Moananuiākea: Connected by the Ocean


The Alaska Federation of Natives recently welcomed Hōkūleʻa at Auke Bay on the traditional lands of Aak’w Kwáan in Juneau, Alaska, for her upcoming voyage, “Moananuiākea: A Voyage for Earth.”

Moananuiākea will be Hōkūleʻa’s 15th major voyage. The ambitious, four-year expedition will begin this month (June 2023) and end in 2027. It will involve some 400 crew members who will sail an estimated 43,000 nautical miles around the Pacific, visiting 345 ports, nearly 100 Indigenous territories, and 36 countries and archipelagoes.

“The Moananuiākea Voyage will be longer [in terms of distance traveled] than the Mālama Honua Voyage in 2014-2017 – and we’re only going around the circumference of the Pacific Ocean,” said Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) member Chris Blake.

In preparation for the journey, Hōkūleʻa was transported via Matson to Alaska in April. In an interview with Hawaiʻi Public Radio published on April 17, Master Navigator and PVS President Nainoa Thompson explained that the decision not to sail Hōkūleʻa from Hawaiʻi to Alaska was made to protect both the crew and the canoe from the extreme cold still prevalent at that latitude in the spring.

The Moananuiākea Voyage will begin in Juneau, Alaska, with an expected launch date of June 15. Hōkūleʻa will sail to Seattle, Wash., and meet up with sister canoe Hikianalia. The voyage will continue south along the U.S. West Coast to Mexico, Central and South America, and then cross the Pacific beginning in March 2024 and travel to ports throughout Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia for more than two years. The canoes are scheduled to arrive in Japan sometime in September 2026. From there, they will be shipped to Los Angeles, sail home to Hawaiʻi, then travel to Tahiti and back in the spring of 2027.

Photo: Hōkūleʻa docked at Auke Bay in Juneau, Alaska
Hōkūleʻa docked at Auke Bay in Juneau, Alaska. – Courtesy Photo

While the Mālama Honua Voyage circumnavigated the planet on a conservation mission to engage people from around the world and call attention to the importance of caring for “island earth” and its precious gifts – and finite resources – the purpose of the Moananuiākea Voyage is to “ignite a movement of 10 million ʻplanetary navigators’ by developing young leaders engaging communities around the world to take part in navigating the earth towards a healthy, thriving future.”

The voyage will also serve as a global educational campaign that amplifies the vital importance of oceans and Indigenous knowledge through education and storytelling.

“Western thinking held the idea that the Pacific Ocean separated us from our cousins in Kahiki and all over the Pacific. But every time we sail on the ala kai (ocean pathways) of our ancestors we are connecting to them. The oceans never ever separated; our oceans always connected us,” Blake said.

Moananuiākea highlights the importance of marine environments above and below the water. Blake explained how every one of two breaths we take comes from the oxygen transfer generated from the Pacific Ocean.

PVS hopes that the voyage will empower other island communities to take charge of their environments and push toward a more sustainable earth for future generations. Blake cited as an example the establishment of fishing zones to stop extractive methods and overfishing.

Blake is also a kumu at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama where he teaches “Kilo Hōkū,” a year-round class that educates haumāna about celestial and non-instrument navigation.

“The first thing we learn is the history of hōkū, hiki, and mō. Then we’ll start making our own star compasses, orienting ourselves in the environment, and learning about the star lines,” said Kilinoe Oliveria, a haumāna of Blake’s and alakaʻi of his Kilo Hōkū class.

“At the end of the year, we plan our own voyage and make our own sail plans – how long it’s going to take, where to travel, what to eat, how many members, and who’s going to be in charge of what.”

“It’s humbling to pass on the teachings from the people I’ve learned from. To share this ʻike is important, said Blake.”

The University of Hawaiʻi is another Moananuiākea Voyage education and mission partner. PVS member and UH Kumu Kaʻiulani Murphy teaches two courses on hoʻokele (navigation): Hawaiian astronomy and navigation, and Hawaiian voyaging and seamanship.

“I’m grateful to have this avenue to share this ʻike that has been shared with me,” said Murphy. “It’s cool to come full circle from being a student to becoming a kumu. I feel lucky to give hāumana the opportunity to be involved with hoʻokele. It makes me happy.”

Having had the opportunity to take hoʻokele classes with Kumu Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa and huakaʻi (travel) off of Molokaʻi inspired Murphy to get involved with the Hōkūleʻa and the perpetuation of ʻike hoʻokele.

Kekuhiapoiwa Leong is one of Murphy’s students. “We spent the semester talking about how the waʻa works, the different lines, and the different ways of voyaging,” Leong said. “It became super real when we put up the mast for the first time, all hands pulling on the lines for the first time and yelling ‘huki!’”

Seeing haumāna click with “aha!” moments is rewarding for Murphy. “It gives me hope that the knowledge will continue.”

The sailing of Hōkūleʻa and perpetuation of ʻike hoʻokele across schools in Hawaiʻi is part of the Moananuiākea Voyage’s mission to inspire other Indigenous people to bring traditional knowledge back into classrooms and into the real world.

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