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Three canoes at the Kualoa, Oahu, sailing canoe gathering, 1995
The canoes Mo'oelele, Hawai'iloa and Hokule'a at Kualoa, Oahu during the May 1995 sailing canoe gathering. Photo: Ray Mains

Hawaiian Canoe

The traditional activities of building and paddling canoes are documented in text and twelve color photographs. Canoes were historically built by master craftsmen who oversaw all aspects of the process, from selecting the trees to getting the vessel on the water. Canoes were first made from koa logs (acacia koa), but the tree is very scarce today. Cost and efficiency considerations have dictated the use of fiberglass for the modern canoe hull. Lashing, once done with coconut sennet or vegetable fiber, has given way to nylon cord. Canoes are of two types: the outrigger canoe and the double-hulled canoe. In either case, the hull is always rounded, or U-shaped.

Canoes served varying purposes for early Hawaiians. Small canoes were used for traveling around the islands; larger canoes were used for long-distance traveling or for warfare. Fishing was also done with canoes. Additionally, the vessels were used for sports and recreation, and that is their chief use today. Within Hawaii, the sport of outrigger canoe paddling has enjoyed a boom in popularity in the last 25 years, and is practiced by over 10,000 paddlers.

In addition to text and photos, the project includes a videotape, Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey, and three audio tapes on the history of Polynesian voyaging; outrigger canoe paddling; and "Mo'olele," a song about pride in the that canoe.

Originally submitted by: Daniel K. Inouye, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Senator Neil Abercrombie, Representative (1st District) & Patsy T. Mink,Representative (2nd District).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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