When Hokulea voyages around the world, she will be carrying more than crewmembers, food and water. She will carry the mana, or the spirit, of thousands of people who have touched her and the ancestors before them.
Prior to every long-distance voyage, an awa ceremony is held to call upon ancestors and bless the kii.
“Kii means picture, photographs you take along. If you call up your ancestors, you need to have some of them come along and bear witness,” explained master wood carver Sam Kaai.
Kaai carved Hokulea’s kii, which have stood watch over Hokulea and her crewmembers on every deep sea voyage since her first in 1976, when both canoe and kii arrived successfully in Tahiti and returned home safely to Hawaii.
Kaai says the male figure is reaching for the heavens, the star that’s always been there and always will be. The female figure bears witness from beyond, watching over them.
In addition to the kii and who they represent are names etched on the canoe from modern day voyaging.
“These are the dreamers, these are the mentors, these are the pioneers, these are the extraordinary generation before mine, and it’s at least four generations forward of the young people who would sail,” said master navigator Nainoa Thompson.
There are 66 names carved on a plaque, the names of people who also now serve as na aumakua or guardians.
“Even though they physically can’t be here, we take them spiritually because they provide the memory of why we sail, defined by our values and those values were taught because of them,” Thompson said.
Among the names is Herb Kawainui Kane, who designed and named Hokulea and co-founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society. “He’s the visionary and he’s our steersman,” Thompson said.
Then there’s Tommy Holmes, also a visionary and PVS co-founder, and, of course, Mau Piailug, “the greatest navigator on the earth ever,” Thompson said.
“Kapu Na Keiki is kauna or the hidden name for my dad that when you think about him, you think about a man who dedicated his whole life to holding children sacred,” Thompson said.
Myron Pinky Thompson was PVS president for more than 20 years. He and Punahou graduate, astronaut Lacey Veach, planted the seed for sailing planet Earth.
“(Veach) would say stuff like, ‘You have no idea how beautiful island Earth is until you see the whole thing from space. Take Hokulea around the earth. It needs you,’” Thompson recalled.
One name is also memorialized in an additional, individual plaque: Eddie Aikau.
“Eddie’s in symbolism but in reality is really our strength in terms of a sacrifice, in terms of commitment, in terms of a kindness and compassion to all living things and people,” Thompson said. “Eddie is the the one that helps us find courage when we’re most afraid… He has a special place on the canoe, on the bow, leading us.”
Hokulea and Hikianalia are in Hilo and scheduled to depart for Tahiti at the first good winds after ceremonies Saturday morning.