Birthing Namahoe

After more than 20 years of construction, Namahoe, Kauai’s sailing canoe, will be born on Sept. 11, with a schedule of day-long activities and entertainment from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the walkway fronting the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club. Parking will be available at the Nawiliwili Beach Park.

Pending ocean conditions, a formal ceremony marking the birth of Kauai’s own voyaging canoe, Namahoe, is scheduled.

“I don’t know for sure if this is a sign, or a coincidence, but yes, the birth of a new baby in my family coincides very close with the launching of Namahoe,” said Dennis Chun, the Hawaiian Studies coordinator at Kauai Community College, and one of the original builders of Namahoe. “Perhaps Namahoe was still waiting for the right time to be born, or maybe we were the ones not ready for Namahoe to be born. Whatever the case may be, according to John Kruse who has done some research on this, this may very well be the first launching of a voyaging canoe on Kauai in close to 500 years.”

How did you become involved with working on Namahoe?

I got involved with Namahoe when John Kruse, Dr. Pat Aiu, and myself were sailing on Hokule‘a back in 1995 just as the group from Waimea of Hawaii Island were finishing the construction of their voyaging canoe Makali‘i. We started thinking and talking about a voyaging canoe to service and represent our island of Kauai. From that discussion and inspiration from our fellow crew members from Hawaii Island, we began the project that became known as ‘Namahoe.’

As a point of background, John Kruse was one of the first crew members of Hokule‘a that successfully sailed to Tahiti in 1976 without the aid of any modern navigation instruments. He was also part of the crew that worked on and built Hokule‘a. He was a crew member of the crew in 1978 that was attempting another sail to Tahiti, but was met with adverse weather conditions which caused Hokule‘a to capsize and the ensuing loss of Eddie Aikau. He has made countless other voyages on Hokule‘a since that time, the most recent being a voyage from Tahiti to Samoa via the Cook Islands on the Worldwide Voyage.

Dr. Patrick Aiu was a physician on this island of Kauai who also served the island of Niihau. Pat was a crew member of Hokule‘a in 1980 when Nainoa Thompson made his first voyage to Tahiti as the primary navigator. He served as the canoe’s medical officer in addition to the normal crew responsibilities. Pat also sailed many other voyages on Hokule‘a until his illness and passing in October, 2002.

The three of us got together a bunch of people who we felt might have the same idea and organized. I believe we created an official organization and applied for nonprofit status in 1996. Actual construction of Namahoe started in 1998 or 1999.

What is the vision for Namahoe?

Well, there are two visions that come to mind. The first is the physical ‘vision’ of seeing Namahoe in the water, prepared to sail, and being able to ‘see’ the ‘next’ generation of competent voyagers from Kauai onboard, seeking the avenues to contribute to our society.

I guess the second vision relates to our mission or goals for Na Kalai Wa‘a o Kauai, the nonprofit group of Namahoe. These include:

1. to provide a platform upon which the people of Kauai and the State of Hawaii may explore, experience, and exhilarate in the rich culture of the indigenous people of these islands;

2. To generate sincere appreciation and acknowledgment of the Hawaiian culture and its contributions to current society;

3. To contribute to the preservation of the Hawaiian environment through education and positive role models;

4. To provide quality educational experience for the perpetuation and practice of traditional Hawaiian culture, language, values, and social etiquette to persons of all ages and levels of proficiency;

5. To generate a sense of self-worth, identity, and fulfillment upon which an individual may continue to pursue their own positive life goals.

As can be seen, Namahoe has the ability to relate to many life and learning experiences. Thus, the vision is one of being an important and integral link between community and individual, theory and practice, culture and society, lifestyle and environment. Many other links can be generated from the inclusion of this voyaging canoe into our midst.

Born in Honolulu, moving to Lanai at six months, and moving to Hilo, Hawaii after living on Lanai for two years and living in Hilo until 9 years old, how did you get involved in Hawaiian Studies?

(From Na Kumu of Kauai Community College Hawaiian Studies): I guess I had been involved with ‘na mea Hawaii from a child, but never really understood it as an academic discipline. From activities of fishing, swimming, and listening to Hawaiian music in Hilo to learning to surf, dive, and actually sing and play Hawaiian music here on Kauai have been influences that has led me to my current avocation and vocation.

However, the greatest influence on my decision to pursue Hawaiian Studies as a discipline was my experiences while on the Mainland. Being asked about Hawaiian language, history, and culture while on the mainland always pointed out my lack of in-depth knowledge, especially in Hawaiian language.

In addition to the academic world, I have been involved with, and a part of other Hawaiian activities and projects over the years. I have been a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society since 1979 and a crew member on Hokule‘a and Hawaii Loa in 1985, 1992, 1995, 1999-2000 long distance voyages to the South Pacific, along with numerous shorter inter-island voyages since 1980.

I have held leadership roles of watch captain and captain since 1992.

Throughout these experiences, I have had the honor and privilege of meeting with and conversing with many of the Hawaiian scholars, leaders, practitioners, and kupuna that had shaped the ‘Hawaiian renaissance.’

How did the experience of sailing Hokule‘a influence your efforts with Namahoe?

Well, I have to say that if I had not had the opportunity to sail on Hokule‘a on long deep-sea voyages, I most likely would not have been involved with Namahoe. The experience on any voyage is a learning experience on many different levels. Of course there is the surface experience of just being at sea and learning the basics of seamanship and many other academic and educational disciplines. But as one gets deeper in the experience, other lessons and thought processes begin to appear.

First is the understanding of oneself as you are constantly challenged by this environment of the ocean, especially on a vessel with very minimal modern conveniences and comforts. Secondly, as a community onto itself, meaning the crew and vessel being the community, one begins to contemplate the social aspects of life within the community.

What are the social values and conduct becomes essential for the ‘community’ of the canoe to ‘survive’ the rigors of being at sea? Which then translates to the thoughts of contemporary times of ‘what is essential for the community of an island, or even the earth’ to survive?

So, as you can see, that experience of Hokule‘a has had an impact on myself. Perhaps the largest influence has been that of learning patience, acceptance of failure, and perseverance to overcome the failures.

How did Namahoe get its name?

The name came from a dream Dr. Patrick Aiu received.

He came to us just after we had completed both hulls of our yet un-named canoe and said that the name for our canoe came to him in a dream. He related to us that in his dream he was on an ancient voyaging canoe at night in mid-channel. He wasn’t quite sure what channel he was in, or even if he was in Hawaiian waters. But he did know he was onboard with Hawaiians because they were all speaking in Hawaiian.

Pat said he could understand what they were talking about as he had spent many years as the doctor for the island of Niihau. As he listened, it became clear to him that they were in the Ka‘ie‘iewaho Channel heading to Kauai from Oahu. As they were sailing along, instructions were given to the steersman to steer toward the setting constellation we call Gemini, but which Hawaiians called ‘Namahoe.’ These stars appeared to be the primary steering stars to get to Kauai from O‘ahu.

In his dream, he also recalled that these ancients were also talking about how one day in the future a new canoe would be built and named for these steering stars called ‘Namahoe.’ Thus, it seemed appropriate that this name ‘Namahoe’ be given to this vessel. It is also appropriate in that it also represented the twin hulls that comprise the vessel as well as being one of the primary steering starts between Oahu and Kauai.

What are some of the unique facets of Namahoe?

Well, contrary to what many people think, the hulls of Namahoe are constructed of modern materials, meaning modern fiberglass and foam technology. Most of the decking, stanchions, railings, masts, booms, cleats, dead eyes, and others are wood from various sources, including Kokee here on Kauai.

Approximately 12 miles of rope has been used to lash the canoe together as well as various parts on the vessel. In our minds, all of the contemporary voyaging canoes are descendants of Hokule‘a. So, Namahoe is a child of Hokule‘a. Our connection to Hokule‘as is manifested through a part of Hokule‘a’s old frame from its ‘manu’ has been placed in our aft manu on Namahoe.

Something John Kruse started when we were first constructing the hulls and inviting groups to participate in this activity was empowering the participants to sign their names on the hulls. One of the first groups that came was a group of high school students from O‘ahu. This particular group was part of an ‘at-risk’ program so there was that stigma of ‘bad kids’ attached to those students.

However, as they got to working on the canoe hulls, I will have to say that all of the students took on a very different attitude and personality. They became very respectful and even in a sense introspective for some reason. When the time came to end the work, John began handing out Sharpie pens and told them to sign their names on the hulls. At first, I was wary of this tactic, expecting to see gang tags and graffiti on the hulls. However, as I observed their work, I was very much surprised by what I saw. Many wrote not only their names, but also what we might call ‘olelo no ‘eau,’ or wise sayings.

Many of these related to their looking at themselves, and their future, some even quoting people like Helen Keller as they searched for meaning in their lives. From that singular event, we have encouraged groups, especially students that have come to work on Namahoe, to sign their names to the canoe and put their ‘mana’ into the vessel. Of course, many of these signatures are beneath the top coats of paint, but if these topcoats of paint were to be carefuly sanded off, I am sure these names would come to the surface.

What are some personal thoughts on the building of Namahoe?

I think I have mentioned various thoughts previously, but I think the most notable is the thought of perseverance and patience. A very close relation to those would be the concept of being tolerant, or in a sense, learning how not to get entrenched in the ‘negativism’ that constantly rears itself. In a project such as this, there will always be those that will attempt to detract with their negativism. So we have learned how to deal with these things in a positive and non-confrontational manner. I think this comes from the learned experiences of Hokule‘a — the conflicts they had to face in those early years, those that thought the project was doomed to failure, criticism of not doing things the ‘right’ way, critics that opposed even the attempt to learn of the past, and all these coming from people that may not have contributed or been involved with the project.

I remember a couple of sayings that came from some of the older and experienced crew as we faced a number of criticisms — ‘you either in (meaning part of the project), or you in the way,’ and ‘be part of the solution, not part of the problem — were two that stood out in my mind. I try to think of these two sayings as I carry on with my own life. It is difficult since it is so easy to be negative. I don’t always succeed, but I do try.

The building of Namahoe has also introduced new meaning and life into voyaging on both an organizational and personal level. Voyaging has now become intergenerational as well as intercultural. The voyages of Hokule‘a throughout the years has become increasingly inclusive. the current Worldwide Voyage is a prime example.

Here on Kauai, Namahoe has also become inclusive. Of course, the contributions, expertise, knowledge, and cultural practices of the Hawaiian is always first and foremost. This has been shown through the participation of the Japan National Colleges of Maritime and Engineering Technology in the building of Namahoe. They became involved since 2009.

Their involvement has been through a program with Kauai Community College in which students from the Japan Colleges arrive here for two to three weeks and focus on strengthening their English skills, learn Hawaiian culture, language, and practices, learn of Polynesian voyaging traditions and skills, and also assist in the construction of Namahoe.

This has tied in well to their focus on training to become the future captains, navigators, engineers, and such for the Japan maritime industry.

This program was begun by the vision of a maritime pilot that was assigned to Hokule‘a during her voyage to Japan waters in 2007. Tomoki Oku was not only a maritime pilot, but also a professor at one of the National Maritime colleges. He witnessed the importance of the knowledge of non-instrument navigation and the skills of the ancient mariners. He felt that this was the missing part of the curriculum at their institutions.

He embarked on developing this program and enlisted the aid of myself, Kauai Community College and Ms. Kyoko Ikeda. This program has run annually from 2009 and many of the graduates have gone on to very respectable maritime positions, from harbor pilots to vessel appraisers, first officers, and navigators on large ships to captains on coastal ferries and transport ships.

I had the opportunity to meet with about 20 of these graduates last year, and they all express the value of their time here on Kauai and their experience with Namahoe, Polynesian voyaging and non-instrument navigation.

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