Kekahi Wa‘a Kaulua
The other voyaging canoe
19th from the series: ‘Ike Ho‘omoapopo
by artist: Leohone
The historical significance of the other voyaging canoe:
The impact of the voyaging canoe on the history of Hawai‘i is not just monumental; it is everything.
Legend has it that the Hawaiian Islands were discovered some 1500 years ago by a Polynesian voyager and fisherman named Hawai‘i Loa. It is believed that he led this migration into the Pacific from the Marquesas Islands, setting sail with his chief navigator Makali‘i in a 50-60 foot doubled hulled voyaging canoe (wa‘a kaulua). Having two hulls (‘akea or starboard and ama or port) gave stability and the capacity to carry people and cargo. Traditionally, sails were made of lauhala with olana for lashing, the hulls were massive hollowed out koa logs and the crossbeams between the two hulls were made of ohia. Stanchions, decks, and the steering paddles were made of hau.
As these early Polynesians fine-honed their system of using the observation of the stars, the ocean swells and currents, and even the flight paths of birds to guide them on the ocean, they were able to travel increasingly farther and for longer periods of time. Eventually, Hawai‘i Loa reached the Big Island, naming it for himself. He returned on a second holokai (sea voyage) to settle there with his wife and children, ultimately naming the other main islands Maui, O‘ahu, and Kaua‘i after his children.
The vision to build a traditional voyaging canoe to celebrate and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture came through the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1990. Despite every effort being made to replicate traditional construction by using traditional native materials, some modern day substitutions became necessary. 1995 marked the first voyage of the beautiful 57-foot Hawai‘iloa (so named after the legendary voyager). In the light of the lantern he holds high (also figuratively speaking), stands the late kahuna kâlai wa’a Wright ‘Elemakule Bowman, Jr. (“Wrighto,” 1943-1997), master builder of the Hawai’iloa canoe.
This painting depicts the Hawai‘iloa back to sea in 2015 after 12 years in dry dock. The other canoe represents Hawai‘i Loa and Makali‘i and all the other tall, imposing Polynesian voyagers who once navigated these same seas by the stars, carrying the seeds of a culture to a new land. Kekahi wa‘a kaulua – utterly paramount to the development of the Hawaiian culture as we know it today.
The personal significance of the other voyaging canoe:
I consider my lifetime, from my birth until my death, to be my holokai.
It’s not easy to be grateful for the times of hardships and heartbreak in my younger years, but I can now reflect back to these experiences and I can genuinely thank God not only for the times of smooth sailing but also for the storms — for the crashing sea waves and course altering winds that have helped me to become who I was meant to be. I also thank God for the ones who have sailed on ahead of me to their destination and are now at rest… at peace.
When the sun is shining and the waters calm beneath a steady, gentle breeze, I am perhaps less apt to think of the ones who guided me on my way through example and truth. But when the darkness comes, high winds tear at my sails, and my wa‘a kaulua is tossed to and fro by a heaving sea, it is then that I can hear the slap of the waves hitting other hulls on my right – the double hulls of another wa‘a kaulua that has sailed through these same waters before me… and as I look across the water to this other canoe, in my mind I see them all – bathed in moonlight – my grandparents, my mother, my father, my mentors and a host of friends and family who have encouraged and lifted me along my way.
As a Christian, I am acutely aware that I am never alone on this my voyage. I know that, whether or not I can hear or see the other canoe just up ahead, I am nonetheless guided and protected by my Heavenly Father.
A hiki i kou wā ‘elemakule, ‘o wau nō ia, a i ka wā e po‘ohina ai, na‘u nō ‘oe e lawe.
Ua hana nō e lawe, a na‘u ho‘i e halihali; na‘u nō e lawe, a na‘u ho‘i e ho‘opakele.
(Translation: I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.) Isaiah 46:4 NIV
– Leohone 2016
- Artist Proofs 60″ x 48″ signed “LeoHone” and numbered AP 1/75 – AP 75/75
- Editions A 40″ x 32″ signed “LeoHone” and numbered 1/288 – 288/288
- Edition B 30″ x 24″ signed “LeoHone” and numbered 1/288 – 288/288