Hawaiki Rising Book Reviews

Christina Thompson – author of the book “Come On shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All” – published by Bloomsbury (and now working on a major book for Harper Collins on Polynesia) has this to say:

It is a wonderful book: graceful, exciting, informative, well paced with lively action. You succeeded in the most difficult task. You put me right on the canoe.

The education of Nainoa, with all its complications was a delight. I am with him in his doubts and worries and follow him in joy as he learns to trust himself. Mau comes across as a fully developed character and the difference and similarities with Nainoa made for an interesting story.

You have accomplished a rare thing: an informative, detailed story, told with honor, conviction, humanity and grace.

This book is a gift to all Hawaiians and to all haole as well. Any gift to humanity is a gift to all.

Michael J. Ambrosino, creator and executive producer of the PBS series – Nova, Odyssey and The Ring of Truth

Linda Collison – author of many books, including “Surgeon’s Mate” and “Barbados Bound” in the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series

The pacing is great. A good read. Fast, interesting… I adore the portraits of the various players, including minor ones – this is a huge strength of the book: your intimate knowledge of the people, the details of their own personal histories, how they came together to make this happen, what it meant to each of them. I think that is FANTASTIC and I haven’t seen it anywhere else….

I have got to tell you that I think this book is a classic. Really. There are a handful of books on this subject and every one of them is important, We the Navigators, East is a Big Bird, An Ocean in Mind etc., but your book is absolutely one of this group of four or five. It’s amazing.

As the night wore on, the swells built to twenty feet and began to break. “Two big ones rocked the whole canoe,” Chad recalls. “They went over us and I heard Gordon yelling “Is everybody okay?” Then another wave hit us and I remember one guy grabbed me by the shoulders and looked at me with big eyes and a pale face — ‘This is it,’ he yells. ‘This is it.” — page 233 Hawaiki Rising.

Sam Low’s “Hawaiki Rising” is an important addition to the growing collection of books about the renaissance of tradition wayfinding on the Hokule’a, and the resurgance of Polynesian voyaging and the science and art behind it. This book differs from previous classics (“Voyage of Rediscovery” by Ben Finney, “We, the Navigators” by David Lewis, “An Ocean in Mind” by Will Kyselka, “Voyagers” by Herb Kawainui Kane) in that it’s more of a narrative of the human dynamics of the early voyages. The author provides enough science and nautical information for understanding, but his real contribution is the candid revealing of the human drama that was at the core of these exciting voyages. He uses quotes from other crewmembers to recreate the experiences and lend validity to his account. His account of the loss of Eddie Aikau was absolutely riveting and reverent; he brings out the psychological effect it had on the entire crew and the future of Hokule’a. Sam Low concentrates more on the people, the voyagers themselves, and after reading it I feel like I know them a little better and have an inkling of what they went through.

My husband and I had the pleasure of hearing Sam Low and Nainoa Thomson introduce the new book at Imiloa in Hilo (June, 2013) as the Hokule’a is beginning another voyage. This book offers yet another perspective of the now legendary experiment and cultural revival of traditional Pacific voyaging.

Immensely readable and highly recommended. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Hokule’a and the Polynesian Voyaging Society, this book is an excellent one to read first.

MacKinnon Simpson – an award-winning Hawaii historian and author. By last count, he has published 19 books, among them: “Hawaii Homefront,” “Whalesong,” “Next Stop Honolulu.”

No one but Sam Low could have told this story.
Hawai`iki Rising is a superb book by a superb writer. Sam Low had unprecedented access to Hokule`a navigator Nainoa Thompson and has created THE best book on voyaging that has ever been done, and likely ever will be done. Sam has carefully documented the conversion of Hokule`a from a 1976 science experiment to a cultural and educational icon of Polynesia. The canoe has changed Hawai`i and those who have sailed upon her, and inspired similar vessels throughout the South Pacific. For anyone interested in the soul of these islands, Hawai`iki Rising is a must-read.

From United States Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa

September 30, 2013

Dear Sam,

You don’t know me but when Nainoa Thompson visited me in Washington, D.C., he gave me a copy of your book, Hawaiki Rising, it had a note that you would love comments. I am writing to you because I want you to know what your book means to me.

I began reading your book as a story about Hokule`a’s history. I ended your book knowing that you had captured a more important story, that of the Native Hawaiians.
Hawaiki Rising, if I may be so bold, is:

A story about Hokule`a.
A story about the lives Hokule`a touched and shaped.
A story about the travesty and injustice Native Hawaiians experienced.
A story about the lust for identity and the craving for self.
A story about the importance of pride and hope in all of us.
It is, however, foremost a story that should and must define what Hawai`i is.

I am a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American. I grew up in Wai`anae. This is the home of my family, on both sides, for four generations. I would like to think that I have earned the trust of some of the native Hawaiians in my area. I would also like to think that some may say that I understand their situation as much as a non Hawaiian might be able to. That is why I was so moved by Hawaiki Rising.

Your book captures for me what happens when a people is stripped of language, identity and culture; and when they are made to feel like they are less than welcome in their own lands. The thirst for what is lost cannot be quenched because you don’t know what was lost.

Hokule`a’s story was really about a renaissance of a people. I remember listening for reports and how important it was for the trips to be a success.

Thank you for the insights; especially the role of Mau and the birth of Nainoa Thompson. Leaders, who others recognize that quality in them before they do in themselves, make the most effective leaders. This is Nainoa’s story.

Hawaiki Rising is the hope and pride of its people.

It should be a mandatory read in all Hawaiian Studies classes, especially on the high school level.

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa
238 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

From a UH HILO professor and conservation expert

I’m just back with family from a vacation in Colorado, during which I finished Hawaiki Rising. It is a fantastic read, and inspiring in a way that was profound and uplifting. Surprisingly not because I’m an ocean person, and an avid long-distance paddler. But because of what your book means for the conservationist in Hawaii. I recently received a service award from KUPU, the non-profit that manages Hawaii’s Youth Conservation Corp, on behalf of my organization. I was asked to say something inspirational to the 200 some YCC kids getting ready for a summer of restoring Hawaii’s degraded forests and coastlines. I said a few words, then read the forward to Hawaiki Rising. The passages hit the mark. My message was that we in conservation need to explore the strong nautical / voyaging theme of your book, and then we need to embrace the Hawaiki Rising metaphor – to have in our minds a vision for Hawaii that will anchor us, keep us on the path, keep us from getting lost. And to have faith that one day that vision will emerge as reality, all the while we have grown as a conservation/restoration ohana. Anyway, thank you for sharing such a powerful story – and helping me and others more effectively do our work.

Dr. Christian Giardina
Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service
Restoration ecology, Forest responses to global change, Forest ecology and management, Forest ecophysiology, and Tree-soil interactions.


Hawaiki Rising
Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance
by Sam Low
343 pages. Island Heritage Publishing/Madden Corporation. $24.95

Reviewed by Matthew Gurewitsch
July 10, 2013

Myths morph in translation. Of Maui, the Polynesian sun god or demigod, many tales are told, but where are the true ones? Some say he set out one day with his canoe and his fishhook to pull the links of the Hawaiian island chain together so that his people might travel back and forth, but then a human chieftain broke the spell and spoiled everything. Some say it was Maui who pulled the islands of Hawaii from the depths of the Pacific in the first place, then cast his fishhook into the sky, where it blazes as the constellation Western astronomers know as Scorpio. To those who can decode them, here are clues to the unwritten epic of the discovery and settlement of Polynesia, beginning around 800 BCE, around the time of the rise of the Greek city states.

Hawaiki Rising, a new book by the writer, sailor, prize-winning documentary filmmaker, and Harvard-trained anthropologist Sam Low, weaves from many strands a chronicle of the recovery of the Polynesians’ ancient science—or rather their art?—of navigation, practiced without charts or instruments, yet powerful enough to have guided what modern descendants have called the spaceships of the ancestors safely back and forth across the vast face of the Pacific. Glimpse here, if you will, transposed in time and tongue though not in space, the true-life myth of a latter-day Maui.

Bounded by New Zealand in the southwest, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the southeast, and Hawaii in the north, the Polynesian triangle is dotted with atolls and volcanic peaks, some 1,000 islands in all, cast like specks across 70 million square miles of Pacific ocean, an area more than four times the size of Asia. “Can you see the island?” a master navigator asked in November 1979, weeks before his disciple set sail from Hawaii in quest of Tahiti.

“I cannot see the island but I can see an image of the island in my mind,” the disciple answered.

“A navigator knows where the land is inside of him,” the master commented years later, “even when he can’t see it.”

What lay ahead, over three decades ago, was a 2,400-mile voyage through raging tempests, the dead calm of the Doldrums, capricious currents and countercurrents, seldom blessed with fair winds or following seas. For his compass, the fledgling pilot would gaze at the wheeling stars overhead, at the same time scanning the data in natural signs like winds, waves, cloud formations, the music of the canoe in the water, the flight of birds out to the distant shoals and back to shore. After an odyssey of 31 days, like Maui with his fishhook, he pulled his first island out of the sea by the brushy tops of a stand of coconut palms. Hawaiki, I might mention, is the name of the legendary Hawaiian homeland, whereabouts uncertain except in realms of imagination.

In Low’s narrative, great archetypes are born anew. From the solitary coral atoll Satawal in the remote Caroline Islands comes the master Mau Piailug, a seafaring dinosaur in possession of ancestral knowledge for which his people see no further use. His disciple, from contemporary Honolulu, is Nainoa Thompson, a young Hawaiian achingly out of touch with his cultural birthright. From Maui, we meet a third star in this constellation: the young waterman Eddie Aikau, lost at sea, whose gently heroic spirit will hover over the enterprise like a guardian angel. And then there’s the Hokule’a, a modern replica of a double-hulled Polynesian canoe, the vessel of everyone’s struggles, tragedy, aspirations, and dreams. Over the decades the Hokule’a has emerged as perhaps the most potent symbol of the burgeoning Hawaiian renaissance. (For a log of her travels past, present, and to come, visit the Polynesian Voyaging Society website.)

The scientific objective in building the Hokule’a was to prove that the purposeful seafaring attributed to the Polynesians was no crackpot fantasy. From the first, her history has been amply documented in print and on film, by Low himself, among others. Hawaiki Rising gives the fullest account to date, but that alone may not be the book’s principal distinction. As a three-time crew member, Low writes with an insider’s knowledge of the personalities and the challenges at sea, quoting liberally from private logs and journals. Best of all, he goes beyond the physical and logistical challenges of the voyage to illuminate its imaginative, metaphorical, and ultimately spiritual significance. Low’s subtitle—Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance—gives a first hint of his grander theme. That it should fall to Thompson to strike the opening chord, as he does in a foreword, seems only pono, as Hawaiians say, meaning right and proper.

“Growing up in Hawai’i in the nineteen sixties,” Thompson begins his foreword, “I found my Hawaiian culture ebbing away. I had never seen an authentic hula, attended a traditional ceremony and seldom heard our language spoken. It was a confusing time for me and I felt lost between worlds that seemed in conflict. All that changed one night when Herb Kane [founder of the Polynesian Voyaging Society] introduced me to the stars and explained how my ancestors had used them to find their way across a vast ocean to settle all of Polynesia. At that moment, my vision of my ancestry became timeless and alive in those same stars.” The heart of Low’s book is Thompson’s coming of age as a navigator, a thinker, and a role model, not only to antiquarian seafarers. Imbibing a legacy of priceless knowledge at the knee of his master is part of the picture but not all. Beyond what Mau Piailug could teach him, Thompson sought and found ways to teach himself, to expand the database, to reconcile ancestral knowledge with the science he learned in school.

Like any heroic venture gathering momentum, the building of the Hokule’a (“Star of Joy”) drew mavericks like a magnet, pioneers and romantics, running away or running toward goals for which even they may have no name. Low paints a lively gallery of these characters. Pure or mixed, the blood of the ancient Hawaiians flowed through the veins of many of the earliest recruits, as it does through Low’s. Others were haole through and through, which for those who see only the color of their skin is to say white-bread white folk. Suffice it to say that early on the populations did not mesh.

“Before we leave, throw away all the things that are worrying you,” Mau Piailug urged his dozen-odd fellow sailors as they set sail on the Hokule’a’s maiden voyage to Tahiti. “Leave all your problems on land.” But soon deep-seated animosities and mistrust took over. Whose canoe was the Hokule’a, anyway? “No one could foresee how pride in the canoe, reviving pride, would turn into possessiveness,” one observer said later. “‘This is my canoe because I am Hawaiian and this is not your canoe because you are haole even though you, Mr. Haole Man, are largely responsible for building and creating this. Thank you—but give it to me.'”

In the decades since the launch of the Hokule’a, Hawaiian studies have burgeoned even as the Hawaiian-sovereignty movement has gained ground. As native peoples throughout the colonized world have seen, reconnecting with an extinguished or disappearing heritage is never easy. All too often, perhaps inevitably, new schisms arise.

Yet other scenarios are possible. Since the second voyage to Tahiti, with Thompson navigating under Mau Piailug’s unobtrusive eye, harmonious interracial crews have been the norm, with women aboard as well as men. Today, the canoe is embarked on a five-year circumnavigation of the globe. As Thompson describes it, the mission transcends personal or chauvinistic glory. “We sail,” I have heard him say, though the words do not appear in this book, “to honor all cultures.”