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Hōkūleʻa’s Unforgettable Homecoming

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The voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa came home on June 17, 2017, after leaving Hawaiian waters back in May 2014, to spread the word of “Mālama Honua” or to care for the earth around the world.

It is estimated that 50,000 people came to Magic Island on Oʻahu Saturday to welcome the double-hulled sailing canoe home from her three-year voyage around the globe.


Hōkūleʻa traveled approximately 43,000 nautical miles to 150 ports in 23 countries and territories. In all, 245 crew members participated in the voyage that uses only ancient wayfinding practices as part of a global movement toward a more sustainable world.

The canoe sailed into the Ala Wai Boat Harbor shortly after 9 a.m., surrounded by hundreds of boats, kayaks, and jet skis. A south swell brought a few concerns prior to the event, however, all eight voyaging canoes safely made it into the harbor and all surfers were kept safely away from the canoes.


On board were Solomon and Clyde Aikau, Eddie Aikau’s brothers, as well as Hōkūleʻa’s four remaining first voyagers to Tahiti: Buffalo Keaulana, Shorty Bertelmann, John Kruse and Billy Richards.


Once the canoe docked, a special ceremony took place and in attendance were Governor David Ige, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and representatives from Africa, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Rapa Nui, to name a few.

During the ceremony, Gov. Ige proclaimed June 17, as Hōkūleʻa Homecoming Day and spoke about the the challenges our future faces due to climate change.

“On your voyage around the world, at every port you spread the message mālama honua,” Ige said. “We see the impact of our collective actions more and more every day; sea level rise, coral bleaching, marine debris growing all around the world, the world is in peril, the challenges are great. Here in Hawaiʻi we see these impacts first hand, we are on the front lines of this struggle to protect our island earth because we know the health of our environment is inextricably linked to our own health and livelihood and well-being.”


“We have seen that humans have the power to destroy but we also have the power to change the sail plan, to restore and protect, to commit to a sustainable future and Hōkūleʻa has inspired us to stand up and be counted,” he said.

“Like the voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa, we are one canoe, one island, one planet, we cannot afford to fail,” Ige concluded.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell presented Hōkūleʻa master navigator Nainoa Thompson with a key to the city of Honolulu, Caldwell said Thompson is the second person to be given a key to the city, “and it comes with so much pride, Nainoa on behalf of everyone on this island, thank you so much,” Caldwell said.

“They took all of us with them (on their voyage), the people of the Hawaiian islands, from those from the oldest islands to the people of the youngest island, the island of Hawaiʻi,” he said.

“When you came home to our blue continent you brought the world with you back to this special place. I think all of us here in this place have gotten the message loud and clear about dreaming the big dream and having that sail plan. The Hōkūleʻa had theirs, who would have believed they would have accomplished this dream?” he continued.

“They believed whether your Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian, we feel extremely proud today and watching the canoe coming in, I think many of us had tears in our eyes,” Caldwell added.

Thompson then took the podium and gave a speech that touched and spoke to so many. He was visibly moved, and in the beginning quiet and humble.

“I’m deeply grateful beyond belief, homecomings never set in. I’m very honored to be here but I’m very uncomfortable right now only because I believe I’m standing here on behalf of the many,” he said.

“For the navigators that came together, that it’s time to share to the young people, you never ever let voyaging and navigation in them go extinct. Tell all the young ones, no matter how much hardship, no matter how dangerous it was, when we asked them to come as investments, the truest investment of handing off and hoping they learn from the great navigators, the ones over there on that wall.”

“The constant nagging question we always have in leadership, is Hōkūleʻa still relevant? Does it still have value, or is it too old? Has the racing of the 21st century outpaced it so much that things old we don’t care about anymore?” he added.

Thompson remembered and honored the inspiration of his father Myron “Pinky” Thompson, crew member Eddie Aikau, astronaut Charles Lacy Veach, and anthropologist Ben Finney, among many others.

He talked about his dad being his biggest mentor, “my father said, ‘if you believe in something, if you believe that you need to turn things to the justice, to make things pono, to make things right, then you should have the courage to try.'”

He added, “Humanity is changing, and the world is going to change humanity, quick.” He spoke of Lacy Veach having an idea to take Hōkūleʻa around the world back in 1992, “you plant the seed of the idea, take Hōkūleʻa around the world, because you can’t protect what you don’t understand, and you won’t if you don’t care, and you can’t do it by yourself. (Lacy said) take Hōkūleʻa, it needs to see and feel the earth and you need to connect with humanity that was the seed, that was planted in 1992, and leadership would get together talk about Lacy’s vision.”

“In 1992 sustainability wasn’t a word and climate change wasn’t even really measured. Lacy did, he knew,” Thompson said. “Then this small language over 16 years come forward, we’re talking about sea levels rising, drowning islands in the Pacific, islands that are now trying to get economic value and try to sell it and then your culture of 3,000 years gets uprooted from the only thing they have and then where do they go? The pacific islands have nothing to do to create climate change but they may be the ones that suffer the most, first.”

“The Hōkūleʻa is home, go take a look at her, tell me how much damage you see, how many broken things you see, because this canoe was cared for, for 37 months by an extraordinary community and if it was anyone that was invaluable, irreplaceable on this voyage, it was Captain Bruce Blankenfeld,” Thompson added.

“Thank you, Hawaiʻi. Thank you for the moment. Thank you for the 150 to 200 canoes that were out there, the thousand watercraft,” he concluded.

Hōkūle‘a makes its way into Ala Wai Harbor Magic Island on June 17, 2017. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Hōkūleʻa entering Magic Island on Oʻahu in front of Diamond Head after a three year worldwide voyage. It’s is estimated that 50,000 people were in attendance. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Ceremony after the canoe docked at Magic Island. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Thousands of people greet Hōkūle‘a members and family from outside the ceremony tent. Left: Soloman Aikau, brother of Hōkūle‘a maiden voyage member Eddie Aikau, Archie Kelepa, Kimo Leodoeng, Buffalo Keaulana, Kalani Kahalioumi. PC: Nikki Schenfeld
PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Hundreds of people gather inside the ceremony tent during the Hōkūle‘a homecoming, PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Nainoa Thompson and Bruce Blankenfeld. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Bruce Blankenfeld, PWO Navigator and crew training coordinator for the World Wide Voyage, shares the hā with Governor David Ige. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Nainoa Thompson and Bruce Blankenfeld during the ceremony. Behind in the photos are founders and teachers of the canoe (L-R): Herb Kawainui Kāne, Ben Finney, Tommy Holmes, Pius ‘Mau’ Piailug, and Myron ‘Pinky’ Thompson. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Mayor Kirk Caldwell gives Nainoa Thompson the key to Honolulu during the ceremony of the Hōkūleʻa homecoming. Thompson is the second person to ever receive the key to the city. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Nainoa Thompson gave a speech to the thousands of people in the crowd. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

Hōkūleʻa arrives at Magic Island on June 17, 2017. PC: Nikki Schenfeld

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