Keiki learn the science behind Hawaiian history of astral wayfinding

  • Arilyn Medina, 7, decorates her model canoe Sunday during the 11th annual Wayfinding Festival at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Alis Medina, 6, learns how to build a model canoe Sunday during the 11th annual Wayfinding Festival at 'Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.
  • Ohanas do science activities Sunday during the 11th annual Wayfinding Festival at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. (Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Canoes are on display Sunday during the 11th annual Wayfinding Festival at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

For the eleventh straight year, keiki gathered at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center Sunday to celebrate and learn about the science of Hawaii’s traditional ocean navigation.

With a full day of activities and presentations, volunteers at the 11th annual Wayfinding Festival hoped to interest keiki in the science and art of the millennia-old tradition of Polynesian navigation.

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“We’ve lost so much knowledge as a culture, said Haunani Keamo, a teacher with Ke Kula o Nawahiokalaniopuu and a volunteer at the festival. “And now we’re thriving again, and this is a way to get all kids involved in it.”

Keamo, who is also an educator for the Polynesian Voyaging Society and was part of the crew of the traditional voyaging canoe Hokulea during its Malama Honua worldwide voyage, said events like the festival help children connect with the sciences involved in traditional navigation, which include fundamentals of astronomy, geometry, oceanography and more.

“It’s about celebrating our oceanic culture,” said Kalepa Baybayan, navigator in residence at Imiloa. “It’s important that we host this to remind the community of our history.”

Baybayan also sailed on the Malama Honua voyage, and explained that the lessons learned on that journey are vital to impress upon keiki today.

“The lesson of that mission was about ocean stewardship,” Baybayan said. “Without the blue on the planet, there is no green.”

Other crew members of the Hokulea held a presentation about the canoe’s visit to Samoa during the worldwide voyage, explaining the history and culture of the islands.

However, the more popular activities at the festival were simpler exercises for younger audiences. Keiki lined up for themed games such as ring toss with inflatable beach toys or a game where participants threw beanbags at pictures of constellations. Meanwhile, dozens of children assembled miniature wa‘a, or sailing canoe models, from wooden blocks.

Steve Soltysik, another Hokulea crew member, said he has helped children assemble more than 5,000 miniature wa‘a as part of the Hokulea Keiki Wa‘a Project.

“I don’t count them anymore,” Soltysik said.

Soltysik said he makes presentations about the sailing canoes to every fourth grade class on Kauai, using scrap wood donated by Home Depot and shaped by inmates at Kauai Correctional Center.

“The objective is for kids to get a hands-on project to connect them with Hokulea,” Soltysik said. “Malama wa‘a — if you take care of your canoe, the canoe takes care of you.”

Throughout the festival, delighted keiki scampered between attractions, throwing beanbags, sanding down wood for their wa‘a models or else interacting with the astronomy exhibits.

“Our kids go to Hawaiian language schools, so its good to see them get to use the language here like this,” said Tanya Kobashigawa as her 6- and 4-year-old sons played with recently assembled model boats.

“It’s good to get to teach the kids about Hawaiian culture, said Marie-France Laurin, whose son, 7-year-old Loic Chene-Laurin, said he named his model canoe Hokulea, after the real Hokulea.

Elsewhere at ‘Imiloa, visitors could see three sailing canoes provided by Ke Kula o Nawahiokalaniopuu and the Keaukaha Community Association, watch regular planetarium shows or visit science stations throughout the Astronomy Center.

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“There’s such a connection between wayfinding — navigating on our planet — and astronomy,” said Gemini Observatory outreach assistant Alexis Acohido, who held a science booth demonstrating the relative sizes and distances between the planets in our solar system. “Astronomy’s just another type of wayfinding.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.