‘Mālama,’ to care, is message brought to Lowcountry by world voyaging canoe

The Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule’a is scheduled to arrive Thursday at the Charleston Maritime Center.

They navigate by stars, seas, winds and the birds. They are sailing the globe.

The Hokule’a, a 62-foot-long replica of an ancient double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging sail canoe, is scheduled to land at 2:30 p.m. Thursday — wind and tide willing — at the Charleston Maritime Center. Its indigenous crew will be singing traditional chants and blow a ceremonial conch.

On the pier they will be met with traditional greetings by leaders of maybe a half-dozen or more Native American tribes in South Carolina and the Lei of Hope will be exchanged.

“Our people lived on the coast, up the Pee Dee (river). It’s a venture, a learning, a greeting, a chance to hold our hand out to someone who comes in fellowship with us from such a far land,” said Pete Parr of McColl, Pee Dee tribe, who hopes to be there.

The arrival is open to the public and tours of the canoe might be given after the ceremony, time allowing. Public tours will be offered from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday.

The canoe has come a long way to get here. Since it left Hawaii headed for the Indian Ocean in 2013, it has covered nearly 28,000 miles on an around-the-world trip that is planned to eventually cover nearly 70,000 miles.

Its mission is to keep the tradition and mystique of ancient seafaring alive, to use it to recultivate languishing cultures among other indigenous people. And to teach something more: environmental sustainability.

“To tell the story, so that people care about the ocean, care about the Earth,” said Jenna Ishii, a Polynesian Voyaging Society apprentice navigator who has sailed previous legs of the trip. The canoe belongs to the society.

It is a tale to be told. The Hokule’a first sailed in 1975 from Hawaii to Tahiti, to prove the craft could make the cross-Pacific journey that the lore said discovered the islands. Its navigator was the last of his kind, the late Mau Piailug, a Micronesian who had learned the oral tradition of wayfinding.

The voyaging canoes of the Polynesians were seaworthy enough and the traditional navigation so keen that the people sailed through 7 million square miles of the Pacific to find and colonize 1,000 islands by the 1300s A.D. Some theorize that they reached South and North America.

They did it learning by rote the seasonal position, rises and sets of the sun, moon and various constellations — “Where they live, where they come up, where they go to bed,” Ishii said, as well as how to read shifts in the wind and currents and what birds would be coming from or headed where. The crews use an adaptation of that tradition today as they sail the reimagined canoe.

“You orient your canoe to whatever you find,” Ishii said.

In Charleston, among other events, crew members will be keynote speakers at the East Coast Sea Kayak Symposium at James Island County Park. The event is 8 p.m. Saturday, part of the Charleston Outdoor Fest, which runs Friday to Sunday.

The arrival in Charleston “is huge for me,” said Kekoa Lee of Charleston, a native Hawaiian who is helping to organize the Lowcountry stay. “It’s a historic event, to see that many indigenous groups of people come together. It’s my chance to do something good for our culture, bringing kinship and having my people here in Charleston.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 843- 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.