Ka‘iulani Murphy first saw the Hokulea—the storied double hulled canoe of the Polynesian Voyaging Society—on an elementary school field trip. “It was truly larger than life,” said Murphy. “I thought that would be the last time I’d ever see that canoe.” Her path would actually soon lead her to the decks of the Hokulea as apprentice navigator, joining a fiercely proud tradition of Polynesian wayfinders under the tutelage of Nainoa Thompson.
Thompson’s story and that of the Hokulea have been intertwined since its beginning. Once a novice sailor on its decks during its first historic trans-Pacific voyages, he now charts its course and guides this treasured cultural institution. He recalls vividly the day in 1976 Hokulea made landfall in Papae‘ete to the cheering throng of 17,000 Tahitians. “It was a symbol that every single one of those stories that the modern world starts to push into mythology, become more and more real,” he said. “That started to shift the worldview, things started to change towards that long road towards restoration and began to pull Polynesia out of the sea.”
Murphy’s life has come full circle. As she prepares for Hokulea’s historic global circumnavigation, she furthers the work this canoe has done to revolutionize Hawaiian education. “Part of our kuleana is to share the lessons of voyaging with the younger generation,” she said. Thompson says this is no easy path to follow, but one with great distinction. “You become a mirror of the ocean,” he said. “It’s hard but it’s a privilege. It will take you to the bone—but you are honored to be there.”