Ancestral Polynesian wayfinding finds its way to Gallery ‘Iolani


A replica of the Hokule‘a and other Polynesian voyaging art pieces were on display at Gallery ‘Iolani from January 29 to March 5 –Darryl Kaneyuki

While Disney’s recent movie Moana introduced the world to Polynesian wayfinding, the recent “Voyaging: The Art of Wayfinding” exhibition at Gallery ‘Iolani broke down the methods of transportation Polynesians used to cross the ocean without the use of instruments. Those methods included utilizing environmental information provided by the ocean, sky, wind and creatures to locate landfall.

The exhibit, which featured art from the Art in Public Places Collection of the Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, was on display from January through early March. The art included photographs, paintings, sculptures and even a glass bowl made to look like the sea.

The art showed how Polynesians used their understanding of the shapes of clouds and what they mean, currents of the ocean and sometimes heat of the water. For example, one photograph depicted how seagulls would signify landfall to a wayfinder, who may have spent days, weeks or even months at sea.

Artwork by Herbert Kawainui Kane, the primary designer and first captain of the Hōkūleʻa canoe, is featured alongside a smaller scale replica of the craft. Growing up and beginning his career as an artist in the Midwest, Kane began doing research on Hawaiian and Polynesian vessels.

His early art reflected his research and was purchased by Alfred Preis, the first executive director of the Hawai’i State Foundation of Culture and the Arts. The sale, according to Kane in an informational display at the exhibit, “enabled me to move back (to Hawai‘i).”

Kane soon became one of the founders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society whose mission was to fund the creation of the canoe for the perpetuation of the art and science of traditional Polynesian voyaging.

James Kimo Hugo, a crewmember on the Hōkūleʻa’s first voyage in 1976, called the 60-foot vessel at its inception a “newborn baby.” He spoke at the opening reception of the exhibit and talked about the canoe’s creation, voyages, mishaps and a new book titled “Hōkūleʻa Ohana Waʻa, Family of the Canoe.”

Currently, the Hōkūle‘a, along with another canoe named Hikianalia, is sailing across the Earth’s oceans to join and grow a global movement towards a more sustainable world.

The two canoes departed Hawai’i in 2014 and have traveled to Indonesia, Australia, Brazil and Panama. They will return to Hawai’i in June.


by Darryl Kaneyuki, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter