Hokulea’s arrival back in the U.S. marked with cultural exchange in Florida’s Everglades

Hawai’i’s voyaging canoe Hokule’a arrived in Fort Myers, Florida, on Sunday, which is the latest stop on malama honua, her journey around the world.

The crew will tend to the escort boat and will wait out some stormy weather on the way, before departing later next week for Cape Canaveral.

On Saturday, they were in the Everglades for a quiet, but special gathering to mark their first stop on the U.S. continent.

Key West was Hokule’a’s first stop back in the U.S. since leaving Hilo nearly two years ago, but it was strictly for customs and a crew change.

On board at departure was JD Bowers, a first-time crew member and a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

He studied up on Hokule’a and was amazed.

“Just how they’re able to navigate by the stars and currents, the traditional way,” said Bowers. “We used to have astrology and navigated by the stars and our ancestors used to travel from Florida to Cuba, Virgin Islands, Bahamas that was a long long time ago though, and we lost that.”

He was also amazed at the embrace of aloha.

“Treated us like family when we were there, me and my family got to sleep when we were on board, they were very helpful very kind just made us feel at home and that’s rare,” Bowers added.

“It’s the kind of time when it doesn’t take you long to find that you found a great friend and someone who is family to the canoe it was a little difficult letting him go even though we only sailed for three-fourths of the day,” Hokule’a captain Nainoa Thompson.

The short trip from Key West was here to the Everglades Saturday, a world heritage site, and a quiet entrance to the continental United States, as planned.

“If we’re going to plant the seeds of relationships we should come to a quiet place, a place where nature comes first and be next to those who are protecting it, not for you but for all of us,” Thompson said.

It was a gathering of hula halau based in Florida, and stewards of the land, which included the National Park Service, and the Seminole Tribe and Miccosukee tribe. The Seminoles have stories that tell of the Hawaiians from long ago, who left along with others at times of war.

“You’re still our brothers and sisters and we still recognize you because you’re still in our stories being passed down by generation to generation, so it took you all this long for you to come back by navigation,” said Herbert Jim, language coordinator with the Seminoles.

“The same message you’re bringing by water, we took by land and we meet today, it was meant to be, not by chance, not by chance, thank you, thank you,” said Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee tribe during the gathering.

Plans are to continue the relationships and perhaps Hokule’a has started the resurgence of wayfinding in yet another native culture.

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