By Catherine Black ’94 and Camila Chaudron ’08
This scale model of Hokule‘a was built by Wreyn Waniya ’18 in collaboration with his wood shop teacher, Stephen Wong, and gifted to the School as part of Punahou’s ongoing efforts to support the canoe’s Worldwide Voyage. Since the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s first trip to Tahiti in 1976, the story of its star voyaging canoe and the revival of traditional Hawaiian navigational arts has captured the public imagination and inspired a new generation to reconnect with ancient wisdom in the search for solutions to contemporary challenges. In addition to the numerous Punahou alumni who have been part of Hokule‘a’s journeys over the past four decades, including Polynesian Voyaging Society president and Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson ’72, the School’s direct involvement in the Worldwide Voyage reflects the shared values that drive it: malama honua, or care for the earth, and a commitment to the future of education.
“The best indicator of our future is what we teach our children.” On a late spring afternoon in 2013, Thompson delivered this message aboard Hokule‘a, sailing just a few miles off the beaches of Waikiki. “It takes progressive, fearless institutions that understand the right thing to do in preparing children for tomorrow and have the courage to do it – a place like Punahou. In a broad way, what happens on this canoe is like a school – it’s a very powerful learning platform.” A group of Punahou teachers were on board that evening, affirming the School’s partnership with Hokule‘a during one of her last community sails before embarking on a 48,000 mile, four-year journey to circumnavigate the globe.
Seeds of the Future
When Hokule‘a made her maiden voyage to Tahiti in 1976, Punahou alumni were heavily involved – in fact, Punahou had the largest total representation on board of any school. “It was the year of Hokule‘a,” the fall 1976 Punahou Bulletin proclaimed in a feature about life aboard the traditional canoe. Tommy Holmes ’63, Dave Lyman ’61, Kimo Lyman ’68, Keani Reiner ’70 (one of only two women selected to be part of the crew) and Nainoa Thompson ’72 all participated in the initial voyage.
The legacy of that historic voyage is still alive at Punahou, and numerous faculty and alumni have sailed on Hokule‘a over the years, including eighth-grade social studies teacher Marion Lyman-Mersereau ’70, whose son, Junior School PE teacher Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau ’05, sailed on several legs of the Worldwide Voyage in the Pacific.
After decades of criss-crossing the Pacific from Rapa Nui to Japan, the decision to take the canoe around the world was inspired by the urgent need to share the message of malama honua with communities around the globe. Thompson has often said that the seeds of the Worldwide Voyage were planted by two of his “greatest teachers, leaders and mentors,” who were also alumni of Punahou – his father Myron B. “Pinky” Thompson ’43 and Charles Lacy Veach ’62, a NASA astronaut.
The friendship between Thompson and Veach – one an explorer of oceans, the other an explorer of outer space – helped to inspire Punahou’s annual “Astronaut Lacy Veach Day of Discovery,” at which Thompson has been a frequent keynote speaker. The power of science and technology, when wielded with the wisdom and values of a culture as vitally connected to its home as Hawai‘i’s, was a topic that Veach and Thompson discussed often, and their notion of navigating the future with the wisdom of our ancestors is memorialized in the Mamiya Science Center’s star compass mosaic.
“Lacy understood how fragile our island earth is because he could see it from afar,” said Thompson.
A School’s Voyage
Punahou’s connection to this journey is not only significant because so many key individuals in its story are alumni, but because of the School’s role as an educational leader.
Under the guidance of President Jim Scott ’70 and Director of Hawaiian Studies (and Thompson’s classmate) Malia Ane ’72, the School has intentionally integrated core concepts of the Worldwide Voyage as curricular and co-curricular opportunities for students and faculty.
Coinciding with the launch of the Worldwide Voyage, the theme for the School’s 2013 – 2014 academic year was “Huaka‘i – The Journey.” That year, Academy science teacher Gail Peiterson and Tai Crouch, co-directors of the Gates Family Science Workshop, worked with Ane to develop an array of Worldwide Voyage-inspired teaching experiences, such as a 40-by-10-foot wooden canoe deck constructed with students and alumni volunteers to provide a true-to-scale context for students to reflect on the voyaging experience and on what it means to live with finite resources, whether these be on a canoe, an island, or Earth itself. The deck’s hands-on protocol prepared students for field trips to Hokule‘a before her official departure.
Mirroring its faculty’s exploration of more authentic, real-life learning experiences, Punahou has spent the past three years developing programs that capitalize on the educational potential of the Worldwide Voyage through place- and inquiry-based lessons, interdisciplinary projects, extracurricular activities and professional development opportunities. The voyage has also given students, teachers, parents and alumni numerous opportunities to support the School’s mission to develop socially responsible citizens in a new and meaningful context.
Beginning in kindergarten, Punahou students discovered how the lessons learned aboard the wa‘a (canoe) can be applied to modern society. “We start with physical experiences for the younger children,” explained kindergarten teacher Donna Reid ’78 Hayes. In the 2013 – 2014 academic year, every Junior School student and many Academy students visited Hokule‘a and went aboard her sister canoe, Hikianalia, while they were docked near Sand Island. Once the wa‘a left Hawai‘i in May 2014, faculty continued to provide opportunities for students to experience the magic of traditional Hawaiian sailing through local educational nonprofits, such as Kanehunamoku Voyaging Society, and periodically connecting with the canoe through Google Hangouts and other communications with its crew.
Students reflected on needs versus wants in a context of limited resources and learned about navigation – how the stars are used to guide on the journey, how the wind and the waves affect the wa‘a. Hokule‘a was the vehicle for bringing an experiential learning opportunity into the classroom in a hands-on, applied setting, driven by student inquiry and a values-based curriculum.
Examples that incorporate these tenets into the curriculum abound in diverse and age-appropriate ways across campus; third-graders learning about alternative energy sources in the context of ancient navigation; sixth-grade science experiments using wind speed and the size of the canoe sails as variables; eighth-grade outdoor education conservation activities tied to traditional cultural knowledge; ninth-grade social studies stewardship lessons at Pu‘u o Manoa (Rocky Hill).
Part of the beauty of these connections is that they’re often interdisciplinary. Sixth-graders, Peiterson recounted, spend time working in the campus gardens to grow and harvest canoe plants that they later study, prepare and eat in the classroom. During Punahou’s annual food drive, they connected the issue of hunger to the gardens by using Hokule‘a as a metaphor for island earth.
Educators as Ambassadors
Given Hokule‘a’s educational potential, many teachers across the state have adopted lessons from the Worldwide Voyage and made its mission their own. Some Punahou faculty, like Reid-Hayes, have integrated these lessons into their teaching because of their belief in the value of Hokule‘a as a cultural ambassador of Hawai‘i.
Some, like Peiterson and Crouch, see in the mission of malama honua an ideal device to integrate sustainability lessons into the curriculum (Crouch served as a crewmember during Hokule‘a’s 1985 Voyage of Rediscovery). For many Punahou teachers with no prior connection to Hokule‘a’s history or mission, the Worldwide Voyage provides a novel opportunity to learn and apply place-based learning that is relevant to an island setting.
The Malama Kumu initiative, spearheaded by Ane, invites faculty to represent Punahou locally and abroad as educational resources, cultural attachés and ambassadors of the malama honua mission. As Hokule‘a makes her way around the globe, the Malama Kumu crew have met her at different port cities, organizing workshops and providing educational outreach in places such as Samoa, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, South Africa and New York. The faculty involved represent a diverse cross-section of the School, from kindergarten art to twelfth-grade science.
Punahou is also committed to creating a local forum for educators to share resources, lessons and insights. In partnership with the Hawai‘i State Department of Education and Kamehameha Schools, Punahou helped launch Wa‘a Talks: free professional development events open to Hawai‘i teachers who want to integrate Hokule‘a and malama honua into their curriculum. Wa‘a Talks have brought specialists to the attention of educational institutions; connected teachers to crew members; and provided a platform for dedicated educators to share their materials, their successes and their challenges with a broader community. As Ane explained, “It’s not just about the voyage, it’s about bringing people together.”
We Sail for the Children
“At Punahou, we have a shot at influencing kids who can really make changes,” Ane reflected. “We want our kids to go out, make a difference and be leaders in different fields.”
Punahou teachers understand the connection between empathy and action, and this insight is what drives them to create lessons that engage both the mind and the heart. The aim is for students to become self-sufficient, independently motivated learners so that their education continues beyond their school years. Every child is motivated by something different and, for some, Hokule‘a could be the spark of inspiration for a budding engineer or a passionate ocean advocate.
Third-grade teacher Denise Awaya ’88 Wong found that her young students related best to the voyage when they could personalize their connections. Children in her class were encouraged to keep a journal where they created stories about the Worldwide Voyage by writing first-person narratives of themselves as crew members, combining their knowledge of Hokule‘a with their imaginations.
“I teach them that one person’s actions affect others,” she said. “And this plants the seed that we are all connected.”
While there are infinite ways to bring the Worldwide Voyage to the School, they are all linked by the same values that drive Hokule‘a: to teach a sense of place, identity and love for one’s home, “whether it be Punahou, or Hawai‘i or anywhere,” said Ane. “When you understand what deep aloha means, you realize that service is just aloha to others and sustainability is just another way of saying aloha toward the earth.”
“We see our work as essentially redefining education,” said Thompson. “This is about intentionally creating a generation that grows up with a love and a passion for its home and a desire to instill that love in others. Hawai‘i needs to become the laboratory, the future school for living on islands. What is the best indicator of tomorrow? It’s what you teach children. Ultimately, this is a voyage for a better world. We sail for the children and for the future.”