Hokuleʻa, Sam Low and the Navigators

The three-year worldwide journey of the Hokuleʻa voyaging canoe ended on June 17th when the double-hulled vessel sailed into Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu. The voyage, which began three years earlier in Hilo under the watchful gaze of 14,000 foot Mauna Kea, carried the indigenous wisdom of aloha and environmental sustainability to people across the globe.

The timing of this endeavor couldn’t have been better. War, greed, environmental degradation and political polarization dominate early twenty-first century life throughout the world, reflecting the shortsighted goals of empires in conflict. That a Pacific Island people—the Hawaiians—would bother to carry their island knowledge and wisdom to other societies beyond their remote shores speaks to their commitment to aloha.


People across the globe watched the July 17th return of Hokuleʻa to the islands via television, radio, social media and the internet, as it continued its worldwide sharing of aloha and sustainability ideas during its festive homecoming celebration in Honolulu.

A few days later, as part of Hawaiʻi’s celebration of the canoe’s return, author Sam Low showed his award winning 1983 documentary The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific at the Niaulani Campus of the Volcano Art Center in Volcano Village.  


Sam Low’s June 22 screening of The Navigators drew a standing-room-only crowd in the Volcano Art Center’s performance hall.

Low, a cousin of navigator Nainoa Thompson, was the official chronicler for the Hokuleʻa and the author of a stunning book about its quest, Hawaiki Rising – Hokuleʻa, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance.  Low documents in compelling prose, beautiful photography and helpful graphics the awe-inspiring journey of Native Hawaiians rediscovering their Pacific voyaging heritage—a reawakening that inspired the larger Hawaiian Renaissance Movement that is now transforming the culture and politics of Hawaiʻi.

The book also serves to debunk the longstanding—but mistaken—notion that Polynesians populated the Pacific Islands by chance drifting rather than scientific skill, including stellar navigation. That modern myth, promulgated by Thor Heyerdahl’s bestseller Kon-Tiki, still persists among people unfamiliar with decades of later scholarship and the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Low's book is essential reading for anyone interested in Hawaiʻi.


After the screening Sam signed copies of the documentary’s DVD and his book Hawaiki Rising while the audience enjoyed samples of Kahiki Ale from Lanikai Brewing Company on Oʻahu. The limited edition brew honored Hawaiian voyaging using six Polynesian Heritage plants—ko (sugar cane), ki (ti plant), kalo (taro), nui (coconut), olena (turmeric) and ulu (breadfruit). 

To stay in touch with the continuing work of Hokuleʻa and our contemporary navigators, become a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society as I have. You can do that here. To experience a Native Hawaiian perspective on preserving our precious oceans and the wondrous animals who live there, check out the important work also being done by Kai Palaoa.

Steady on Sam, Hokuleʻa and Kai Palaoa!