Our Legacy

Polynesia began with the voyaging canoe. More than three thousand years ago, the uninhabited islands of Samoa and Tonga were settled by a seafaring people. Arriving in canoes in small groups, they continued to discover new lands as they explored eastward. Long before ocean exploration by Europeans, the early Polynesians had mastered boat building and navigation.

The Friends seek to perpetuate the skills of traditional Hawaiian canoe building, as well as the cultural and religious setting in which the canoes were built, accessible to not only Hawaiians but to any person interested in learning. The spiritual power (Mana) preserved by the skilled hands of master canoe builders “kahuna kalai wa`a” renewed a pride in and appreciation for Hawaiian culture.

Hawaiians would search the islands’ once dense Koa forests looking for the tree with the spirit of the canoe inside it. The choice of tree was a decision made by a Kahuna, who would say many prayers before the tree was harvested. The building of a canoe was a sincerely religious affair, and there are many gods and ceremonies specifically associated with canoe Hawaiians would search the islands’ once building.

In 1976 the epic voyage of Hokule‘a from Hawai‘i to Tahiti provided new insights into the Polynesian mastery of the sea.The voyage also heralded a renaissancein traditional Hawaiian canoe building. In1991, work began on another canoe that would promote the development and refinement of the art of traditional canoe building. This canoe was christened the Hawai‘iloa.

After an unsuccessful quest to find native Hawaiian trees large enough for a voyaging canoe, Wright Bowman, Jr. “kahuna kalai wa`a”, and his Friends (from where we get our name), took to carving two Sitka spruce logs gifted by the native peoples of Alaska: Sealaska Corporation, the Tlingit, the Haida, and the Tsimshian. It took two years to build before Hawaiʻiloa was seaworthy. In 1995, Hawai`iloa left Hawaiʻi for Tahiti, sailed back to Hawai’i, then visited Washington, Canada, and Alaska to thank the people for their gift of the trees.

The Friends of Hokule‘a & Hawai‘iloa was established in 1996 by master canoe builder, Wright Bowman, Jr., who was concerned that the art of canoe building would be lost. The Friends would ensure that cultural treasures, such as the voyaging canoes Hokule‘a and Hawai‘iloa, be properly maintained.

Hokule‘a and Hawai‘iloa were built as historic and cultural experiments, but they have come to represent much more. These magnificent canoes tell the story of the lives and travels of the crewmembers and builders who worked them. The spiritual power (Mana) of the canoes is preserved with the skilled hands of master canoe builders, renewing a pride in and appreciation for Hawaiian culture. The Friends seek to protect and perpetuate these valuable cultural resources. Finally, the group wanted to ensure that the traditional canoe building skills be made accessible to any who are interested in learning this very special part of Hawaiian culture.

Help us Rebuild the Canoe, Restore the Connection, and Reshape the Future into a positive vision for the next generation.


The Legend of Hawaii-Loa

Author(s): Bruce Cartwright The Journal of the Polynesian Society, June 1929, Vol. 38, No. 2(150) (June 1929), pp. 105-121, Published by: The Polynesian Society Stable

Hawai‘iloa and the Discovery of Hawai‘i

Authors: Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau, Zephren Kepelino KahoaliI Keauokalani (Z. Kepelino)