Canoe-making tradition revived: 14-year-old Kohala boy launching community’s double-hulled outrigger tomorrow

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KOHALA — For almost a year, Hokani Maria’s dream has been to revive the art of traditional canoe-making in North Kohala.


KOHALA — For almost a year, Hokani Maria’s dream has been to revive the art of traditional canoe-making in North Kohala.

Tomorrow it will come to fruition.

With the help of a grant he won earlier this year and community support throughout the summer, the 14-year-old Native Hawaiian boy will hold a private blessing ceremony at Spencer Beach Park Saturday before launching their 6-man double-hulled outrigger into Pelekane Bay for its first voyage.

The project, named “He Wa’a Ko Kohala,” means “A canoe for Kohala.”

“I felt it was my kuleana to bring our keiki together to learn and see how a canoe is built,” Maria said. “With the Hokulea and her worldwide voyage, I felt now was the time to bring the art back.”

The venture was also an opportunity for young people to work with their elders in Kohala to build the first canoe in the community since the 1970s. Master Navigators Pomai Bertelmann and Chadd Paishon will ensure the correct protocol is done for the blessing and her first sail around Kawaihae tomorrow.

Maria received a $10,000 grant in March from Running Strong for American Indian Youth’s Dreamstarter program to build the canoe. Co-founded by Billy Mills in 1986, the nonprofit brings local expertise together with the support of thousands of donors and supporters.

In late April, Maria traveled with his mentor, Amoo Ching Kainoa, to Washington D.C. to the Dreamstarter Academy for a weeklong workshop to learn about the Running Strong charity. Kainoa is an educational assistant at Kohala Elementary School and program director for Kohala Unupa’a, a 21st century after-school program sponsored by North Kohala Community Resource Center.

Building the traditional Hawaiian Opelu-style canoe was a team effort for Maria and other students, with additional support and advice from elders, master navigators and cultural practitioners. Construction began in early June and concluded July 14.

More than 20 students ranging in age from 8-15 helped weekday mornings during their summer break, and high schoolers worked on the canoe in the afternoons.

“Community members also dropped by daily to help us put our canoe together,” Maria said. “Hualalai Keohuloa was the master builder in charge.”

Double-hulled canoes used by native people of the Pacific Islands are a marvel of engineering and human achievement. But to Maria the canoe represents more.

“In our community, a canoe is not only a means of transportation. It is a way to reconnect to nature, our culture, our community and ourselves,” he said.


Without his initiative, this cultural legacy and traditional knowledge might have been lost in North Kohala. Moving forward, Maria has specific plans for the canoe.

“We will use our wa’a for our sister project Na Kilo Aina, which refers to the watchers and observers of our sustenance,” he said. “It supports the community in re-establishing traditional relationships and understandings of place, and assists in defining what and who a contemporary mauka/makai dweller/steward is and their role within the community.”