The wa‘a, outrigger canoe, was one of the most important elements of Polynesian culture, providing a means of transport across the vast ocean for resettlement, subsistence and sustenance from the sea for the ‘ohana, for love, war, and friendly competition. The wa‘a also represented the interrelationship between the spiritual and earthly realms.
For centuries, kahuna kalaiwa‘a, master canoe carvers, have been inspired by aumakua, ancestral spirits who rule and inhabit the forests, as well as the seas. From choosing the koa tree for the kino, the hau for the iako, and the wiliwili or ohia for the ama, to shaping and finishing the wa‘a, each step required intense meditation and ritual.
The kahuna kalaiwa‘a prayed for the aumakua’s favour and intervention to ensure a successful undertaking. Through dreams, they would share their skills and knowledge, review each day’s progress and give the canoe carver ideas and directions on how to proceed through each stage. Upon completion, the wa‘a would be rigged, a name chosen, and blessed for its maiden voyage.
To the Hawaiians, outrigger canoe paddling was more than a sport; it was a way of life. Today, we carry on the ancient traditions through our participation in carving, maintaining, and racing these unique canoes made of koa from our mauka forests on the island of Hawai‘i.
Created from the most majestic of trees, each canoe is a living testament to the ingenuity and skill of our ancestors, and is imbued with the mana of all who have been involved, and share and partake of its essence. The akua and aumakua of the forest and the sea, the kupuna who saw it grow, the kalaiwa‘a who gave it shape, the ‘ohana that welcomed, named and blessed it, and the paddlers that move it, all are present and alive in the canoe, every time it enters the sea. Thus, each canoe is regarded and respected as an important member of the ‘ohana.
From this perspective, it seems clear that the first rule of canoe paddling is respect; for the canoe, for the kalaiwa‘a and those who have come before us, for each other as crew members, for everyone else involved in the sport, and most of all, for the ‘aina and moana. This reverent attitude will ensure that your experience as a canoe paddler will be something that permeates and positively impacts every facet of your life.
Hand in hand with respect comes attitude, the understanding that we are all in the same canoe and that each paddler and member of our ‘ohana has an important role to play in our day‐to‐day endeavors. Accordingly, tolerance, humility, forgiveness, and generosity are virtues that will allow us to overcome our difficulties and conflicts. This is the attitude embodied in the process of ho’oponopono, a mental cleansing that enables us to analyse and understand the sources of personal conflict. Through mutual understanding, the doors are opened for making things right and moving forward.