One Island, One Community
In 1976, Hōkūle`a was the only active voyaging canoe in the Pacific; today there are eight in Hawai`i, and 22 total throughout Polynesia and the Pacific. That’s how strong the message was when Hōkūle`a first sailed, and how deep the yearning for traditional knowledge had become.
In the years after that first and subsequent voyages, Paishon says, “Everyone wanted Hōkūle`a to come to their communities so they could be part of the experience and learn the lessons for themselves. But since there was only one canoe, she couldn’t come.”
So, in the early 1990s, a group of Hawai`i Island residents — including Clay Bertelmann, his daughter Pomai, brother Shorty, Paishon, and others, many veterans of Hōkūle`a voyages — began an effort to build a wa‘a kaulua for their own island. To gain knowledge of the customary practices of building a canoe, they were tasked with building a smaller, five-man coastal sailing canoe using completely natural materials in the traditional practices of old Hawai`i. That vessel, named Mauloa, was completed in 1991 under the guidance of Papa Mau Piailug, the Micronesian master navigator who was instrumental in teaching the original Hōkūle`a crew how to navigate by the stars and other traditional canoe knowledge, dance, and ceremony.
“What building Mauloa showed was how a canoe begins in the forest,” Paishon says, “and gave us a complete picture of what it takes. You must pick the right tree, then there are blessings and ceremonies before you can take the tree. There is a right way to bring the rough-hewn log down to the water to construct the canoe, and finally there is a ceremony when it is birthed into the ocean.”
After Mauloa was successfully built, the group began work on Makali`i, which launched in 1995, and made her maiden voyage to Tahiti that same year. Twenty-two years later, Makali`i, through the efforts of Paishon and Na Kalai Wa`a Moku o Hawai`i, is still bringing the Hawai`i Island community together, and teaching the traditional ways of the Hawaiian people.
“We continue to voyage,” says Paishon, “so the stories will be written and voyaging will continue. But for us, it’s not only about the canoe, but about sustaining our island for generations beyond us.”