Hōkūleʻa to sail into Pearl Harbor for the very first time

The voyaging canoe will visit Puʻuloa or “Long Hill,” a place full of history, tragedy and, perhaps, hope as well.

Will Caron

Image: Todd Yamashita

For the first time in Hōkūleʻa’s 42-year history, the world famous canoe will sail into the waters of Pearl Harbor and visit the Puʻuloa region. The crew will be welcomed at Rainbow Bay Marina on Saturday, February 10, at 10 a.m. by the Puʻuloa community and United States Navy, which is hosting the canoe. The week-long engagement to follow will include school visits, public dockside tours and a crew talk story event.

As part of the Mahalo, Hawaiʻi Sail, the stated purpose of Hōkūleʻa’s visit is to “bring the canoe to more of Hawaiʻi’s children, honor Pearl Harbor’s ancient culture and history, and to learn about the efforts to restore the area’s cultural sites including Loko Paʻaiau Fishpond.” The history of Pearl Harbor is complex and multi-faceted. Artist Jane Chang Mi created a multimedia art instillation project, entitled “The Eyes of the Gods,” exploring this history and the identity of the surrounding area for the Honolulu Biennial in 2017.

For hundreds of years before the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Puʻuloa was a place of significance and importance to Hawaiians. It was once home to 27 distinct fishponds, most of which have now been covered over or destroyed. The Loko Paʻaiau fishpond is located at McGrew Point Navy housing and is one of only three fishponds in the Pu’uloa area still relatively intact. In September 2014, the Navy invited members of the local Hawaiian civic clubs and ʻAiea community members to begin work on restoring the historic fishpond.

When Hōkūleʻa enters the waters of Pearl Harbor for the first time on Saturday morning, the crew plans to pay respect as she sails by significant cultural and historical sites including Halealoha Halemau (Fort Kamehameha Reburial Platform), the USS Nevada, Arizona Memorial, Battleship Missouri, Ford Island, USS Utah, and Loko Paʻaiau Fishpond before the vessel arrives at Rainbow Bay Marina. The crew also will spend a day working with the restoration team at Loko Paʻaiau Fishpond on February 17.

“We want to celebrate this place and the movement taking place by the Puʻuloa community and the Navy to restore the Native Hawaiian history, sites and cultural identity of Pearl Harbor,” said Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. “We hope Hōkūleʻa’s visit will open the doors for our young people to learn about the extraordinary history and culture of this very special, sacred place,” he added.

More than 1,000 school children are scheduled to visit Hōkūleʻa and participate in educational activities during her stop at Puʻuloa. Hōkūleʻa will be greeted at Rainbow Bay Marina with traditional Hawaiian protocol and a military welcome.

“We welcome the navigators of Hōkūleʻa. Many are military veterans or have strong family ties to our armed forces,” said Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. “I have great respect for the courageous navigators of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and for the values they live by: love of the ocean, care for a sustainable environment, appreciation of history and heritage, and commitment to educating the next generation. And I join with the rest of our community in thanking the navigators for sharing their time, talents and wisdom with us and our neighbors at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.”

[Related article: “‘Remember Pearl Harbor!’ and forget all else”]

Through her artwork, Mi demonstrates the importance of place and identity while exploring the transience of history. In “The Eyes of the Gods,” we are reminded that the fishponds that once dotted the three lochs that form Pearl Harbor are no longer there, and this represents an important loss of culture:

The West Loch of Pearl Harbor was once the spawning ground of the ʻanae-holo (running or traveling mullet). Every fall, the fish would swim counter clockwise around the entire island, returning to Puʻuloa every spring. The running mullet are of specific importance on Oʻahu as their movements mark the beginning of the Makahiki season on the island.

Ancient Hawaiians named the estuary that feeds Puʻuloa Wai Momi, the “River of Pearls.” Oysters once flourished in the harbor; shells were used as scrapers to make cloth and rope and also carved into fishhooks; and mother of pearl was valued for its iridescence and used in religious sculpture as the material to make the eyes of the gods.

The Europeans arrived in 1778 and their lust for pearls quickly became evident. King Kamehameha declared all of Pearl Harbor’s oysters his and prohibited oyster fishing upon pain of death. A European explorer wrote, “There are many divers employed here diving for the pearl oysters, and we saved them much trouble and labor by presenting the king with an oyster dredge.” By the end of the 19th century, the oysters had all but disappeared. The United States began leasing the harbor on January 20, 1887. Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the United States Navy established Pearl Harbor as a military base.

Today, trapped oil from the USS Arizona still leaks in random spurts that rise to the surface of the harbor. Survivors of the Japanese attack were the first to refer to these bubbling streams of oil as “Black Tears,” in reference to the loss of life that occurred on December 7, 1941. But the tears could just as symbolically be said to originate from the very eyes of the gods themselves in response to loss of another sort: the loss of culture, of lifestyle and sustainability, of language and of self-determination that the Hawaiian people have endured since the 1893 overthrow.

Like so many places in Hawaiʻi, the history of Puʻuloa is complicated and tragic. But it’s also far from over.

“Hōkūleʻa’s visit to Puʻuloa fills our hearts with profound gratitude and love,” said Winston Kalina Lum, Sr., Aliʻi Pauahi Hawaiian Civic Club board member and genealogical descendant of the early inhabitants of ʻAiea, Kalauao and Keʻehi. “It has been hundreds of years since a voyaging canoe last landed on our shores. As our community works together to preserve our cultural sites and educate our children, the canoe’s presence reminds us that we, too, can bring peace and Aloha to the planet.”