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Campus Community

Iosepa Returns to Sea for FestPAC Hawai'i 2024

Iosepa, the traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe of Brigham Young University–Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), has set sail once more, marking its first voyage after eight years. On May 30, the Iosepa embarked on a month-long journey that includes its participation in the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, held across the island of Oahu, Hawaii. FestPAC kicked off last week and runs through June 16 with the theme “Ho'oulu Lāhui: Regenerating Oceania,” bringing together diverse people and cultures from all across the Pacific.

The Iosepa sailing past Laie
Photo by Conor Lunt

Initially launched in November 2001, the Iosepa was constructed as a gift to BYU–Hawaii’s Jonathan Nāpela Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Studies, serving as a “sailing classroom” that teaches traditional voyaging, navigation, and cultural skills. It is designed to educate students of the Hawaiian Studies Program, helping them connect to Polynesian history.

Voyaging Past Laie

The recent voyage of the Iosepa on May 30 was a significant event for the community as the year leading up to it involved numerous physical preparations, and the final days of preparation including parties and social gatherings held in both the BYU–Hawaii campus and the hālau wa'a (canoe house) in the PCC where the Iosepa is situated.

The Iosepa began sailing in the early morning of May 30, launching from Haleiwa. Later in the day, a large crowd gathered at Hukilau Beach, anxiously waiting to see the Iosepa pass by on its way to Kualoa. The crowd included community members, BYUH students and staff, and the group Halau hula o Kekela, who, led by Kekela “Aunty Kela” Miller, chanted the "Hiki Mai" chant originally composed by Kumu Hula Cy Bridges in 1997.

One of the group’s members, Mavis Fonoimoana-Loo, described the chance to chant the "Hiki Mai" and the occasion of Iosepa’s sailing as ‘magical.’ “It’s been years since Iosepa first sailed with Uncle Bill Wallace, so this event is like a memory for him,” said Fonoimoana-Loo, dedicating the memory of this wondrous event to the late founder of the BYU–Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Program. She adds, “His children are here; his daughters are here [on the beach], and his one son, William, is part of the [Iosepa’s] crew.

FestPAC Hawai'i 2024

The Iosepa’s involvement in FestPAC Hawai'i 2024 will foster cultural exchange and learning for everyone in attendance. This includes the crew members of the canoe, students, and community members who can share their experiences and knowledge, emphasizing the importance of preserving traditional Polynesian culture.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to promote unity through Polynesian heritage,” said one local who attended the Hukilau Beach gathering. He adds, “This voyage will carry the legacy of Polynesia and Hawai'i forward for generations. It’s the great return to the past to look forward to our future,” emphasizing how the festival and Iosepa’s voyage will inspire spectators to embrace the history of the people of the Pacific.

See the FestPAC 2024 full schedule.

Wa’a Ceremony

Iosepa sailing on the ocean.
Photo by Conor Lunt

Thousands of people showed up at Kualoa Regional Park on June 5 to participate in the wa’a ceremony, to kickoff and welcome the FestPAC delegations. During this event, canoes carrying representatives from all over the Pacific were officially welcomed through cultural performances and ceremonies. Symbolizing unity, this event was the perfect way to start the festival.

Later, on June 8, the Wa'a Community Event was an opportunity for individuals to learn more about these historic canoes. Visitors immersed themselves in a range of activities, including tours, knot tying, and star compass demonstrations. The Iosepa served as a “floating classroom” once more as guests were welcomed aboard to learn more about the historic wa’a.

Introducing the Iosepa to visitors was an incredible opportunity to build connections. BYU–Hawaii academic vice president Isaiah Walker commented on the unifying power of the Iosepa, adding, “This wa'a kaulua (traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe) connects students and community to the courageous moana nui (Oceania) pioneers of the past and present. As Iosepa traverses the expansive deep blue, it shines as a symbol of the faith, resilience, and legacy of our community.”

The Iosepa’s triumphant return to sea and its participation in FestPAC Hawai'i 2024 highlight the importance of reconnecting with Polynesian heritage. As the canoe journeys around Oahu, everyone is invited to participate in this momentous event from June 6 to June 16.

Image of the Iosepa on the water with mountains in the background
Photo by Samuel A. Merrill