By Katherine Smith
Lahaina – At midnight this morning, an estimated 400 people processed behind Maui’s own voyaging canoe, Mo′okiha o Pi′ilani, as she was hauled from 525 Front Street to Mala Wharf. After 18 years in dry dock, the 63-foot long, twenty foot wide wa′a kaulua (double hull canoe) weighing 11 tons, successfully eased around a tight left from Kamehameha Iki Park driveway. With cheers and applause from onlookers, the canoe crept along Front Street, arriving at the boat ramp at 12:45AM. The length of Front Street was closed to vehicles until the procession passed by.
“Our thoughts and actions were focused two things: the historic importance of this moment for Maui and safety,” said Hui o Wa’a kaulua President, Kimokeo Kapahulehua. “I was thinking of our ancestors who did this 600 years ago and how a whole village–a whole island came together to build and launch the wa’a kaulua. My kuleana was all the safety precautions we took would be sufficient to protect the crowd. Mahalo Ke Akua, all went well,” he said.
Beginning at 525 Front Street, chants and mele were heard from Kapono ‘Ai Molitau and hālau Nā Hanona Kūlike ʻO Piʻilani. Nā ‘Aikane o Maui under the direction of Ke’eaumoku Kapu, and the crew and board members of Hui o Wa’a Kaulua coordinated by Kahu Lyons Naone all participated in cultural protocol. Captain Timi Gilliom boarded the canoe. Kahu Molitau circled the canoe and captain three times while practitioners standing on all sides of the canoe chanted twelve different chants. Chants brought together heaven, earth, ocean and the people to free the canoe – to bless and protect her on her journey. When the ceremony was completed, Moʻokiha rolled forward on her custom boat trailer for the first time. The trailer wheels turned safely on the plastic covered with soapy water, and in less than a minute, Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani safely faced north on Front Street.
Several crewmembers rode atop the canoe to watch for branches and low-hanging wires. Four drummers stood on the aft deck, keeping a steady beat for the procession. Cultural practitioners surrounded the canoe, to keep back anyone but crew. She rests under a kapu until she enters the sea on Friday.
Kupuna in golf carts followed directly behind the canoe, and the Maui community respectfully processed behind their kupuna. All along Front Street people waited to see the huge vessel pass by. At the Baldwin Home, Lahaina Restoration Foundation lit fifteen torches to honor Mo’okiha.
As the wa′a kaulua approached Mala Wharf, the crowd spontaneously broke into repeating choruses of Hawai′i Aloha – a song that commemorates unity and harmony for the Hawaiian community. It has been said that ‘it takes a village to build a canoe,’ and last night, Mo′okiha o Pi’ilani became a symbol of the village that created her – Maui nei.
Mo′okiha o Pi′ilani’s full crewwill standwatch aboard the canoe at Mala for four more days, until she goes in the water on the 3:53 p.m. high tide on Friday, July 11 – the Akua Moon. Festivities on Friday begin at Noon, with commemorative speeches by Governor Neil Abercrombie, Mayor Alan Arakawa, West Maui legislators, kupuna and visiting dignitaries. Makalapua Kanuha will act as Mistress of Ceremonies.
From 2:30 to 3:30, Hawaiian practitioners from all parts of Maui, Mo′okiha o Pi′ilani crew and nearly 40 Maui canoe and paddling clubs will participate in a traditional Hawaiian canoe launching ceremony to release this “living canoe” into the ocean.
Mo′okiha o Pi′ilani will float on the rising tide between 3:30 and 3:50 p.m. At Captain Timi Gilliom’s command, a flotilla of canoes will tow her out into the ′Au′au Channel. If the Moaʻe is blowing, she will sail south to moor off Pākalā Beach, in front of Kamehameha Iki Park, 525 Front Street. Otherwise an escort boat will tow her.
Hui o Wa’a Kaulua will also host a public Ho’olaule’a celebration at 525 Front Street, from 5:00 p.m. Old Lahaina Lu’au Performers, ‘Ainoa, Marty Dred, Ulalena Cast, Amy Hanaiali′i, Eric Gilliom, and Da ‘Ukulele Boys will be on hand to entertain. Supper and celebration continues to 9:00 p.m.
For further information on these historic, culturaland free public events please visit www.huiowaa.org.