July 11, the Mo‘okiha o Pi‘ilani, a 62-foot Polynesian voyaging canoe, is on its way to help educate thousands of youth in the traditional ways of sustainability. If you are on Maui, be part of the launch festivities:

Noon – 4 p.m.: The blessing and launch take place at Mala Wharf

Note: Today was chosen because it lands on the Akua moon of the Hawaiian moon calendar as well as at the highest tide of the month, at 3:53 p.m., when canoe clubs from all around Maui will tow their sister Mo‘okiha o Pi‘ilani into the ‘Au‘au Channel.

5 p.m.: Join for a ho ‘olaule ‘a celebration on Front Street


Started in 1975 by LeVan Keola Sequeira, who was devoted to the singular idea of building a canoe, Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua was formed to embark on a journey to teach communities about the importance of voyaging and navigation. After forming a nonprofit to buy materials, volunteers gathered to build their first canoe, the Mo‘olele (“The Leaping Lizard”). The Mo‘olele (pictured alongside this article) has served as a living classroom, teaching children and adults traditional wayfinding techniques used by ancient Hawaiians.

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Today, Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua reaches the climax of their biggest challenge yet: the completion and launch of a 62-foot transoceanic voyaging canoe called the Mo‘okiha o Pi‘ilani (“Sacred Lizard of Maui”), which will be the first canoe launched from Maui in 600 years. Kala Baybayan, a captain and apprentice navigator for the new canoe, has seen their new project bring together good hearts and watched those people move the project toward realization. “This canoe was not meant to be a museum on land but an opportunity to learn about voyaging through practice,” says Baybayan, who watched the project develop since she was a little girl.

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For Matt Lane, the development manager at Hui O Wa’a Kaulua, it was the navigating practices of ancient Hawaiians that inspired him to join the cause. But they went beyond navigating by stars and nature. The ancient Polynesians understood how to properly store food, tools, and other survival necessities on their voyages, as well as exactly what items to bring on their journeys. Eventually, an entire population thrived because of this ability to perpetuate culture in an organic, natural, and healthy way. Lane wants to teach others about how much there is to learn about sustainability while on a canoe and “to learn about, respect, and care for the natural and social environment,” as the organization’s mission states. Ultimately it is the vision of Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua to have a “healthy, productive, safe Hawai‘i and planet Earth.”

Katherine Kama‘ema‘e Smith, a communications volunteer, learned about navigation as a child, and wants children to be able to stay grounded in their traditions by learning about the thousands of years of compiled knowledge about navigation and canoe building that has been passed down through generations. She also believes that having such skills to fall back on will help kids build confidence and leadership skills.

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It’s clear that future generations will have much to learn from this program, and Baybayan sees their endeavors as a place for kids to learn, holistically, what it takes to be a navigator or voyager. She urges kids to question their use of materials, as well as consider the difficulty in finding the raw materials to make a canoe. There is a need for planting and sustainability, and a foundation needs to be set for future generations. “Every time I see her [Mo‘okiha o Pi‘ilani], she’s the inspiration to make sure this opportunity can be offered to others, to share these special experiences and special moments that we have learned from kūpuna,” she says.
Now, visitors and locals of Maui will have the chance to gain traditional skills and have the opportunity to board a learning vessel like no other. With all the positive energy of the volunteers and launch members, Baybayan has watched everything come together and fall into place. It’s surely only the beginning of a journey into a sustainable future.