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Thousands of people gathered on the beach and in the hundreds of boats off Waikiki to welcome the Hokulea back to Hawaii from its first major voyage after launching from Maui’s Honolua Bay on May 1, 1976.
“It was just us, the canoe and the ocean for three weeks, never knowing whether you’re going to finally make it, but [then we] saw Hawaii rise out of the sea, and saw it from a very special and quiet way because we were still isolated,” says Nainoa Thompson, who was a crewmember on the leg home. “Then we sailed toward Waikīkī and it was crazy—from isolation on the ocean into sheer chaos.”
The arrival of the replica ancient Polynesian canoe not only proved that the ancient Polynesians came to Hawaii by means of developed navigational methods—debunking the accidental settlement hypothesis—but it also became a symbol of cultural pride and achievement.
“The Hokulea was about breaking down the perceptions, ideals, beliefs and expectations of Native Hawaiians and allowing [them] a sense of freedom,” says Thompson.
The Hokulea has since traveled almost 130,000 nautical miles on six major voyages. Its navigators and crew are also training to sail around the world in 2012.
When George Helm and Kimo Mitchell, of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana (PKO), disappeared in bad weather trying to return to Maui, they became the new Hawaiian movement’s first martyrs. Between 1975 and 1977, scores of people had boated and paddled to Kahoolawe, occupying it illegally in protest of the Navy’s use of the island as a bombing range. Helm’s and Mitchell’s deaths highlighted the danger of the undertaking, and the depth of commitment of the PKO activists.
It took almost two decades, but the duo’s actions were eventually vindicated—the Navy officially handed over control of Kahoolawe to the state of Hawaii on May 7, 1994, and cleanup and re-vegetation efforts continue to this day.
Eddie Aikau had brought his board along with him, hoping to get in some surfing before returning home aboard the Hokulea on its way back from Tahiti during its second voyage. He ended up sacrificing his life on that surfboard, when he donned a life vest and paddled toward Lanai, in an effort to get help for his crew members after the canoe capsized and drifted off course.
“He embodied the ideal of aloha because he was always willing to give himself and sacrifice himself to help others,” says local author Stuart Coleman, who wrote Eddie Would Go and Fierce Heart. (For more on Coleman, see page 26.)
More than three decades after his death, Aikau’s legacy is still vibrant, manifested in local culture—and the outside surfing community—from the invitation-only big-wave surfing contest, the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, to the popular Eddie Would Go bumper stickers, to the Eddie Aikau Foundation.
Rap Reiplinger had cut his chops years earlier as part of the comedy team Booga Booga with James Grant Benton and Ed Kaahea, but when Poi Dog, his first solo LP, hit the streets in 1978, it instantly became a cultural touchstone in Hawaii. “Fate Yanagi,” “Date-a-Tita,” “Room Service”—something about the mix of ethnic humor, pidgin accents and wacky characters hit a nerve. “He created a whole type of expression,” says Harry B. Soria Jr. “He found a way to bring all cultures together with some good-natured fun.”
Reiplinger’s material has stood the test of time, too. Although he passed away in 1984, the albums and television specials he recorded were so wickedly observational and just plain hilarious that they’re still being quoted today.
The 1978 Constitutional Convention brought huge changes to the way Hawaii is run as a state. All 34 proposed amendments to the state constitution passed. Among the most dramatic: term limits for state officeholders, a balanced-budget requirement and unionization of state employees.
“The ConCon solidified that liberal base of the Islands … because the roots were heavily influenced by liberal values. It was a device to mobilize the public,” said Ira Rohter, a UH Manoa political science professor and local pundit who passed away a week after we interviewed him.
The state’s second Constitutional Convention also paved the way for Native Hawaiian rights through the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the preservation of Hawaiian language through diacritics and the use of Hawaiian street names.
We take it for granted that there is such a thing as local literature, in which authors such as Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Nora Okja Keller or Chris McKinney fearlessly write stories about the real Hawaii—sometimes violent, sometimes tragic, anything but the idyllic melting pot that outsiders might perceive.
However, this literature might not exist today if Darrell Lum and Eric Chock hadn’t launched Bamboo Ridge, a literary magazine for local voices, in December 1978. Bamboo Ridge Press has since published hundreds of writers and poets in more than 90 issues of the magazine, as well as numerous local novels. You can hear selections from Bamboo Ridge on Hawaii Public Radio or join in the lively discussions of local literature and identity at www.bambooridge.com.