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BYU–Hawaii and Polynesian Cultural Center Announce Plans to Sail Iosepa

Plans are underway for Iosepa, a traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe, to return to the sea. BYU–Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) are partnering together to sail the 57-foot waʻa kaulua once again.

“With the support of the BYU–Hawaii Board of Trustees, we are excited to continue our unified work with the Polynesian Cultural Center,” said University President John S.K. Kauwe. “In this effort, the PCC will lead the logistics of the sail, in close collaboration with BYU–Hawaii faculty and staff.”

Initial plans are for Iosepa to sail as part of the Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FestPac), which is scheduled for June 6-16, 2024. FestPAC is the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders and is held once every four years in a different Pacific Island nation. 2024 marks the first time Hawaiʻi will host this event.

Iosepa Hawaiian canoe on the open sea with the Koolaus behind it

“Having the Festival of the Pacific in Hawaiʻi will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of us. We are excited to lead this effort to sail Iosepa and join many other waʻa here in Hawaiʻi for this historic event. We are grateful for our strong, collaborative relationship with BYU–Hawaii that makes this possible,” said Alfred Grace, President and CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

The traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe was built in 2001 under the direction of master carver Sione Tuione Pulotu with assistance from Kawika Eskaran. It was designed as a sailing classroom as part of BYU–Hawaii’s Hawaiian Studies program to teach ancient navigational skills and to help students connect to their Polynesian history. The vessel was crafted from seven large Fijian logs over nine months with the help of hundreds of volunteers. Since 2008, Iosepa has been housed at the Kauaiwiʻulaokalani Hālau Wa’a at the PCC.

The hālau wa’a, or canoe house, is named after William K. “Uncle Bill” Wallace III, the first director of the BYUH Hawaiian Studies program and founder of the Iosepa. Jerusha Wallace Magalei, Wallace’s daughter and BYUH Assistant Professor for the Faculty of Education & Social Work, recounted the remarkable unifying effect the Iosepa had in bringing together the community, BYUH, and the PCC for previous sails. Magalei shared, “Our family is fully supportive and very excited for Iosepa's long awaited return to the ocean and the impact it will have on our students and community.”

Iosepa, which translated from Hawaiian means Joseph, shares its name with President Joseph F. Smith, who had significant connections to Lāʻie, the Iosepa settlement of Pacific Islanders in Utah, and scriptural figures of great significance to our faith. President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the great-grandson of Joseph F. Smith, dedicated and launched Iosepa on November 1, 2001.

As with past sails, students and community members are invited to help prepare Iosepa for its voyage. During July 2023, community work days will be held at the PCC each Wednesday from 5 pm to 7 pm in the Hālau Waʻa. Information on future community work days will be forthcoming.