A Cultural Renaissance

Despite the ever-increasing influx of foreign people and customs, Native Hawaiian culture is experiencing a rebirth. It began in earnest in 1976, when members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society launched Hōkūlea, a double-hulled canoe of the sort that hadn’t been seen on these shores in centuries. The Hōkūlea’s daring crew sailed her 2,500 miles to Tahiti without using modern instruments, relying instead on ancient navigational techniques. Most historians at that time discounted Polynesian wayfinding methods as rudimentary; the prevailing theory was that Pacific Islanders had discovered Hawaii by accident, not intention. The Hōkūlea’s successful voyage sparked a fire in the hearts of indigenous islanders across the Pacific, who reclaimed their identity as a sophisticated, powerful people with unique wisdom to offer the world.

The Hawaiian language found new life, too. In 1984, a group of educators and parents recognized that, with fewer than 50 children fluent in Hawaiian, the language was dangerously close to extinction. They started a preschool where keiki (children) learned lessons purely in Hawaiian. They overcame numerous bureaucratic obstacles (including a law still on the books forbidding instruction in Hawaiian) to establish Hawaiian-language-immersion programs across the state that run from preschool through post-graduate education.

Hula—which never fully disappeared despite the missionaries’ best efforts—is thriving. At the annual Merrie Monarch Festival commemorating King Kalakaua, hula halau (troupes) from Hawaii and beyond gather to demonstrate their skill and artistry. Fans of the ancient dance form are glued to the live broadcast of what is known as the Olympics of hula. Kumu hula (hula teachers) have safeguarded many Hawaiian cultural practices as part of their art: the making of kapa, the collection and cultivation of native herbs, and the observation of kuleana, an individual’s responsibility to the community.

In that same spirit, in May 2014, the traditional voyaging canoe Hōkūlea embarked on her most ambitious adventure yet: an international peace delegation. During the canoe’s 3-year circumnavigation of the globe, the crew sought “to weave a lei around the world” and chart a new course toward a healthier and more sustainable horizon for all of humankind. The sailors met with political leaders, scientists, educators, and schoolchildren in each of the ports they visited. Hōkūlea returned home to a hero’s welcome in June, 2017.

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