In 1976, mariners navigated from the islands of Hawai‘i to the islands of Tahiti using traditional methods of Pacific wayfinding for the first time in centuries. The voyage, which was met with disbelief and derision at the outset, was the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s introduction to the world. That intrepid first crew aboard Hōkūle‘a was accompanied by a photographer from National Geographic magazine. Most crewmembers carried a personal camera, worn like a chest piece, strewn using extra sailing line. After the 28-day voyage across the sea, they were welcomed as heroes by more than half the population of Tahiti. Many of the crew went on to lives on the sea and in the community. Their photos were seen around the world. In the Pacific, the images became iconic, were reproduced endlessly, and helped usher in a renaissance of cultural revival that continues to the present.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society has made this voyage several times since. But in 2014, it embarked on its most ambitious project yet: a voyage around the world, Mālama Honua. “I always thought those photos were impressive,” says Austin Kino, a safety officer and apprentice navigator with the Polynesian Voyaging Society of the images captured by early crew members. Like his fellow mariners, he brought a camera on the first leg of the Mālama Honua voyage, which took the crew from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti once again.
KE ALA I KAHIKI, The Pathway to Tahiti
Film Photographs by Austin Kino
August 6-September 3
Opening reception August 6, 7-9 p.m.
Treehouse, 250 Ward Ave Suite 223 (second floor)
Inspired by the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s first journeys, Kino picked up a similar camera at a swap meet, an affordable Nikonos 35mm. “It’s not, say, ‘Ancient Hawaiian’ traditional, but it’s traditional in the sense that this is how the first modern voyagers recorded what they saw,” Kino says. “You need something to do to keep your mind at ease out there, and electric power is hard to come by, so it’s hard to charge things. Having a film camera gave me something else to focus on.” There were other things that sailors deemed part of the new tradition. Mau Piaialug, the first navigator of the Hōkūle‘a, for example, passed the time carving tools, fishhooks, and ornaments.
Film, with its imperfections, more closely reflects the jumble of experiences had while on a voyage. Time and perspective change significantly while aboard a replica Polynesian voyaging canoe, in which navigators intentionally forgo modern navigational amenities, like wrist watches, in order to guide the vessel in a traditional manner. The grain and texture of film captures these moments with a different sort of truth than modern digital equipment. In Kino’s curated showing, as in the images from the first National Geographic feature, a film photograph can more accurately capture the blurred and disorienting work of closing a traditional crab claw sail in the middle of a squall, or the sense of awe and dread that can accompany a dangerous watch. And as seen in Kino’s images, Hōkūle‘a is as photogenic as ever.
Over the course of the voyage, and the celebratory events in Papeete, Kino shot 12 rolls of film. “Over a year later, I still know where I was when I shot each picture,” he says. “There’s one shot of other apprentice navigators and their teacher all leaning on the rail—that makes me think of how far we’ve come as voyagers.”