HANA – Hana Bay was packed with well-wishers when the Hokulea glided past Queen Kaahumanu’s birthplace on Friday morning to anchor in the heart of a community celebrating Hawaii’s resurgent native culture.

At the invitation of the 9th annual Limu Festival’s organizers, the venerable voyaging canoe is making Hana the second of an estimated 40 stops throughout the islands during a two-year Mahalo, Hawaii sail that began last summer.

A confluence of canoe, community and culture inspired master navigator and veteran captain Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, to tap Hana’s own Nakua Konohia-Lind to take command of Hokulea for the first time, setting his hometown’s “coconut wireless” afire.

Thompson said choosing Konohia-Lind, who sailed on more than half of Hokulea’s 33 legs on its “to care for island earth” tour, “was a very easy choice.”

Nakua Konohia-Lind, here leading a chant on the deck of the Hokulea in Panama, will be the youngest captain of the storied canoe when it sails into Hana. Justyn Ah Chong/Polynesian Voyaging Society

“There isn’t anybody better on this earth to bring Hokulea to Hana than Nakua, because he’s earned it,” said Thompson. “Every member of the (2014-17) Malama Honua crew saw Nakua as a unifying force, a hard worker, and very physically strong. We needed his strength.”

“Captains picked crew members who could secure them, support them, who they could trust. If you look at all the miles traveled … on all the boats on the worldwide voyage, Nakua has the most miles,” Thompson said. “He sailed the most because the captains picked him the most because he was trusted the most.”

Konohia-Lind hadn’t expected the honor.

“I was very surprised to be chosen to captain Hokulea into Hana at this moment in time,” he said.  “I realized sometimes the only way for leadership to be established is throwing someone into the deep end of the pool to see if that someone will sink or swim.”

Raised With Strong Hawaiian Values

About three-fourths of East Maui’s 1,200 inhabitants living between Keanae and Kaupo claim Native Hawaiian ancestry. Polynesia’s largest religious site, Piilanihale Heiau, dates from the 13th century and includes stones from Hana Bay, seven miles south of its location in Kahanu Garden, part of the National Tropical Botanic Garden system.

King Kamehameha I’s favorite wife, Kaahumanu, was born in a cave under Kauiki Hill at the entrance to Hana Bay.

Limu, marine algae commonly called seaweed, along with taro and fish, has been a staple of the Polynesian diet for millennia and is a favorite ingredient in poke. Once plentiful where fresh mountain water flows into subtidal pools, is imperiled by development, overharvesting, climate change and polluted seas.

The Limu Festival “is part of a grassroots network to protect shoreline resources,” said Jan Elliott, a festival co-chair. “Limu is woven all throughout Hawaiian culture and is the foundation of a healthy ocean food chain and ecosystem.”

Konohia-Lind, his five brothers and sister were “raised on local foods and with the strong family values of Hawaiian culture,” said his mother, Shannon Konohia-Lind. “They walked in our footsteps and learned to aloha everybody. They’ve worked in the taro patch, catch fish, gather and hunt, and have respect for the land and their elders.”

Third child Nakua “never grumbled about using hand-me-down clothes,” she said. “He was the one who always got asked to the prom, our “go-to” guy because he always made things work, and was always OK with whatever was handed to him.”

A favorite Hawaiian expression of his is “eat what get.”

His father, Kepa Lind, described him as “the one who gets everybody going in the right direction. He is willing to do anything – cook, pick up the house, get the kids organized. He is always learning and passing it along to the others.”

Harolen Kaiwi, board chairwoman of the Hana Cultural Center, said her community is “very proud of Nakua for caring so much about his Hawaiian culture.”

“He was a good boy, and now he’s come back after becoming captain of Hokulea,” she said. “Before, Hana didn’t really feel like we had a part in of all of this (voyaging), but now, with Nakua, we do.”

Nainoa Thompson and Nakua Konohia-Lind aboard the Hokulea in Haverstraw, N.Y. Kaipo Kiaha/ Polynesian Voyaging Society / ʻŌiwi TV

Many of Konohia-Lind’s East Maui contemporaries are reclaiming their culture through rehabilitation of ancient taro fields, pursuing legal avenues to recover traditional water rights from corporations, and improving healthy diet by growing and eating more “canoe foods.”

Native Hawaiians such as Konohia-Lind are emerging as a new generation of leaders. Among those cheering his arrival at Hana Bay will be his alma mater’s nearly 330 current K-12 students, many of whom consider the 2011 Hana High School graduate a role model.

When Principal Rick Paul heard the voyaging canoe was coming, he and his staff decided, “Hana School will do our annual school evacuation in conjunction with the arrival of Hokulea… and Hana’s own kapena (captain) Nakua.”

Paul described his former student as “soft spoken, extremely respectful and always helpful. His positive actions naturally result in making him valuable to his organization, in this case it’s the crew of Hokulea. This is a big deal for Hana.”

Limu Festival

It’s also a big deal to Thompson, who remembers being “stunned by the way Nakua greeted me, by his smile and friendliness,” at their accidental meeting five years ago at Honolulu Community College. Konohia-Lind was then studying to be a marine mechanic.

“I sailed with his great-grandfather, Sam Kalalau, on the 1976 voyage to Tahiti, and he was the most respected of all the crews by the navigator Mau (Piailug of Satawi, Micronesia). That’s because Sam was a very dedicated ocean man who understood the importance of this (Hokulea’s voyage) effort, of unity and trusting and working together as a team. Sam came from a place of kindness, compassion and strength. He was a mirror of the community of Hana.”

Sam “Boy” Kalalau, Jr., the great-grandfather of Nakua Konohia-Lind, was a crew member on the 1976 Hokulea voyage to Tahiti. Leslie Eade/ copyright Hana Cultural Center

Thompson said he saw those same qualities in Kalalau’s great-grandson, which is why he chose him, at age 24, to become Hokulea’s youngest captain. He also selected Konohia-Lind as one of six canoe crew members to attend a recent Stanford University leadership immersion program.

He is currently working toward an online bachelor’s degree.

“I tell Nakua all the time, ‘You need to get your doctorate, forget worrying about it, we will help you find a way.’ We need him to help generations of kids learn what matters, what is important in life.

“He is going to be a wonderful, valuable teacher who will open the pathway,” Thompson said. “Nakua’s story is an important and inspirational one for all young people in Hawaii. I’m just helping him to see it.”

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