of canoe performance over the entire voyage. (Our tracking vessel will also provide a built-in rescue capability should a medical emerqency occur, or should the canoe founder, break apart, or be smashed on a reef.)

We will also be learning a lot more about Polynesian voyaging canoes than just their gross performance characteristics. How is the canoe best steered: by steering paddles held against the hull, by steering sweeps trailed astern, by varying sail angle, or by what combination of these? How do you change tack easiest; by coming about or jibing? How do you reef mat sprit sails? How much manpower do steering, sail handling, and reefing tasks require? How stable is the canoe? How well does the crosspiece system absorb the stress of differential hull movement? How seakindly are the hulls (do they pound or cut through the swells)? Our sea trials before the voyage, and the voyage itself, will give us realistic data on these and many other questions that relate to the handling characteristics and seaworthiness of Polynesian voyaging craft.

We have a good idea of the principal methods used by traditional Polynesian navigators: 1) non-instrument sighting of stars for night steering and latitude determination; 2) noninstrument sighting of the sun, wind and swell patterns for day steering; 3) observation of how ocean swells are deflected as they bend around or bounce off islands, of flight patterns of island based birds and of all the other phenomena used for detecting proximity to islands before they are directly visible. But, because these methods have largely disappeared from Polynesia, victims of modern progress, we do not have a comprehensive account of how these methods function, and how accurate they are, on long range voyages. The voyage to Tahiti and back will provide an unparalled opportunity to test these methods and see how well they work out over a long distance.

A number of Hawaiian members of the Society are attempting to revive Polynesian navigation skills. On the voyage they will work with navigation researcher David Lewis, who will direct the navigation sub-experiment,'Pius Piailugi, a traditional navigator from Satawal Atoll in thecaroline Islands of Micronesia and a Tahitian navigator (who has yet to be chosen) skilled a guiding copra schooner through the reefs of the Tuamotu Islands. Their participation, and that of Kawainui Kane, will be made possible through fellowships granted by the EastWest Center as part of its program on technical and cultural interchange in the Pacific. Having Piailug on the navigation team will greatly facilitate the revival of traditional Polynesian navigational techniques. Why have a Micronesian navigator assist on a Polynesian voyage? The answer can be found in David Lewis' classic on Pacific navigation, We,the Navigators. Polynesian and Micronesian systems are but variations of a Pacific-wide noninstrument navigation tradition, and while the Polynesian system has largely disappeared from usage, traditional navigation techniques 'are still in daily use on Satawal and some of the other more isolated atolls of Micronesia. In fact, partly as a result of the respect shown by Lewis and other reserachers who have made virtual pilgrimages to these islands to investigate navigational techniques, the navigators of Satawal and neighboring Puluwat island have revived the old voyaging route to Saipan and are now making the 1, 100 mile round-trip voyage in their sleek outrigger canoes. With Piailug, who has had a lifetime of navigation experience and who madethe Saipan voyage in 1974, on the team we will be able to tap into this surviving navigation tradition in order to help revive the kindred arts of Polynesia.

As no charts or instruments of any kind will be carried aboard the canoe, the navigators must learn to recognize hundreds of stars and be able to use selected ones for steering and latitude determination. The novice members of the team will have to learn the stars, memorize a mental map of the sky, and develop star sighting skills virtually from scratch. Even Pialug, with all his knowledge and skill, will have to learn new navigation stars and routes for the voyage into the unfamiliar (to him) skies of the Southern Hemisphei-e. Here the use of the Bishop Museum planetarium as a training simulator will be invaluable, for with it we will be able to study the skies as they will appear during the voyage and to, in effect, simulate the changing star configurations the canoe will encounter as it sails south to Tahiti and then back north to Hawaii by changing the latitude setting of the sky projected onto the planetarium dome. In so doing, we hope to begin to approach the star and navigational knowledge of an ancient Polynesian navigator with a lifetime of sailing experience in Eastern Polynesian waters who, having made at least one trip between Tahiti and Hawaii, was prepared to retrace his route back to Tahiti.

What did the Polynesian seafarers eat on their long voyages? In addition to fresh foods like bananas and sweet potatoes, they carried specially prepared voyaging foods that could keep for months at sea: partially dehydrated and fermented taro poi, a similar preparation made from breadfruit, pandanus flour and dried fish, to name the ones we know most about. Coconuts were also carried and, in addition to providing voyagers with food and oil, they yielded fluid to supplementwater carried in gourd and coconut shell water bottles and fuel (from the husk) for cooking. Voyagers undoubtedly fished along the way and certainly would not have turned their noses up at the tasty flying fish that probably landed from time to time on their canoes. We will try to duplicate this diet as closely as possible, which means that we have to recreate and manufacture considerable quantities of traditional voyaging foods, coconut shell and gourd water bottles, and -traditional, fishing gear down to the bone and shell fish hooks. Kenneth Emory, Ledyard Professor of Anthropology at the Bishop Museum, is endeavoring to ensure that our efforts in this and all other aspects-of the project will be as authentic as possible. He is working with researcher June Gutmanis, physician Frank Tabrah and nutritionist Jean Hankin who have been preparing traditional voyaging foods, assessing their nutritional value and calculating the dietary requirements on the voyage.

Calculation of daily food requirements must be specific to the energy demands of crewing the canoe, which means that we must conduct physiological tests designed to record metabolic rates and water usage for all situations from paddling to just sailing along in a fair wind on the short trips in Hawaiian waters that will precede the long voyage. From data derived from these tests we can develop a close estimate of food and water needed and can then provision the canoe accordingly. These data, combined with a complete record of daily activity patterns for each crew member, of food and water consumption during the voyage, as wellas of physical examinations before & after each leg, should yield a unique body of information which can then be applied to an analysis of the survival problems faced by Polynesian voyagers.

At this point we should be able to put discussions of voyaging survival problems on a fairly firm footing, and we may even be able to comment on more general problems concerninq the evolution of the Polynesian physical type. For example, we would hope to be able to shed some light on the suggestion that the relatively bulky Polynesian physique reflects the selective pressure of voyaging. One can hypothesize that under severe conditions of food scarcity and exposure to the elements (particularly to cold, as the lightly clad crew sailing in brisk tradewinds may tend to lose significant amounts of body heat) big and bulky men and women would be most likely to endure the lack of food and the exposure and thus survive to found a newcolony and reproduce more persons of the like physique.

A related but different survival problem facing the Polynesians stemmed from the lack of a wide range of food sources, particularly vegetable sources, on the virgin islands of Polynesia. These islands generally abounded in protein sources like fish, seabirds, and seabird eggs, but had little in the way of vegetable foods. The Polynesian staples--taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, yams, and other cultivated plants-had to be carried by Polynesian colonists from island to island as did the pig, dog, and chicken --their main non-marine sources of protein. We know that the Polynesians must have taken great care to transport these food sources to new islands, but how exactly was it done? In particular, how did they keep plants like the breadfruit, that are so intolerant of seawater and in need of regular supplies of fresh water, alive on a long sea journey so that it could be replanted on the new island? Under the d'irection of ethnobotanist Douglas Yen of the Bishop Museum, we will carry and try to keep alive a range of Polynesian plants and domesticated animals in order to learn more about these problems. While we do not expect any definitive results, we hope that our experience would deepen our now very limited knowledge of this vital aspect of Polynesian colonization.

As a research endeavor, the canoe project is part of a tradition of experimental archaeology, John Coles' term for reconstructing and testing items of ancient technology in order to learn more about their function and utility. His recent book, Archaeology by Experiment, includes a section on experiments with reconstructed watercraft in which he discusses, along with the 1966 experiments with the 40-foot long Hawaiian canoe, a number of long range experimental voyages such as the 1893 effort to sail a replica Viking boat from Scandanavia to North America and Heyerdahl's 1947 raft expedition from South America to Polynesia. However, while our work with the 60-foot long voyaging canoe in a sense closely resembles that carried out by Heyerdahl and other experimental voyagers who have reconstructed ancient water craft and then sailed them. long distances over some disputed voyaging route, it is fundamentally different from most of these previous endeavors in three main ways.

First, while the projected canoe voyage will be a two-way navigated voyage designed to investigate many aspects of the Polynesian capability for long-range exploration and colonization ventures, most, if not all of the previous long range experimental voyages have been one-way voyages in which the main effort seems to have been to keep the craft afloat and together long enough to be able to sail, often downwind and with the current, until the craft ran down an island or continental shore. Heyerdahl's raft voyage from South America provides an example. His balsa raft sailed and drifted across the Eastern Pacific until it literally crashed upon the reef of Raroia, a Tuamotu atoll that the crew saw in plenty of time, but could not avoid, as they could not sail the raft welienough to maneuver around the island or reach a safe anchorage. There was no thought of a return voyage to South America, as Heyerdahl was really only trying to establish that a balsa raft was capable of sailing from South America to Polynesia. Although this one-way, go-for-broke approach to experimental voyaging, an approach which also characterizes just about every other attempt at long-range experimental voyaging, can produce interesting information, we would hope that our attempt to undertake a traditionally navigated, roundtrip voyage will yield fuller and more significant results.

Second, while our effort will be to retrace a voyaging route which is celebrated in Hawaiian traditional history, and for which there are abundant linguistic and archaeological indications, the efforts of many other long-range experimental voyagers have been directed towards establishing the possibility of a voyaging route for which there is little or no evidence of a solid kind. Heyerdahl's work may again be cited, not to criticize it, but only to emphasize how our projected voyage wilt follow a relatively well documented route. Despite intensive research efforts, no clear-cut archaeological or linguistic evidence of a South America- Pol yn esia link has come to light.In comparison, there are abundant indications from archaeological excavations and linguistic studies that Hawaiian culture branched off. perhapsas early as 500 A.D., from an ancestral Eastern Polynesian culture centered in the Marquesas or Tahiti.

Furthermore, there are a number of Hawaiian oral traditions that tell of a period when there was two-way voyaging between Hawaii and Tahiti. According to onetale, for example, the Hawaiian chief Mo'ikeha left Waipio valley on Hawaii after a devastating flood, and sailed south to Tahiti, the homeland of his ancestors. After a disappointment in love on Tahiti, Mo'ikeha sails back north to re-settle in Hawaii, this time on the island of Kauai. Desirous of seeing. his son that he left in Tahiti, La'a-mai-Kahiki (La'a-from-Tahiti), Mo'ikeha sends his Kauai son Kila to fetch him. After many adventures in Hawaii, La'a decides to return to Tahiti, and takes his departure from Kahoolawe Island, sailing through the famous passage called Ke Ala i Kahiki, or "The Way to Tahiti". Pa'ao, a high priest whose descendants served Kamehameha, figures in another one of these voyaging epics. After sailing from Tahiti to Hawaii, Pa'ao returns to Tahiti to seek a high ranking Tahitian chiefi to bring back to Hawaii to infuse new and sacred blood into the Hawaiian ruling class. After a refusal from one Tahitian chief, Pa'ao persuaded the chief Pili Ka'aiea to return with him to Hawaii where he became ruling chief of the island of Hawaii and established his seat of government in the valley of Waipio.

We need not accept these and other Hawaiian voyaging epics as literal records of actual voyages that have been transmitted orally, without change, over the centuries. We in the Society do, however, believe that these legends chronicle, in substance if not exact details, a period when there was intentional two-way voyaging between these two great centers of ancient Polynesia. Perhaps we are unduly biased here for many of our members are Hawaiians, some of whom count descent from personages named in voyaging epics. They find it difficult to disbelieve their traditional histories and reject the notion that at least some of their ancestors were Tahitian voyagers. They would like to believe that the song of the bard, Kamahualele, which he chanted upon arrival from Tahiti at Hilo Bay aboard Mo'ikeha's canoe, is more than poetry: Behold Hawaii, an island, a people The people of Hawaii, oh, The people of Hawaii Are the offspring of Tahiti.

The third and final point of contrast between the canoe project and most previous long range voyaging experiments relates to the high degree of community participation in the endeavor. From the beginning the canoe project has involved many of Hawaii's citizens, not just a few researchers and canoe or sailing enthusiasts. Nearly a thousand persons have joined the Polynesian Voyaging Society and their contributions of money and labor have been instrumental in constructing the canoe and otherwise getting the project underway. Community organizations like the Hawaii Bicentennial Commission and the Committee for the Preservation and Study fo Hawaiian Language, Art and Culture, as well as many of Hawaii's business firms, have endorsed the project and have given generously with donations in cash or in kind to enable us to finish the canoe and to begin to prepare for the voyage. Hundreds of persons have enrolled in "Polynesian Canoe Workshops" that we have held jointly with the City and County of Honolulu in order to learn more about Polynesian canoes and voyaging and to help, through their contributions and labor build some of the components of the canoe. Finally, for the launching of the canoe, which was purposefully planned as a public event at Kualoa Park on the shores of Kaneohe Bay so that thousands could witness it, expert Hawaiian chanters and canoe paddlers worked together to recreate a traditional Hawaiian canoe launching ceremony such as had not been seen here for a century or more.

A special feature of this community involvement has been the heavy and vital participation by Hawaiians. This contrasts further with many other experimental voyage ventures in which the people whose ancestral voyaging tradition is being investigated have little or nothing to do with the project apart, perhaps, from supplying labor to build the voyaging craft.We believe that it is only appropriate that the Hawaiians, all of whom are descended from Polynesian seafarers who arrived here by canoe, take a leading role in the recreation of their ancestral voyaging tradition. But this is less a matter of favoritism than it is a function of the motivation and skills present in the Hawaiian community. The chance to help realize a voyage that recreates a chapter in their own past has been a powerful incentive for Hawaiian participation, and fortunately, Hawaiians do maintain a high level of interest and skill in canoes and related facets of their culture that can be applied to the project.

Some years ago when the noted Hawaiian artist, Kawainui Kane, was working in Chicago, he began to study the old lithographs and descriptions of traditional Polynesian canoes with the aFm of producing a series of realistic paintings and accurate plans of all major Polynesian canoe types. This initiative led, once he returned to Hawaii and met anthropologist Ben Finney and racing canoe paddler C. Thomas Holmes both of whom shared a similar interest in Polynesian canoes and voyaging, to the foundation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Kane was then able to ap.ply his interest and expertise to designing a voyaging canoe and then supervising its construction. While Kane's leading role in the project is in many ways unique, other highly motivated Hawaiians with needed skills have been prominent participants in the project. For example, apprentice canoe builders Cal Coito and Tom Heen did much of the work of building the canoe, master canoe builder Wright Bowman fabricated the ten massive crosspieces that join the two hulls as well as a number of other crucial parts of the canoe, Sandra Maile has been handling Society affairs in her capacity as executive director, Paige Kawelo Barber and Moku Froiseth have been supervising the effort to build up a supply of dried and preserved voyaging foods for the voyage, Kimo Hugo is taking a prominent role in training prospective crew members, and master chanter Kaupena Wong presided over the all important launching ceremony.

When it comes to crewing the canoe, here we are particularly looking to the Hawaiian men and wonen who are expert racing canoe paddlers. Although the large sailing canoes of old Hawaii have failed to survive the modernization of these islands, outrigger paddling canoes have survived and now canoe racing is one of our major sports. There is an embarrassment of riches here, and the main problem is narrowing down the final choice of crew members from the literally hundreds of skilled and dedicated candidates.

"What will you do with the canoe after the voyage?" is a question we are constantly being asked. Our response is that after returning from Tahiti the canoe will be dedicated to the people of Hawaii for educational purposes. We would hope to turn it into a "floating classroom" to be sailed from island to island throughout Hawaii to give a wide range of people the chance to come aboard and go for a sail so that they might begin to appreciatethe voyaging tradition that made the first migration to these islands possible. How this is to be organized and financed is yet to be decided. We hope, however, that when the time comes we can again count on the high level of community participation that has enabled us to prepare for this voyage into Hawaii's past.

For accounts of the 1976 Voyage to, see Ben Finney’s “1976 Hawai‘i to Tahiti and Back” and Nainoa Thompson’s “Finding a Way: 1974-1980.”


Polynesian Voyaging Society

The charter of incorporation of the Society has granted by the State of Hawaii on September 13, 1973. The incorporators were Ben R. Finney, Herbert Kawainui Kane and Charles Thomas Holmes. The charter states that the purposes of the Society are: 1) to sponsor or conduct, or both, research on the manner in which Polynesian seafarers settled Hawaii and other Pacific Islands by investigating through experimental and other means the canoes, navigation systems and other technical and cultural factors that enabled the Polynesians to undertake successful voyages of discovery and settlement; 2) and to disseminate the resultant research findings by producing or publishing, or both, articles in scientific journals, books, filmsr and other instruments Of COM_ unication in order to inform the the public about Polynesian voyaging, and to make available data that might be useful to scientists and others engaged in maritime endeavors.

Polynesian canoes

The Canoes of Oceania by A.C. Haddon and James Hornell (Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1936) is the standard reference work for Polynesian and other Pacific canoes. Fortunately, this three volume work which has long been out of print is now being reprinted by the Bishop Museum Press and should be available in late 1975. H. Kawainui Kane's portfolio Canoes of Polynesia (Island Heritage, Hon., 1974) provides a naturalistic and invaluable documentation of all major Polynesian canoes. Pacific canoe types are also discussed in Nao, Junk and Vaka: Boats and Culture History, by Edwin Doran Jr. (Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 1973).

Andrew Sharp

If a medal were ever struck to honor the person who has been most responsible in stimulating research on Polynesian voyaging, it should be awarded, posthumously, to the late Andrew Sharp. Without Sharp's resolute attack on long accepted but unexamined assumptions concerning Polynesian voyaging, it is doubtful that there would have been such a push to get out there.and find out about Polynesian canoes and navigational methods. Sharp first presented his thesis in 1956 in a Memoir of the Polynesian Society entitled Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific. The popularity of the book is attested by the fact that it was reprinted the following year by Penguin Books, and that in 1963 a revised version, entitled Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia, was published (Paul's Book Arcade, Auckland, New Zealand). In 1962 the Journal of the Polynesian Society, the central forum for airing issues in Polynesian research, published a series of articles which discussed Sharp's thesis. These were reprinted in 1963, under the editorship of Jack Golson, as Polynesian Navigation. A Symposium on Andrew Sharp's Theory of Accidental Voyages. (Polynesian Society Memoir No. 34), This Memoir in turn was reprinted in 1973 by A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington. Some of Sharp's many other writings on Polynesian voyaging are cited, along with recent works by others writing on the question, in a bibliography by David Lewis which is appended to the 1973 edition of Polynesian Navigation.

Recent research

David Lewis has reported his various research ventures and also given a comprehensive analysis of navigation in Polynesia and Micronesia in his We, the Navigators (University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1973). Another useful book is East is a Big Bird (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1970) in which Thomas Gladwin analyses in detail the navigation system, including its psychological aspects, of Puluwat atoll in the Central Caroline Islands. A more technical but equally significant book is The Settlement of Polynesia by M. Levison, R.G. Ward and J.W. Webb (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1973). This reports the computer simulation experiments of the drift voyaging hypothesis of Polynesian settlement. In "New Perspectives on Polynesian Voyaging" (in G. Highland et al (eds.), Polynesian Culture History Essays in Honor of Kenneth P. Emory pp. 141-166, B.P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 56, Honolulu, 1967), Ben Finney analysed the first research work of the 1960's and applied the findings to problem of the settlement of Hawaii and subsequent contact with Tahiti. A book that brings together and discusses research undertaken up until 1973 is Pacific Voyaging and Naviciation edited by Ben Finney (The Ploynesian Society, Wellington, 1975).

Archaeological and Linguistic Evidence on the Settlement of Hawaii.

Up until a decade or two ago archaeologists and historians generally favored Tahiti as the homeland of the Hawaiians However, archaeological and linguistic research conducted in the late 1950's and early 1960's led Bishop Museum researchers Kenneth P. Emory and Yosihiko H. Sinoto to postulate a two-part settlement from the Marquesas around 750 A.D., and then later, about 1200 A.D., settlement, or at least significant contact, from Tahiti (see Preliminary Report on the Archaeological Investigations in Polynesia, Anthropology Department, B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, 1965). This view has been disputed by some young archaeologists like Peter Bellwood ("Dispersal Centres in East Polynesia, with special reference to the Society and Marquesas Islands," in R. Green and M.Kelly (eds.) Oceanic Culture History, Vol. 1, pp. 93-104. Pacific Anthropological Records No. 13) and Ross Cordy ("The Tahitian Migration to Hawaii CA 1100-1300 A.D.: An Argument Against its Occurence," "New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 65-76, 1974) who argue that the archaeological record in particular is not sufficiently detailed to allow one to state exact sources and sequences of settlement. However, even if we might agree that the evidence is insufficient to draw a firm route map with arrows and dates, that there is some archaeological and linguistic evidence for links between Hawaii and both the Marquesas and Tahiti seems incontestable.

Hawaiian settlement traditions

There are abundant indications of Hawaii-Tahiti links contained in Hawaiian genealogies, chants and legends recorded in the years after European contact. Some of these can be found in Martha Beckwith's Hawaiian Mythology, (University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1970, Bruce Cartwright's "Some Aliis of the Migratory Period," Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, Vol. 10, No. 7, 1933) and Nathariiel B. Emerson's "The Long Voyages of the Ancient Hawaiians," (Papers of the Hawaiian Historical Society, No. 5, pp. 11-34, 1893). Teuira Henry's classic Ancient Tahiti (Bishop Museum Bulletin 48, Honolulu, 1928) cites Tahitian chants and legends that may indicate some Tahitian acquaintance with Hawaii.

However, it has become popular in the last few decades for scholars to reject traditions of settlement in Polynesia as guides to the history of past- population movements and to consider them primarily as testimony concocted or greatly modified to support some relatively recent theory of settlement or even to rationalize the political ascendency of a group by giving it "respectable" voyaging and settlement credentials. And, there are also those who would hold that settlement legends in Hawaii and some other parts of Polynesia reflect, in garbled form, the intrusion of Spanish navigators in the 16th century, not the arrival of Polynesian seafarers. However, there is good reason to believe that while settlement traditions may not exactly record the past, they can provide clues as to direction, sequence and perhaps even motivation of settlement. For example, Harry Maude, a noted Pacific historian, states that in Pacific Island societies facts conerning migration are apparently remembered long after the details of other events of local history are forgotten ("Pacific History--Past, Present and Future", Journal of Pacific Histor (Vol. 6, pp. 3-24, 1971).