Our keiki, who range in age from 9-17 years, listen respectfully to their kūpuna (elders) while standing next to their canoes. Uncle Kimokeo Kapahulehua recites an ancient Hawaiian chant asking Akua Kanaloa, the demigod of the sea, to grant us safe passage across the ‘Au‘au channel that separates the island of Maui from the island of Lānaʻi. We recite a pule (prayer) and the canoes are launched. The 19.2-mile voyage to Lānaʻi has begun. The northeast trade winds pick up at around 11 a.m., so we must cover a great distance quickly to avoid rough seas; every stroke of the paddle counts. We hear kamakani (the wind) whistling in our ears – sometimes a faint whisper, and other times a loud roar. We hear the rhythm of the canoes slapping up and down on the waves as if they are engaging each other in conversation. The direction of the wind, the feel of the swells, and the pull of the current – are all clues telling us in which direction we are traveling. These sounds that speak to us are, of course, nā leo o ke kai (the voice of the sea).

It’s mid-afternoon as we negotiate the surf upon our arrival at Hulopo’e beach on the island of Lānaʻi. After lunch we are greeted by Kumu Kepa Maly, a highly respected local cultural practitioner. He welcomes us to Lānaʻi and tells us stories about the fascinating history of this beautiful island. In the evening, we marvel at the abundance of stars that are visible to us, and we spend time standing on the beach identifying familiar constellations that the ancient Pacific Island voyagers used to help them navigate from island to island. We think about Nainoa Thomson’s Star Compass, and we are overwhelmed by the knowledge the modern and ancient Pacific Islander navigators possess…

The next day we spend a few hours learning the Hōkūlea’a ha’a (similar to a “haka” from the Maori people of Aotearoa/New Zealand). This is a very deep cultural chant and dance that was developed to honor the double hull voyaging canoe Hōkūleaʻa. Later that afternoon, we are honored to board Maui County’s own voyaging canoe, Moʻokiha O Piʻilani, which has been 17 years in the making by the nonprofit organization Hui O Waʻa Kaulua. We trade stories with the crew members, some of whom just returned from the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage aboard Hōkūleaʻa. The next morning, we will paddle back to Maui.

On Maui we have the opportunity to help restore and learn about a 400-year-old fish pond with Unko Vene Chun, another cultural practitioner who is the steward of this great project. We also harvest kalo in a kalo loʻi (taro patch) and learn the Hawaiian story of creation. From Uncle Kalapana Kollars, we are blessed with a very deep cultural tour of West Maui’s Lāhainā Town and the Moku‘ula Restoration project. We learn a great deal about the high-ranking aliʻi (chiefs) who once governed this great island. In East Maui, on the slopes of Haleakala volcano, we learn about how invasive species have drastically changed the vegetation on Maui compared to what it was like thousands of years ago. We spend the day restoring native plants and trees, planting the king of the forest: the mighty koa tree. For one of our haumāna (students), this is her second voyage to Maui with our club, and we are all so surprised to see how tall the Koa tree she planted two years earlier has grown. With this effort, we have once again accomplished the mission of our Mālama Maui Program. We came to help heal the ʻāina (land) and to preserve the Hawaiian culture.

-Unko Gus
President/Cofounder/Cultural Practitioner
Nā Koa Kai Canoe Club
Perpetuating The Hawaiian Culture One Keiki At A Time™