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Iosepa: The voyaging classroom

Friday, 15 May 2009

Rachel Adams | University Relations | 15 May 2009

During most of the year, the Iosepa canoe is housed inside the Polynesian Cultural Center, next to the Hawaiian village. But every spring term the Iosepa is towed over to Hukilau Beach Park and launched into Laie Bay, with a crew of BYU–Hawaii students aboard. This year the launching took place Tuesday, May 5.

This voyage is the culmination of a three-part series of classes that instruct students in traditional Hawaiian navigation. Students enroll in the courses during fall and winter semesters, and then prepare and sail the Iosepa during spring term.

"The Iosepa is fulfilling its purpose as a sailing classroom," said co-Captain and Assistant Director of Hawaiian Studies, Kamoa'e Walk. "Not only does it teach students how to navigate a canoe, but it also teaches about navigating life. It is about coming against challenges and facing them head on."

The sailing plan for Spring 2009 will take the crew of ten BYU–H students and captains Kamoa'e Walk and Kawika Escaran 18-20 days to complete, if the weather permits.

First, they will head to the Big Island of Hawaii, to Kawaihae, where they will visit the Makali'i canoe, whose crew trained the captains of the Iosepa. They will sail around the island, performing a service project in Kealakekua along the way, and then stop in Hilo. Here, the crew will spend a few days doing academic work in the Imiloa Astronomy Center, learning more about traditional navigation.

From the Big Island, the Iosepa will sail past Maui to Moloka'i to pay tribute to Uncle Bill Wallace, former Iosepa captain and director of the Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian Studies, who recently passed away.

They will also visit Kalaupapa on Molokai, where Napela lived and died caring for his wife who had leprosy. The crew has a service project scheduled during their stay there, as well.

But this is not all they plan on doing during their trip; "Throughout the voyage, we also plan on meeting with the youth," said Walk. "We will hold firesides where the crew can share about their experience and bear their testimony."

This year, the main purpose of the voyage is to honor Uncle Bill Wallace and all kupuna (ancestors) who have come before. It also represents a reconnection with the community of Laie. Walk explained, speaking of the launching ceremony on May 5. "It is a community effort… and the Iosepa is the community's canoe as well. They embrace us and we embrace them."

Walk relishes the experience, stating, "This is a wonderful opportunity. I am grateful for the opportunity to honor ancestors, family, the community, and the church by doing this voyage.

--Photo by Monique Saenz