Magazine article The New Yorker

Hut!

Magazine article The New Yorker

Hut!

Article excerpt

HUT!

Hokule'a is a sixty-two-foot-long double-hulled canoe, a working replica of a traditional Polynesian sailing vessel. It was built, in 1975, by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a group of Hawaiians eager to revive awareness of their indigenous culture and to advance a theory of how humans settled the islands of the Pacific. You might say that Hokule'a is a repudiation of Kon-Tiki: it helped to make the case that the earliest Polynesians came from Southeast Asia, not from Peru. Starting more than three thousand years ago, until the time, roughly, of the Norman Conquest, generations of these explorers, on vessels like Hokule'a, fanned out toward Easter Island and Hawaii. They didn't just bob like corks from reef to reef, as some theories held. Once settled, they traded with each other. Voyaging canoes were their horses, their railroads.

For forty years, Hokule'a has been traversing the high seas, as an emissary and a goad. Last year, it embarked on a three-year circumnavigation of the globe. This week, Hokule'a is off the coast of northern Australia. It should reach New York next summer. Anticipating that, some off-duty crew members were in town the other day to lay the groundwork for what they hope will be a festive landfall.

"We never want to assume that the canoe has value to a place we don't know," Nainoa Thompson, the current president of the Voyaging Society, said. Thompson captains a crew and is a master navigator, one of just a handful of adepts in the Polynesian way-finding techniques that have been passed down through the millennia. He learned them from a Micronesian named Mau Piailug, who was the navigator on Hokule'a's maiden journey, in 1976, from Honolulu to Tahiti. (Thompson was on the crew for the return trip.) One relies not on compasses or charts but on observations of stars, waves, clouds, currents, wind, fish, and birds. No sextant. Just hand. The taste of the sea can be a sign.

In Manhattan, Thompson and his mates, after a day of meetings, were itching to get on the water, to scout the harbor and check out possible moorings. They met up at 6:30 P.M., at the Pier 66 Boathouse, in midtown, and headed out for a sunset paddle in a pair of Hawaiian-style canoes, forty-five feet long and made of fibreglass, with outriggers (ama ) connected by spars (iako ). The boats skimmed out into the current. …

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