This week, the Hokule’a launches out of Honolulu bound for Hilo on the Big Island for its thirteenth voyage in 39 years. This is the first leg of a trip estimated to take 3 years and span over 50,000 miles as the vessel sails around the world.
Born of a desire to scientifically recreate the voyages of the original Polynesian settlers in Hawaii, the Polynesian Voyaging Society first launched the Hokule’a in 1975. An accurate, full-scale replica of a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, the Hokule’a relies solely on traditionally trained navigators.
Polynesian navigation, a system Polynesians have used to make long voyages across thousands of miles of open ocean, is an art of non-instrument wayfinding. They use only their senses and knowledge passed down by oral tradition from navigator to apprentice. To locate directions, Polynesian navigators memorize facts such as the motion of specific stars and where they would rise and set on the horizon on the ocean during a particular time of year. They are also versed in the movements of ocean waves, the gathering locations of particular wildlife species, the colors of the sea and sky, and the clustering of clouds over the islands. During a time in human history when society is so reliant on GPS and other modern technology, the depth of knowledge required to master natural world navigation is inspiring.