Fifty years ago the common belief about how Polynesians arrived on the Hawaiian islands was that it was accidental, a group of men and women lost at sea who survived drifting over 4,000 miles to land on the small island of Kauai. But Hawaiian oral history told a different story of great navigators using stars and other natural signals to guide them to these islands. And some of the navigating chants were still remembered and sung.
In the late 1960’s the artist Herb Kane and others who supported this idea began to organize an eventually helped to build a replica of those ancient Polynesian voyaging canoes. The goal was to repeat the imagined journey, proving it was possible to travel from Tahiti to Hawaii using only what was available to the ancient Polynesians.
The replica of the ancient voyaging canoe was built in the early 1970’s. It is called Hōkūle‘a, named for Hawai‘i's zenith star, and it is still sailing today.
(The painting of Hōkūle‘a shown here is by Herb Kane.) The first successful voyage on Hōkūle‘a was in 1975. This marked a turning point for Hawaiian culture, leading to a significant resurgence of interest in the Hawaiian language and oral tradition. Study of the old chants showed that some contain references that seem to be navigational guides.
Hōkūle‘a is still sailing today and has now traveled a distance greater than three times the earth's circumpherence. Its travels include the journey from Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands. It has proved that journey is possible relying solely on the natural signs and without any additional support.
Now the broadly accepted belief is that the Polynesians deliberately sailed toward these islands. They navigated across more than 4,000 miles of ocean using their knowledge of the sky and stars, the sea and currents, the flight of birds and other natural signs. They were remarkable in their skill at surviving at sea as well as their navigation.
You can follow the past and current voyage of Hōkūle‘a at http://www.hokulea.com/