Keli'i Tau'a


The Spirit of the Hōkūle'a
Samurai speaks: 

Boku no kimochi wa, Samurai no yo da, katana no kawari ni, hoe o motta.
            Sailing on the Hōkūle’a brings out the Samurai in me, a Samurai not with a sword to defeat my challenger but with a paddle to conquer the ocean. (Araki Takuji).
A Hawaiian Double-hull canoe
            Hōkūle'a served as a springboard to usher in the 1970's Renaissance in Hawai'i supporting two existing cultural elements, canoe paddling and the formal but modest traditional hula schools. The Merry Monarch competition was still getting its feet wet during those early years. 

Hawaiian Sumo Hero
Jesse Kuhalua was in motion.  He was the first foreigner to win the prestigious sumo Emperor's Cup in 1972 and at the award ceremony, it was the first time in sumo history that English was read sent by American President Richard Nixon congratulating Jesse for his unbelievable feat.  His victory alone bridged the gap between the delicate America Japan foreign relations.

Kaho’olawe and Miegima
Accompanying this new sailing vehicle Hōkūle'a was the high interest in the stopping of military bombing practices of the sacred island of Kaho'olawe and to move toward's returning the island to the State of Hawai'i.  Ironically, Hōkūle’a past by
Miejima, Japan’s target island as it sailed North towards its destination Yokohama Bay.


I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be participating in some of the above activities that put me right in the middle of the wave which has not stopped for me for over 40 years.  Being in the right place at the right time might be applicable to me while my close friends and family suggest that the experiences and activities that I have had privy to engage in were all meant to be.
            My family was a musical family so my mother always told me but the only time I got to see any of that talent was during my attendance to church every Sunday at Pulehu Chapel. Today, it serves as a national monument since it was the first Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints established in 1852 west of the Rocky Mountains. Being the youngest of 14 children, I didn't see or interact with my older siblings very much although at times I would see my older brothers or sisters strumming their ukulele and singing along while they played.  One thing for sure, they all had nice voices.

Music at early age

At an early age of 12, I was selected to attend a private Hawaiian boarding school named Kamehameha that helped shape my life today.  At the school, I was able to see and admire the many different musical talents of my peers which attracted me to select the choral glee club as one of my classes.  There, I got to sing with boys my age and form a musical trio that traveled to the various Hawaiian Islands to perform as a trio along with the choral group.  One of the members of the group was Kimo Hugo whoʻs name will surface again when I get to talking about Hōkūle'a.
            At that time, everyone who attended that school sang as part of a life style.  We sang at breakfast, lunch and dinner as part of the prayer over the food.  We sang at regular assemblies, special assemblies, and participated in an all high school song competition annually which has been one of the trademarks of the school.
 Two very important activities that were non-existent in our school for many years were the teaching of Hawaiian language and hula.  Recently, however, as part of the Renaissance, hula, chant and the performing arts along with language have become very important in educating the students at the school that has contributed to many leaders in those respective fields.  The real grooming of cultural learning came from private learning as the traditions trickled down as expressed in the Hawaiian way of learning to "Look to the Source."(Nānā i ke Kumu).  During my college years, the ball just started rolling and by the time I was a teacher in high school, the momentum of the Hawaiian culture started picking up steam.

Mission in Japan
Just about that time in 1967, I took a break in my educational career as a Church member volunteer to serve my Church as a missionary for two and a half years in Japan.  With no Japanese language background, I came with a full head of hair and a strong desire to share Christ teachings.  At the end of my tour, I left cherishable memories, many friends, a thin crop of hair and a comfortable grip on the challenging language. Most importantly, I had grown to love and appreciate my Hawaiian culture more than I had and my aloha included the hānai culture and people of Japan. 
Upon my return, I immediately thrust myself back into studying our language.  It was challenging at first but learning the Japanese language gave me the confidence to recall Hawaiian through many of my childhood experiences.

Bless first, blessings follow

The second activity that assisted me to connect with Hōkūle’a was to serve as assistant to Master Ka’upena Wong as we launched the “Star of Gladness”.  Along with that came my first composition entitled “Hōkūle’a recorded by a music group called Nā Keonimana consisting of the late John Kekuku, Allan “Poki” Pokipala,  Mike Kaʻawa and myself.  We also recorded a song for Kimo Hugo called the “The Ghost of Kimo.”
A follow up activity in music was to create a thematic CD entitled “The Saga of Hōkūle’a” with co-writer Roland Cazimero and myself along with Mike Ka’awa, Dwight Hanohano and Kalani Whitford.  In between that time, I was able to lay down some chants for the late Gabby Pahinui  on his last two albums.
My personal journey with canoes have taken me full circle through the Pacific from Alaska to bless the spruce logs to carve the double-hull canoe Hawai’iloa to French Polynesia to greet Hōkūle’a then after several years following, return South to the Marqesas Islands to launch the historical 7 canoes from Hawai’i, New Zealand and Raratonga.

Calling to return

Once again, a calling from Hōkūle’a came for me to return to the “Land of the Rising Sun” and greet the Star of Gladness as well as my hānai Japanese families.. It was truly electrifying to stand at Yokohama Bay chanting  the Hawaiian double-hull canoe Hōkūle'a in to shore knowing that some two hundred years ago our last reigning king David Kalākaua might have been in the same spot where the canoe landed.

 After the canoe arrived, my wife Chelsea and I remained in Japan for six months to open up a  Hawaiian Academy for friends and during that time, I started writing the lyrics to “HOKU.”  Upon my return, I was attracted to a talented musical producer by the same first name like the last king of Hawai’i, King David.


  David and I approached this new musical project wanting to express through our Hawaiian culture to our friends of the Far East whose welcome extended throughout the Pacific with the Hōkūle’a theme echoing "One Ocean, One People."  We also invite the local music lovers to enjoy our musical creations.
Another great Hawaiian man in this contemporary time stood on the dock.  His Hawaiian name, Chad Rowan but in Japan, he was known as “AKEBONO”, first foreigner to win the highest sumutori rank.  All in the ‘ohana.
"E Ulu, e Ola Mau nā Hana 'Apau o Hōkūle'a.  Let it live, let it grow all the works of Hōkūle’a.
In a couple of days, we will have the completed CD HŌKŪ in our hands which contain songs of the Hōkūleʻas journey to Micronesia and Yokohama, Japan.

By Kumu Keli'i Tau'ā, PhD