Bringing Hokulea home: Gathering to honor Waimea voyagers

  • Navigator Ka’iulani Murphy sails aboard Hokulea on the first international leg of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. The 2,000-nautical-mile journey from Hilo to Tahiti would test a new generation of wayfinders. (COURTESY PHOTO/POLYNESIAN VOYAGING SOCIETY AND OIWI TV)
    Navigator Ka’iulani Murphy sails aboard Hokulea on the first international leg of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. The 2,000-nautical-mile journey from Hilo to Tahiti would test a new generation of wayfinders. (COURTESY PHOTO/POLYNESIAN VOYAGING SOCIETY AND OIWI TV)

WAIMEA — On April 12 at 5 p.m., the community will gather at Kahilu Town Hall to honor the Waimea canoe crew members who will sail Hokulea home from Tahiti on the last leg of her Malama Honua Voyage.

Although sharing Waimea roots, each crew member has had their own journey to the canoe. Kala Thomas, who will sail on Hikianalia, grew up with the canoe in Waimea.

“Kala Thomas was in seventh grade when Uncle Tiger Espere, Steve Coffee and Gary Benson built the Hoku’ili’ili at Waimea School. Kala helped build that, so his genealogy is actually from that time,” said Pomai Bertelmann, who will captain Hokulea.

Pua Lincoln, who will be part of the navigation team on Hokulea, was a student at Waimea Elementary School when Mauloa sailed into her life.

“My first official introduction to any canoe was when Mauloa was built. I was at Waimea Elementary and they took her into the gym and set her up. When I saw her, I was just awestruck. And then later on I got trained to sail that canoe and that was the hook,” she said.

From an early age, Lincoln was aware of her family’s voyaging legacy.

“I had heard stories from my own kupuna and my father about our ancestral migrational path and how we came from a family of voyagers,” she said.

Lincoln said she is humbled and honored to be part of this epic journey to bring Hokulea home.

“When she comes home, it’s full circle and all about returning her back to all of those people whose prayers have kept her going, moving and afloat, perpetuating her ability to persevere,” she said.

After finishing high school at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, lead navigator Ka’iulani Murphy found her way to the canoe when she attended a lecture by Nainoa Thompson at the Hawaiian Studies Center at UH-Manoa.

“To hear Nainoa talk, I was in awe, and my sophomore year I took voyaging courses. Hokulea was in dry dock and so I spent Saturdays and volunteer work days there. When she was relaunched spring semester, our class got to sail her to Molokai as part of her sea trials. I was one of the few that didn’t get seasick so they asked me to come back,” she said.

But Murphy also has strong roots with the aina in Waimea and in her family’s Waipio Valley loi where they grew kalo.

“All three of us — Pomai, Pua Lincoln and I — all grew up in Kuhio Village. My mom’s father is from Waipio and growing up our family spent just about every weekend there on the aina. I realized later how fortunate we were to grow up like that,” she said.

In 2000, Murphy took her first blue water voyage from Tahiti to Hawaii and looks forward to repeating the experience.

“I love that my first voyage was coming home to Hawaii. It’s really special to see the islands pulled up from the sea. It really gives you a sense of how our kupuna first saw the islands when they came,” she said.

Although a repeat of her 2000 experience, this voyage will take Murphy to the next level in a long journey with the canoe.

“Pomai and I were nervous about stepping into those roles, but at the same time realizing it isn’t about us, but about our teachers making the investment over the years, hoping that we would assume the roles as time went on. But, oh my gosh, it’s now already?” she said.

Pomai Bertelmann has grown up with the canoe. Her father, Clay Bertelmann, was instrumental in the creation of Mauloa, Makali’i and Na Kalai Waa, the Hawaii Island canoe organization.

For Bertelmann, this final leg and the entire Malama Honua represents the next phase.

“(It’s) the leadership’s vision of succession. Over the last 40 years we’ve evolved into a thriving voyaging family and community. It is a great image to see all of these diverse people coming together and this moku move forward because of all of that collaboration — a life force that comes into one entity and works synergistically,” she said.

Synergy was at work in the creation of a crew list, a complicated task that she shared with Murphy.

“What we worked to do was create lists on our own, come back and match them up. I had to remember, go back through all kinds of documentations, crew lists and look at different skills. It’s been a lot of relying upon what I’ve learned and solidifying decisions with pule,” said Bertelmann.

A crucial quality for crew members is the willingness to participate in exchanges with the community, without which none of this would be possible.

“This voyage is what the community has given to us. It’s an indication that the community has supported us and has been behind us all the way,” she said.

Technological improvements have made it possible to engage communities across the globe. Scott Kanda, who grew up in Honokaa and works with Oiwi TV, will be sailing on Hikianalia. He brings communication skills to the canoe.

“They stand their watch, and then they go into the editing bay and cut and edit raw footage,” said Bertelmann.

When the voyage is completed, the Ohana Waa will begin to put lessons learned into place on the aina.

“In the wake of this voyage, we will see the collective team that may be coming together to move forward with the larger purpose of aina-based education in our schools and communities,” she said.

The voyage home will be one of gratitude for Hokulea’s far-reaching influence.

“Voyaging is one thing, but language, education, music, dancing – all of those things – were ignited by the matriarch Hokulea,” said Lincoln.

The April 12 program will include a free community dinner and a ceremony to honor and send off voyagers. It is a collaborative effort between the Waimea Educational Hui, Mala’ai Culinary Garden at Waimea Middle School, Richard Smart Fund, Makali’i Ohana and Waimea Hawaiian Civic Club.

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