A cherished possession that has miraculously stayed with me over the years is the flowerpot, one of two, I commissioned in Waimea, Kauai, in 1975 from a potter who was experimenting with traditional Polynesian designs.
On either side is a double-hulled canoe in full sail, and in between the sun, moon and stars. Lettering on the bottom reads: Hawaii-Tahiti, 1975. I kept one for myself, the blue one, and gave the brown to my dear friend Tommy Holmes.
We met at the Kamuela Prom, as it was called, the big senior event at the then all-boys Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island to which guys invited dates over from Honolulu for the weekend. Tommy and I hit it off and to my astonishment, he persuaded my date and his to switch. That was a starry moment in my teenage firmament.
Tommy Holmes became a famous waterman, and one of the original three minds behind the creation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, along with California anthropologist Ben Finney and Big Island artist Herb Kawainui Kane.
They came up with the idea of recreating a Polynesian voyaging canoe and retracing the route the old wayfarers took from Tahiti to Hawaii, using only the ancient means of navigation by the sun, the sea and the stars.
The canoe they built was, of course, the Hokule'a, "Star of Gladness," that sailed from Honolua Bay on May 1, 1976, and was greeted in Tahiti after a 31-day journey by 17,000 people who waded into the water and flooded the beaches to welcome them. I gave the flowerpot to Tommy, awash in accolades after the trip, as my humble acknowledgment of the accomplishment.
So much good for Hawaiian culture came from that voyage of discovery and the creation of what Kane called a "central object" to the Polynesian culture that pulled so many skills and cultural strains into the process.
Hokule'a began a momentous shift back to the roots of Hawaiian culture and sparked a renaissance all over Polynesia as people there began reclaiming the lost knowledge of the culture and building their own canoes. Other deep-sea voyaging canoes were crafted here: Hawaii Loa on Oahu, built of a spruce log given by Alaska natives; Hoku Alaka'i, at Hilo; Makali'i at Kawaihae on the Big Island; and Namahoe, under construction on Kauai.
The canoe renaissance began on Maui when Levan Sequeira built the Mo'olele, the 42-foot coastal cruiser, in Lahaina, and started the project to create the first blue-water voyaging canoe to be built on Maui in 800 years.
When Sequeira pulled out 17 years ago, Tim Gilliom, the oldest of the talented Gilliom siblings, stepped in to finish it. A captain and boat-builder, who was aboard Hokule'a's 1999 voyage to the Marquesas and Rapa Nui, he has the good humor, charm and Hawaiian soul, via his maternal grandmother, of the Gilliom family.
With help from an intermittent group of volunteers and some solid regulars, bit by bit, as funding has allowed, he has put together the massive 63-foot transoceanic canoe Mo'okiha o Pi'ilani, "the sacred lizard of Pi'ilani."
Gilliom lives simply in small quarters and has supported himself with boat work throughout the process. People love him. "He has the biggest heart in the world. Anybody come around, whatever he has, food, clothes, he shares," a volunteer told me. "He's a man of men. He's a true spirit."
He's good at everything except public speaking and asking for money. The canoe is set to be launched Dec. 21, but some $51,000 is still needed to buy life jackets, anchors and chains, and other equipment to make it seaworthy.
Under the auspices of Hui o Wa'a Kaulua, the nonprofit supporting the effort, volunteers offer outrigger canoe rides as well as surfboard, paddle board, and kayak rentals from their base of operations at Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina. (Call 280-9352 for reservations.)
For a donation you can also take a thrilling "white-knuckle" ride on the Mo'olele, an experience sure to instill "wa'a (canoe) fever."
"When I first sailed on this 17 years ago, I never left," Gilliom said.
He showed me the mast, almost finished, and the three long steering sweeps he's completing. On Hokule'a, he said, the names of the founders are carved on the sweeps. The one in the middle bears the name Kawainui; the one on the right, Finney's Tahitian name. The one on the left is for my braddah, now departed from this world for the eternal ocean: "Tommy."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.