Canoe in the classroom
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“Navigating and wayfinding have all the different types of life skills and sciences you can teach,” said Celeste Ha’o, programs assistant at Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii. “Math, technology, art … and so much more, all fall within the canoe.”
Ha’o, along with Pwo Navigators Chadd Onohi Paishon and Chad Kalepa Babayan, visited Waimea Middle School on Dec. 18 as part of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center’s Mobile Science Outreach. The program—actually the “pilot phase” of their navigation module—covered nine different Big Island and Maui schools over the past six months, connecting eighth grade science studies with navigation and cultural practices.
Paishon and Babayan are among five Hawaiian “pwo,” or master, navigators trained by “Papa” Pius Mau Piailug (1932-2010) who passed on the age-old oral teachings of celestial navigation. Mau’s training was instrumental in the 1976 maiden voyage of Hokulea, a double-hulled deep sea voyaging canoe. Since then, the Hokulea has inspired a revival of Polynesian voyaging culture, and its evolution, as evidenced in Hokulea’s high-tech sister, Hikianalia. The two are scheduled to depart on a worldwide voyage in May.
“Navigating and wayfinding are endemic to this place,” Ha’o said. “We have a legacy of exploration … exploration of vast distances, based on the knowledge of our ancestors.”
WMS eighth graders are working closely with the Hokulea and Hikianalia in culture-based learning experiences that align with common core curriculum.
“Knowing that we have the best scientists, the best engineers, possibly in the world’s history, able to voyage thousands of miles from our coast. … We come from that,” Ha’o said.
The navigators’ presentation at WMS included hands-on learning, using scale models and deck diagrams, an inflatable planetarium, and introduction to the 32 “houses,” or constellations in western astronomy, of the Hawaiian star compass and the canoe’s 360-degree fixed compass, embedded into her deck.
According to the Polynesian Voyaging Society website, the star compass, based on Mau’s teaching, was developed to help orient the canoe to the rising and setting points of stars.
“The compass has 32 equidistant directional points around the horizon, each 11.25 degrees from the next point (11.25 multiplied by 32 equals 360 degrees) … To hold a course, the navigator aligns the rising or setting sun to marks on the railings of the canoe. There are eight marks on each side of the canoe, each paired with a single point at the stern of the canoe, where the navigator is stationed, giving 32 bearings to match the 32 directional houses of the Hawaiian star compass.” The equation is available at the Polynesian Voyaging Society website at pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu.
The star compass is just one example of a natural integration of Hawaiian cultural practice with math and science through astronomy, making a logical connection from the classroom to present-day relevance as the canoe prepares for its global voyage.
“It is important to be able to teach about the host culture of these Islands,” said Ha’o. “If the students are Hawaiian or they are something else, we are all ‘canoe people.’ No matter who you are, everybody’s ancestor traveled by boat. They used the oceans to connect people, not divide them … Hawaii is an island in the middle of the sea. The earth is an island in the middle of space,” said Ha’o. “Hawaii is a metaphor for earth. It makes us think about the people and resources we have, and the responsibility we have to the canoe, the responsibility we have to earth
To learn more, and to join Waimea Middle School students in following Hokulea’s and Hikianalia’s worldwide voyage, visit www.hokulea.org.