Hokule‘a visited more than 150 ports in 23 countries during its historic four-year sail around the globe as it spread a message of malama honua — take care of the Earth.
But it’s the aloha the double-hulled sailing canoe gets in places such as Hilo that reminds crew member Kalau Spencer about what makes it special.
“It makes me realize how fortunate I am to be a part of this,” Spencer said, as he watched a long line of people waiting to get on board the beloved vessel Saturday at Wailoa Boat Harbor.
Hokule‘a, which completed its circle around the world last June, arrived April 1 in Hilo as part of its statewide “mahalo sail” that will come to a close after stops in Milolii and Kawaihae.
Throughout their East Hawaii visit, the crew has given tours to schoolchildren and held lectures about their journeys — done with traditional navigation techniques. Additionally, the original crew from the 1970s was honored during the Merrie Monarch Festival.
But the event Saturday was about sharing Hokule‘a with the community at large.
Crew members opened the canoe for free tours and exhibits, including those showcasing Hawaiian navigation, lined the edge of the small harbor. By 10 a.m., hundreds were in attendance.
Kalepa Baybayan, a master navigator with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, said the crew feels it’s important to bring Hokule‘a to the people of Hawaii following the voyage because it belongs to them.
“This is theirs, and when people come and touch the canoe, they leave a little bit of themselves, or their mana, with the canoe,” he said. “The canoe grows. This is what that day is about.”
Baybayan said the Hilo community event was probably the busiest they’ve seen so far.
“We did over 3,000 in two days in Kona,” he said. “We’ll probably get close to that in one day here.”
Baybayan said Hokule‘a will leave Hilo on Friday and arrive in Milolii on Saturday. It will then arrive April 29 in Kawaihae, where a community event will be held May 5.
Shariya Terlep-Cabatbat took off her shoes as she stepped aboard Hokule‘a to show respect.
“It’s an honor because it’s part of Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian history,” she said. “And to meet the people who are akamai and who have the ‘ike, the knowledge, to do this is truly a blessing.”
Kawika Crivello, a Hokule‘a captain from Molokai, said the Hilo stop was a homecoming of sorts for the canoe and himself.
That’s because, on each journey, Hokule‘a stops in Hilo before setting sail to its destinations, he said.
“This is where she gathers her spiritual mana, and from here she goes,” Crivello said.
But the town is also where he first went to school when his family lived here.
Crivello said it was emotional for him when students from Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary School visited the canoe.
“I literally teared and let them know I’m a byproduct of Kapiolani,” he said.
Crivello said sharing Hokule‘a with the public makes the voyage’s hardships worthwhile.
“This is a closure,” he said. “When we see the people and the emotions they show for us it’s a closure to that chapter of the journey of malama honua around the world.”
Spencer, who lives in Hilo, said it’s important for the crew to share the canoe with keiki in particular since they will make up the next generation of navigators.
“See that keiki over there?” he said, recalling a conversation he had with a woman during one of the school tours. “That keiki over there is going to take that person’s place, that person is going to take that person’s place, and that guy over there is going to take my place. It makes the circle complete. That’s what makes me happy.”
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.