Koa wood 6 man racing canoe by Greg Eaves of Oahu.
Na wa’a or Hawaiian canoes are graceful and beautiful vessels that we know best today for their use in the sport of canoe racing. Canoe clubs are a big part of life for so many islanders, both at home and abroad. But in old Hawai’i, canoes held a tremendously important part in culture and in society. The Polynesian Voyaging Society continues the work today, preserving the culture, knowledge and wisdom of the po’e kahiko and carrying it forward into the future.
Greg Eaves is a fourth generation local craftsman who follows in his great-grandfather’s footsteps. His kupuna was a master craftsman who built the koa and kamani staircase at Iolani palace and was known for his outstanding work. Greg was born on Oahu and raised on the island of Hawaii. We’re very happy to share his work here with you!
This koa racing canoe comes with paddles and a graceful three part stand. The hull is solid koa wood from the Big Island of Hawaii. It measures 38 1/2″ long and 6 1/4″ wide at the ‘ama.
On the Polynesian Voyaging Society website, they quote Fornander:
About the Koa Canoe (From Fornander, Vol 5, 630-636)
“The Hawaiian people were able to construct canoes which reached about ten fathoms (60 feet) long, and smaller canoes which reached from four to six fathoms long. In d epth, some of these canoes reached the armpit of a person when he stood inside of one of them. However, a common man was seldom seen in one of these large canoes, as they were mostly used by the chiefs in the old days. The depth of the smaller canoes is like the depth of canoes we see nowadays.
The Adze (Ko’i): The adzes used for for cutting down and hollowing out the trees in those days were made of hard stone, seldom seen nowadays. The stone was called ‘ala, basalt, and the principal quarry was high up on the slope of Mauna Kea. These stones a re harder than ordinary; there were no metal axes in those days.
Cutting Down (‘Oki) the Tree: When the canoe-building priest goes up and comes to the tree desired for a canoe, he looks first at the main branch, and where the main branch extends, towards that side is the tree to be felled. If the falling tree lands on another tree, the omen is bad [it is not right]; if it falls clear, it is good. After the tree is felled, the ‘elepaio bird, the god of the canoe builders, alights on the tree. If the bird runs back and forth, without pecking the tree here and there, then flies away, it is a good canoe. If it pecks along one side from the front to the back, then hew that side for the mouth of the canoe. If it pecks on on both sides, the log is rotten; better leave it alone. There is a prayer for cutting off the top, but I have not obtained it.
Shaping (Kalai) the Canoe: In shaping a canoe the outside is shaped first, and when the outside is finished, then the inside. At this time, however, no particular way of shaping is observed; anyway of hollowing the log is allowed, so that the canoe may be lightened for dragging down to the beach. The canoe is nicely tapered in the front, and is large and full in the rear. Some projections (“pepeiao,” or “ears”) are left on the insides of canoe; as many as four, five or perhaps six, according to the wishes of the priest and the size of the canoe. These projections are used for attaching the outrigger, the mast, and the seats. When the shaping is done, then the canoe-building priest reports to the owner that the work is completed. If the owner wishes to go up and view the canoe, then he accompanies the priest; if he does not so wish, the canoe is left alone until it is seasoned; then it is hauled down to the shore.
Hauling (Kauo) the Canoe to Shore: Hauling the canoe is another important job. It can not be done with only a few men; there must be many, perhaps forty, sixty, or eighty, according to the size of the canoe; a small canoe requires fewer men. The day set a part for hauling the canoe is a day of much pompÑlike the day of a funeral of a famous man. Men, women, children, and sometimes chiefs go up to the mountain. Food, pigs, chickens, turkeys (palahu), and fish, enough to feed the multitude, are taken up.
When the people arrive at the place where the rough-shaped canoe was left, preparations are made for dragging it. A rope is tied to the neck (maku’u) cut at the stern of the canoe, and when the ropes are ready, a chain of workers takes up positions from w here the rope is tied to the canoe neck to the end of the rope far ahead. Strong men are placed at the end of the rope, so that the rope will be kept taut when being pulled, and will not slacken, tangle, and hurt the men when the canoe slides down a steep hill.
The canoe is hauled until it is brought to a moderately steep hill where it is impossible for many to pull together because of the steepness. There the people are reassigned, and fewer men are required to pull the canoe down the hill. It is then that we s ee the skill of the man who guides the canoe downhill; it is then that he displays his great ability. When the preparations are complete, the man who will steer the canoe down the hill rides on it. Those who were selected to pull commence pulling, and the canoe moves along until it attains a good speed, when the men who are pulling desist and the canoe guide (ho’okele) takes over. A canoe coasting down a hill goes faster than a galloping horse.
If the path is rough, the canoe can be turned toward a smooth place; if a large tree or a stone is in the way, or the path is crooked, the canoe might be broken; it is up to the man guiding the canoe to prevent the canoe from being wrecked. Arriving at a flat area, the multitude hauls again, and thus they go until the house for building the canoe is reached. But if it is a half-witted man who directs the canoe, or a man with little ability, trouble will follow from the outset. I saw this happen continuall y at my birthplace.
The ho’okele (canoe guide) rides in front by the neck for attaching the ropes; he holds on to a short rope and a small stick made fast to the neck. The stick is used like the rudder of a ship. If the canoe swerves from the path selected, the stick is used as a lever to head the canoe properly. The ho’okele can direct the canoe to any chosen place or step back into the canoe while it is coasting, or restrain the canoe so that those who are dragging it are unable to do so.
The Finishing Work (Kalai Ho’omaika’i): If the priest is hewing a canoe in a house, then the rule is that an ‘aha cord be stretched across the door of the house from side to side, so that people would not enter to talk, thereby diverting the attention of the canoe-building priest, and perhaps causing the canoe to be broken by careless hewing. Hence the ‘aha cord is placed across the door, so that a person would come and talk from the outside, but is unable to enter the house. If that person has something important to say, the work is stopped and the conversation is then held. This is a rule strictly adhered to by some canoe-builders”.
Much more information is available on the Polynesian Voyaging Society website.
One of the most moving talks we’ve ever heard was given by Nainoa Thompson. Known for his tremendous skill in celestial navigation, Nainoa shares about his deep friendship with Lacy Veach and the ‘ike that they shared together.
The Hawaiian canoe is an evocative icon of Hawaiian life. Enjoy!