Hōkūleʻa: Teaching on the Wind

As the Hōkūleʻa sets off across the world, Hawaii students will be taking notes.

*The Hōkūleʻa launches on May 17, from the Marine Education and Training Center on Sand Island  (10 Sand Island Parkway). Canoes will depart at sunset. More information at hokulea.org.
Photos: Courtesy Polynesian Voyaging Society


It started in 1976 with a voyage to Tahiti, the Hōkūleʻa canoe a symbol of Hawaiian ingenuity at long-distance navigation. This month, after 10 voyages, Hōkūleʻa will set out for the first time to circumnavigate the globe, or, as the Polynesian Voyaging Society calls it, “Island Earth.”


Making it around the world in a waa kaulua (double-hulled voyaging canoe) will be a long, challenging journey, but it’s not a daredevil stunt. It’s an opportunity to educate a new generation.


Kamaile Academy in Waianae has been helping the Voyaging Society prepare the Hōkūleʻa for launch while it’s been in drydock. Kenny Ferenchak, director of the school’s student center, has bused high school students to the Marine Education Training Center, at Sand Island, to meet the crew leaders and captains, hear their stories and learn about the history of cross-Polynesia voyages, and to help sand, varnish, and care for the canoes.


More than 78 percent of the public conversion school’s students live in economic hardship, but Ferenchak says that, in spite of these challenges, participating in the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Malama Honua program has turned students into leaders. “Some have spoken at different conferences and different media events for PVS. They’ve done various outreach components for the worldwide voyage. We try to impress upon them that they’ve been given the privileged kuleana, that it’s their responsibility to give it back to the next generation.”


Kamaile is just one school participating with the Polynesian Voyaging Society—the sailing organization has partnered with the state Department of Education, the UH College of Education, Punahou School, Kamehameha Schools and other educational institutions. Projects range from third graders building a “Hōkūleʻa garden” to plans to have voyaging crewmembers communicate with classrooms across the state via Skype and Google Talk.


The all-volunteer crew, which will be going out in 30-day legs, working four-hour shifts between periods of eight-hour rests, will include teachers on sabbatical leave.


One such crewmember is Gandharvi Mahina Hou Ross, a teacher at Molokai High School in Hawaiian language immersion courses. He says, no matter where the voyage goes, who is on the crew at the time, or which students are tuning in to participate from their classrooms, the most important aspect is going to be teaching and learning the resources of the ocean.


“A canoe is like an island; an island is like a canoe,” he says. “You have limited resources on a canoe. You have interpersonal relationships with everyone on board. All of that. So we want to take that manao and spread it to the world, the idea that the world is an island and that we need to care for our resources and our relationships.”


*Updated 5/13/14