Hōkūle‘a is Reborn (2012)

By Karen Holman

For Photos of the Drydock 2010-2012, see Mālama Wa‘a, 2010-2012.

For days, nature has been speaking to us with heightened intensity in the Hawaiian Islands. Winds sing through the valleys with fervor and trees follow the dance, bending impossibly in all directions. A thick blanket of cloud molds to the contours of the Wai‘anae range, caressing her shape seamlessly. Streams rage to the sea, and every crevice of the Ko’olau range holds a waterfall.  Sheets of lightening illuminate the night, while thunder resonates vibrations through the Earth. This has been nature’s mood for days but in the pre-dawn hours of March 8, 2012, she seems to stop and take a deep breath, and the elements subside into calm. Today, Hōkūle‘a returns to the sea. A canoe is reborn, and with her, so too are we…all those inspired by her, the hands that together re-created her, and the children to be reached in her future journeys. It is a timeless moment and also, a window in time… into past and present, hope and possibility.

Under the Full Moon, Kealoha Hoe and Attwood Makanani Prepping Hōkūle‘a for Launching. Photo by PVS.

A full moon hangs low in the sky and anticipation fills the air as people busy about preparing Hōkūle‘a to touch the sea again. It is her birthday and exactly 37 years since her first launching at Kualoa. For the last 18 months she has been on land in dry dock, where she was rebuilt by many hands, with care and love. I have felt a profound privilege to be alongside her and to be a part of tremendous unity, of a community, building together, putting our hearts and hands into making her stronger and just as beautiful. In the early morning when the sky is still dark and planets are visible, it is time for her to go back to the ocean and fulfill her purpose. It is a historic moment. Some seek solitude or a moment of silence with her. One puts his arms around her hull and presses his ear to her side. In this moment, I can see the tenderness we all share for Hōkūle‘a. She is a living treasure, with a life and spirit of her own.

Kaina Holomalia Wrapping Maile on the Back Spreader. Photo by PVS.

As dawn emerges, we gather for a blessing.  Though the clouds have parted and the wind softened, a mist from the valleys still surrounds us, noted as symbolic of kupuna, our ancestors that join us in the re-birthing of Hōkūle‘a. We form a circle and are asked to let any stresses drift out to sea so that our blessing is positive. The conch is blown in the four cardinal directions and the three tips of ti leaves, representing ‘ohana (mother, father, child) are used to bless her with water in a purification ceremony or pikai. Billy Richards speaks of the ‘ohana wa’a, all those who have sailed with her, a family with Mau Piailug as our father and Hōkūle‘a as our mother. We are their descendants on this voyage, this succession of knowledge and leadership to the next generation.

1976 Crew Member Billy Richards, Representing ‘Ohana Wa‘a, the Family of the Canoe, the statewide canoe building and voyaging organization. Photo by PVS.

Kaniela Akaka, with Billy Richards, Bruce Blankenfled, and Bob Perkins, blessing Hōkūle‘a. Photo by PVS.

Nainoa Thomspon, Bruce Blankenfeld, and Bob Perkins also speak. Their words remind us of this single moment in time, of the power of community coming together. They remind us that the community rebuilt Hōkūle‘a, and Hōkūle‘a rebuilt the community. Many hands, with love, compassion and aloha, have touched the canoe and shared with her. She is a symbol of what the community can do united. To rebuild her has allowed us a precious intimacy with Hōkūle‘a, transforming us all. Tears well in my eyes and it is hard to know if they are tears of joy, loss, or some unknown entwining of emotion I cannot describe.

“Let her be free to go to the sea, it is her time, let her go, she thanks you.”

It is a moving sight to see the many hands holding her and guiding her back to the blue. We pause before reaching the water. Hōkūle‘a is symbolic of a lei needle as she continues touching shores around the Earth. In blessing her, we form a circle, a lei around the canoe of linked hands, and share a prayer before she goes back in the ocean.

Crew Pule (Prayer). Photo by PVS.

In the same tradition as our ancestors, a chant resonates.

"Pehea ka wa‘a, pono anei?" (How is the canoe? Is it good?)

“‘Ae maika‘i loa ka wa‘a Hōkūle‘a!” (Yes, the canoe Hōkūle‘a is indeed very good!)

Into the Ocean, with the Sun Rising.Photo by PVS.

We let her go gently, and in the golden light that appears only as the sun rises or falls into the horizon, her hulls touch salt water. A crewmember stands on her deck, with arms outstretched like an ‘iwa bird. Others guide her in from below, immersed in the water beside her and smiling broadly. In the very moment that Hōkūle‘a glides into the sea, a rainbow emerges in the sky. Throughout our reflections of dry dock, a recurrent theme has been the word ‘magic’. There is certainly magic in this moment, and as her hulls meet the sea, salt water seems to flow through us all, stirring exploration and the ocean inside of us. The rainbow continues to touch the horizon behind the canoe, and at one moment seemingly illuminates the crewmembers themselves, who steer her sweep for the first time in so many months.

Afloat. Photo by PVS.

Hōkūle‘a is docked and ho’okupu (gifts) are offered…kalo, lei, a beautifully carved gourd. People step aboard and crewmembers hug one another in exaltation.

Nainoa and Kaniela after the Launching. Photo by PVS.

As the crowds depart, we launch back into the journey. As we raise her mast and give her the power to sail, we seize the moment as a training opportunity, imagining that we are in a storm, surrounding by the raw energy of the sea.

For a moment, before it is time to leave, I bask in feeling the sun on my face. I am filled with wonder, at the sensation of warmth and light, but mostly by the magnitude of what we have created as a community. On my way out, I stand for a moment, staring at the now empty space where she had once been in dry dock. I can close my eyes and recall visions of all the transformations that unfolded here, in a canoe and a community.  In an estimated 26, 500 work hours, fulfilled by many hands, there is not a single square inch of her not cared for. Yet, this figure is humbling when I consider how deeply she has cared for us. The week prior to Hōkūle‘a’s rebirth, we had a reflective gathering of people, sharing the experience of what dry dock meant to each personally. There were tears and smiles, talk of transformation and magic. There was talk of how she has changed people, and in some cases, even saved them.

Hōkūle‘a teaches timeless values and invaluable lessons.  As we took her apart months ago, we removed all rot and damage accumulated from years of voyaging. Today, only one inch remains in her hulls, for every other part of her is completely new. Still, she is Hōkūle‘a, carrying immeasurable mana and stronger than ever before.  She carries so much mana that she has left an energetic trace in the parking lot. She seems to exist in many places at once, making the invisible visible, and revealing the interconnectedness of our world. Hōkūle‘a exists beyond the hulls that carry her across the ocean or the lashings that hold her together. She is a living, spiritual being that transcends the material. Her body, perhaps very much like our own, is no more than a shell, continually reborn from one life to the next, embodying her expanding spirit. A part of each of us, and of our ancestors, lives on in every part of her.

I think about the children that have been present for the rebuilding and re-launching of Hōkūle‘a, and how this giant, glistening canoe must exist in their imaginations. Children are much closer to the magic in their ways of perceiving. The cycle of life has become beautifully apparent throughout this special process, as toddlers help their elders by holding a hanging rope, and young eyes beam at the feeling of walking on deck.

The break in torrential rains and powerful gusts of wind was only a passing moment of calm. The days that followed Hōkūle‘a’s rebirth were marked by large hail stones falling over parts of the island and a waterspout that came aground as a tornado. The intensity and unusual nature of extreme weather seems to be augmenting globally as human impacts impose vast changes and imbalances in our ecosystem. Hōkūle‘a’s next journey revolves around the theme of Malama Honua, or care for the Earth. Caring for the canoe is also caring for ourselves, and our Earth, a precious island floating in vastness of space, deeply in need of our care now as never before. The rebuilding of Hōkūle‘a has shown us what we can achieve through our dreams as a community, and now, the open ocean awaits.