OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Hokulea and the Aloha Spirit

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Kris Gulden

They would build a canoe

By the early 1970s, many native Hawaiians had watched for decades as their way of life was slowly torn from their grasp. There were naysayers who failed to believe the original Polynesians were capable of navigating the seas unaided by instruments. The Hawaiian language had been widely replaced by English. The island of Kaho’olawe was caught in a tug-of-war between the U.S. Navy, which used it as a bombing range, and islanders who fought to defend their hallowed ground. Faced with the impending decimation of everything they held sacred, a bold group of men made a decision: they would build a canoe.

"Malama Honua"

The construction of Hokule’a, a 62’ long double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe, was the focal point of a cultural renaissance on Hawaii. Although the original intent was to see if Hokule’a could be sailed back to Tahiti without the use of navigational instruments (she has been several times), Hokule’a has since 2013 been on a worldwide voyage to share the message of “Malama Honua” (care for Island Earth). The present captain and crew sail as did their ancestors who discovered Hawaii aboard similar watercraft over one thousand years ago. They navigate the seas by reading the stars, interpreting clues from the wind as it blows across the sails, deciphering messages whispered by waves that slap the hulls, and calculating speed by counting how long it takes bubbles to float between measured points on their canoe.

The notion that we are all interconnected

While images of Hokule’a gliding across the open sea, her enormous sails reaching for the heavens, make the journey look romantic, in truth, the individuals who leave their jobs and families for weeks at a time to learn their ancestral ways are making extraordinary sacrifices. They risk life and limb in an effort to encourage all of us to be a little more kind, a little more thoughtful, a little more respectful. A little more like them. The notion that we are all interconnected, and that we all can “Malama Honua”, is present in the ceremonies and conversations and music and dance that accompany Hokule’a when she stops to visit cities and towns around the world on this inspiring voyage.

The Aloha spirit

Last weekend I met Hokule’a when she arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, and I learned that Hokule’a is not simply a canoe. She is a proud symbol of all that it means to be Hawaiian. She is tangible evidence of Hawaii’s reclamation of its core identity. Her journey is a reminder of struggles and challenges; a testament to those who ultimately prevail and triumph. Should you find yourself in the presence of Hokule’a or her sister canoe Hikianalia, don’t be surprised if your life, too, is touched by the Aloha spirit.

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