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Rapa Nui Outrigger Club and Hokule’a

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D.

Mata Hoe Vaka Kahu Kahu O Hera Rapa Nui

Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Hokule’a in Long Beach Harbor, escorted by Rapa Nui paddlers. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Hokule’a in Long Beach Harbor, escorted by Rapa Nui paddlers. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Mata Hoe Vaka and Rapa Nui Outrigger Club

During the 1989 field season, anthropologist Dr. Ben Finney visited Rapa Nui. He gave a lecture in the school auditorium about Hokule’a, the great replica Polynesian voyaging canoe. Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg agreed with Finney and then-Governor Sergio Rapu that an outrigger canoe club would be a wonderful new challenge for Rapanui young people and a good way to renew cultural links between Rapa Nui and the rest of Polynesia.

Rodrigo Paoa A. of Mata Hoe Vaka welcoming Hokule’a to Long Beach, CA. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Rodrigo Paoa A. of Mata Hoe Vaka welcoming Hokule’a to Long Beach, CA. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Van Tilburg took the idea to Rodrigo Paoa A., leader of Corporación de Resguardo Cultural Mata Nui A Hotu A Matu’a O Kahu Kahu O Hera, the island’s Masters of Culture Program. La Corporación consists of a vital and active group of Rapa Nui artists, artisans, community leaders, businessmen and teachers. There were, in 1989, 80 members and a seven person board of directors. Rodrigo formed Mata Hoe Vaka Kahu Kahu O Hera Rapa Nui. Niko Haoa and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati were founding members, and Van Tilburg and Finney served as advisors. Our challenge was to return to the US to form, from scratch, the Rapa Nui Outrigger Club (RNOC) as a support group for Mata Hoe Vaka. Our goal: to get an outrigger canoe to Rapa Nui.

The West Coast Voyage of Hokule’a

In 1995, Komike Hokule’a was formed in Long Beach, CA. The goal was to organize a warm welcome for Hokule’a when she arrived in Long Beach on her West Coast Voyage. At the same time, the dream was to foster Polynesian voyaging heritage awareness among school children and the local California community. Headed by Ka’ala Pang, Van Tilburg and Ted Ralston joined the komike. A great welcome at sea for Hokule’a was planned as she entered Long Beach harbor. A fleet of outriggers joined the escort, and members of RNOC, who flew from the island to join in the celebration, paddled one of them.

Ted Ralston and Rodrigo Paoa at the welcoming presentation for Rapa Nui paddlers. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Ted Ralston and Rodrigo Paoa at the welcoming presentation for Rapa Nui paddlers. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

The support for RNOC created through the Hokule’a adventure never dissipated. Ted Ralston located a used, but never named, Hawai’ian Classic Racer for sale in Marina del Rey, CA. With a generous grant from the Kelton Foundation and contributions from 200 members of RNOC and 20 corporate sponsors, including the Long Beach Sister Cities Program, we purchased the canoe.

Blessing and Naming the Canoe: Tahatai and Uncle David Nu’uhiwa

On a cold, rainy California Sunday (February 3, 1996), 200 people gathered on the beach near Valparaiso Park in Long Beach to name and bless the canoe. A traditional welcoming oli by Kumu Clarice Wahineali’I Nuhi set the stage for the blessing, and the canoe was given the name Tahatai (the Rapanui variant of kahakai). Uncle David Nu’uhiwa blessed her and, the following week, Tahatai was crated and placed in the hold of CSAV vessel Buenaventura for her journey to Valparaiso, Chile.

Tahatai on Rapa Nui

On April 27, 1996, an Armada de Chile vessel arrived at Rapa Nui carrying Tahatai. Members of Mata Hoe Vaka, led by Niko Haoa, uncrated her, rigged her on deck, hoisted her over the side, and paddled her to shore. Tahatai launched a new chapter in the Polynesian culture of Rapa Nui.

Welcoming Ceremony on Rapa Nui

Niko Haoa and Rodrigo Paoa serving the first food from the umu to Rapanui elders Felipe Teao and Kiko Pate. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Niko Haoa and Rodrigo Paoa serving the first food from the umu to Rapanui elders Felipe Teao and Kiko Pate. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

On May 18, 1996 excited members of Mata Hoe Vaka, the Rapanui fishing community, island leaders, travelers from Long Beach, and officers of the Chilean Navy stood by while Governor Jacobo Hey and Mayor Petero Edmunds spoke words of welcome. Father Navarrete gave the blessing. Felicita Hucke placed a lei of flowers from JoAnne Van Tilburg’s garden around the bow of Tahatai. A special umu was prepared and the first food was served to Kiko Pate and Felipe Teao, honored Rapanui elders. After the ceremony, Tahatai was carried past the standing moai to the sea. For the first time in over 100 years, an outrigger canoe adequate to the island’s surf was at home in Rapa Nui waters.

Hokule’a at sea off Tahai, with Ahu Vai Uri in the foreground. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Hokule’a at sea off Tahai, with Ahu Vai Uri in the foreground. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Hokule’a on Rapa Nui

The Polynesian Voyaging Society welcomed the new century (2000-2001) with a once improbable voyage to Rapa Nui. Navigators Nainoa Thompson, Chad Baybayan, and Bruce Blankenfeld used the stars, ocean swells, and favorable winds to guide Hokule’a over a successful and swift 19-day, 1,450 mile voyage from the tiny island of Mangareva to Rapa Nui. Crewman Max Yarawamai sighted Rapa Nui through a small hole in a wall of clouds. After a joyous welcome and a wonderful stay on Rapa Nui, Hokule’a departed with an escort of vessels from Hanga Roa O Tai. One of those vessels was Tahatai.

Members of RNOC, friends and family at Anakena. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Members of RNOC, friends and family at Anakena. ©1995/RNOC/Photo: Jo Anne Van Tilburg.

Want to Know More?

“Hokule’a: A History of Uniting the Pacific. West Coast Tour.” Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1995.

“Voyaging Into the New Millennium.” Honolulu: Polynesian voyaging Society. Spring 2001.

“Rapa Nui Outrigger Club Canoe on Easter Island!!” Rongo: News from Mata Hoe Vaka Kahu Kahu O Hera. Los Angeles: RNOC.

External Websites:

Rapa Nui Outrigger Club


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D. — Archaeologist; Director, UCLA Rock Art Archive, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology; Project Director, Easter Island Statue Project Conservation Initiative

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Posted on May 2nd, 2009 by Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D. | Category: Educational Outreach, Rapa Nui Outrigger Club |