No modern navigation instrumentation guided a Polynesian voyaging canoe as it followed the horizon on a three-year journey around the globe. About a dozen crewmembers for each leg of the voyage relied only on nature's cues—ocean swells, stars, wind, birds—and their own naau, or gut, to sail about 40,000 nautical miles to 19 countries, spreading a message of malama honua: Caring for the earth. On Saturday, thousands welcomed the double-hulled canoe Hokulea home to Hawaii when it entered a channel off the island Oahu and tied up to a floating dock with iconic Diamond Head in the distance. Ka'iulani Murphy, an apprentice navigator on the double-hulled canoe, told the AP that the journey taught her the value of ancient Polynesian maritime techniques. "We really are sailing in their (the ancestors') wake," said Murphy, 38. "We had to re-learn what our ancestors had mastered."
The voyage perpetuated the traditional wayfinding that first brought Polynesians to Hawaii centuries ago. Hokulea, which means star of gladness, was built in the 1970s, when there were no Polynesian navigators left. So the Polynesian Voyaging Society looked beyond Polynesia. Mau Piailug, from a small island in Micronesia, was among the last half-dozen people in the world to practice traditional navigation and agreed to guide Hokulea to Tahiti in 1976. "Without him, our voyaging would never have taken place," per the Hokulea website. Crewmembers hope the latest journey will inspire other indigenous cultures to revive traditions. Hawaiian ancestors also farmed and fished sustainably. "They figured it out—how to live well on these islands," said Nainoa Thompson, master navigator and society president. "And I think that is the challenge of the time for planet earth and all of humanity." (Read more navigation stories.)