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Photo of canoes with sails along shoreline
The canoes Mo'olele, Hawai'iloa and Hokule'a at Kualoa, Oahu, during the May 1995 sailing canoe gathering

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Hawaiian Canoe
A Local Legacy

Have you ever been in a canoe? Can you imagine traveling across the ocean in one? When Captain James Cook asked, "How shall we account for this nation having spread itself to so many detached islands so widely disjoined from each other in every quarter of the Pacific Ocean?" as early as the 18th century, he was wondering specifically about the Polynesian people. How did they get to so many islands spread so far apart? Perhaps the answer lies in the Hawaiian canoe.

Canoes served several purposes for early Hawaiians. Can you guess what some of them might be? Smaller canoes were used for traveling around the islands, while larger canoes were used for long-distance traveling or warfare. Fishing was also done from canoes. And, just like today, canoes were used for sports and recreation.

Hawaiian canoes were made of acacia koa, a tree that is now very scarce. Canoes were historically built by master craftsmen who oversaw all aspects of the process, from selecting the trees to getting the boat into the water. Lashing, or binding, of the pieces of wood was done with coconut or vegetable fiber.

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