Tens of thousands gather at Magic Island, Kakaako to welcome Hokulea home

KHON2 will re-air Hoi Mai O Hokulea, our 3.5-hour telecast that covered Hokulea’s homecoming, this Saturday, June 24, from 6:30-10 p.m.

Magic Island served as a gathering place Saturday as tens of thousands of people welcomed Hokulea home after her historic journey around the world.

Whereas Hokulea was the only voyaging canoe in Polynesia 41 years ago, on Saturday morning, she was joined by seven others.

By 7 a.m., Hokulea rounded Diamond Head from the east, but before she could enter the harbor near Magic Island, “Mama Hokulea,” as some voyagers like to call her, waited for her keiki to go first:

Kauai’s recently launched voyaging canoe Na Mahoe, Maui’s voyaging canoe Mookiha o Piilani, Hawaii island’s voyaging canoe Makalii, Hawaii Loa built with logs donated by Native Alaskans, then the Okeanos Marshall Islands canoe that came from Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Fafaite, Tahiti’s canoe, followed by Hikianalia.

Then, after 9 a.m., Hokulea arrived. Accompanied by nearly every type of water vessel imaginable, she made her way slowly into the harbor, and instilled pride in everyone who spotted her.

“It is spectacular. It is overwhelming,” said Kamanaopono Crabbe, Office Of Hawaiian Affairs. “Everyone is celebrating the return of the Hokulea, but it’s not just for Hawaiians, but for all of Hawaii.”

“The energy is tremendous, when you see so many people and they’re just crowding the canoes,” said Duane DeSoto, Polynesian Voyaging Society Water Patrol. “The energy it just emits out of the people into us, chicken skin. It’s the only way to explain it.”

On board, on behalf of Eddie Aikau, were his brothers, Sol and Clyde, as well as Hokulea’s four remaining first voyagers to Tahiti: Buffalo Keaulana, Shorty Bertelmann, John Kruse and Billy Richards. There was also the younger generation, including Hokulea’s lead navigator, Kaiulani Murphy, and captain, Pomai Bertelmann, on the leg home from Tahiti last month. It was also a proud moment for ’76 voyager Penny Rawlins Martin.

The crew was then led onto Magic Island, joined by voyagers from the other canoes, for the Kalii rite involving spears, and an awa ceremony with Hokulea receiving the first bowlful.

Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke to resounding applause.

“It truly is the end of a remarkable journey and a celebration for the people of Hawaii. I’ve never seen so many people come together, people who are Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart who are truly committed to the message of Hokulea,” said Ige.


Nainoa Thompson, Hokulea captain, master navigator, and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, had a chance to thank Hawaii and the voyagers, and all the hands and supporters of Hokulea’s voyage around the world.

He also highlighted the importance of remembering and acting on the mission of Malama Honua:

“The constant nagging question we always have in leadership, is Hokulea still relevant? Does it still have value, or is it too old? Has the racing of the 21st century outpaced it so much that things old we don’t care about anymore?

“Thank you, Hawaii. Thank you for the moment. Thank you for the 150 to 200 canoes that were out there, the thousand watercraft.

“We made promises and I was clear that we should go, but there were those in Hawaii that actually came up to me and confronted me, grabbed me by the shirt and said, ‘You have no right to take Hokulea around the world.’

“The life jacket for this earth is the ocean. Take the next four breaths, three of them come from the sea. The things we take for common place, even the breathing that we do.”

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Mark Dunkerley crewed the Hokulea for a couple of legs as she made her way home.

“This is a very special undertaking, and it’s great to have brought Hokulea home and all of the dreams, all of the hopes, all of the hard work, and all of the aspirations of everybody involved,” he said.

People we spoke with told us they not only came to witness a historic moment, but were there for their ancestors. Many said they became emotional.

“We were up early, about 5 o’clock. We thought there was going to be choke traffic, but we came in and it wasn’t that bad. It started to pick up when the waa started coming in,” said Kehau Jahn, who drove in from Wahiawa.

“We came here to honor our ancestors, to honor our na kupuna, because that is who we are as a people,” said Waianae resident Kau Kaohu Wahilani.

Julie Lopez flew in from Molokai. It’s the second time she’s witnessed the canoe coming back to Hawaii.

“Awesome, it’s beautiful. It gives you chicken skin,” Lopez said. “I went to another one out in Kahana Bay out in the ’80s and that was awesome when they came into Kahana Bay. Same thing. Lots of people. Awesome.”

It was day not to be missed by future explorers, like members of the Hawaiian sailing canoe program, Na Pea, from Hawaii island.

“It makes me think that Hawaiian voyaging has come a long way and I’m really glad that we’re able to keep it alive,” said Thomas Allen with Na Pea.

The festivities didn’t end at Magic Island.

On Saturday night in Kakaako, Honolulu Night Market pulled out all the stops for Hokulea’s homecoming, from live music to street performers, shopping, and, of course, lots of food.

Organizers say it was the biggest block party yet.

Kelly Boy De Lima of Kapena performed at the block party and at Magic Island. He says he’s honored to be a part of this historic moment.

“I was 10 years old when I saw Hokulea first come in, and my mom said there were like 5,000 people there,” he said. “When I experienced that at 10 years old, it changed my life you know, so I was tears this morning as Hokulea came in.”

It was a similar experience for Kaipo Tam, who’s been celebrating Hokulea’s return since 7 a.m.

“I’m tired, but I had to come out,” Tam said. “I’m excited. I’m still here, so yes, I’m enjoying myself.”

There was a special screening at the block party of Malama Honua highlights from the voyage.

De Lima and Tam say they hope Hokulea’s return has the biggest impact on the keiki.

“All of this is part of Nainoa’s vision of having everybody come together, having those happy moments,” Tam said.

“It’s definitely historic for the children. They’ll remember this through their years, like I have,” De Lima said.

Sunday, June 18, through Tuesday, June 20
Malama Honua Fair and Summit
Hawaii Convention Center, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The summit will highlight the voyaging, cultural, environmental, educational, and health and well-being missions of the worldwide voyage. The general public is invited to walk through exhibits, participate in hands-on activities, and learn from local and global partners who are taking action to mālama honua. They will also be able to step on board Hokulea during canoe tours at the Ala Wai Promenade.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society is collaborating with the World Youth Congress to host a Youth Summit for students ages 5 to 25 to celebrate mālama honua stories and create a collective call to action for the future stewardship of Island Earth. Participation is by invitation only.

Monday, June 19
Inspirational Speaker Series
Hawaii Convention Center, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tickets: $125 per person

The Malama Honua inspirational speaker series will feature standout local and global speakers who have touched the canoes and their crews during the worldwide voyage. Due to expected volume of demand, reservations are highly encouraged.

Featured global speakers include:

  • Megan Smith, 3rd Chief Technology Officer, United States
  • Dieter Paulmann, Founder and Chairman, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea
  • Byron Mallott, Lt. Governor, State of Alaska
  • Ocean Elders: Her Deepness Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Captain Don Walsh.
  • Nainoa Thompson, President, Polynesian Voyaging Society

Make a contribution to PVS and receive $50 off the $125 registration fee.

Click here for more information.

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