Many will say that one of the Native Hawaiian's most remarkable achievements would have to be the Hawaiian canoe, renowned for its fine craftsmanship and design based on the Native Hawaiian's vast knowledge of the sea. Without the canoe, the Hawaii we love and know today would not be the same. The canoe was an immensely valued possession, as it was the only means of transportation to voyage to other lands, to run errands, and to fish the open ocean. For kings and chiefs, canoe building was also a means of displaying the strength of the islands' armies.

The lashing of a canoe ('aho hoa wa'a) is a very personal and solemn event, with no one being allowed to disturb the craftsman, and with talking being kept at a minimum to make sure that concentration was keen so that lashing was properly done. If a chief was to have his canoe lashed and the craftsman was disturbed, the offender would be put to death for the offense. The process of lashing calls for cording to be wrapped in a way that prevents the lashing from coming undone in the event that one cord does break.

The Hawaiian outrigger canoes that you can see today are very similar to the canoes once seen by Captain Cook. Unfortunately there are no longer the much larger canoes that had been documented by Cook and his crew. It was reported that some of the largest Hawaiian canoes were carved from large California redwood logs, which made there way to the remote coasts of the Hawaiian Islands. In the 1870s there was a 108-foot long (33-meters) hull that was said to have been discovered, which is now long gone.

Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Cultural History

  • Hull - The Ka'ele, or hull, is made of a large hollowed out log. It's U shaped with the bow and stern being tapered, narrow, and rounded. The rounded hull is designed to glide through the rough, choppy seas, and for launching and landing through surf.
  • Bow & stern end covers - The kupe, or bow and stern end covers, prevents water from spilling into the canoes hull. The end of the kupe is turned up, and is referred to as the manu, which breaks through incoming waves so that the canoe can rise up and stay afloat.
  • Outrigger float - The ama, or outrigger float, is constructed from a single piece of wood, and is gently curved on the ends, so that it can rise out of the water.
  • Outrigger booms - The 'Iako, or outrigger booms, connect the outrigger float (ama) and the ka'ele (hull). The 'Iako is arched and curves downs where it connects with the ama. Hawaii is the only place where the 'Iako is attached directly to the ama. In double canoes, the 'Iako connects the two hulls.
  • Spreader - The Wae, or spreader, spans the inside of the hull and are U- or V-shaped blocks. These are used as tie downs for lashing the outrigger booms ('Iako) to the hull. In doing so, the wae provides strength, helping to dissipate the torque forces the canoe would encounter when traveling through the rough seas.
  • Moamoa - The Moamoa is part of the hull (Ka'ele), extending like a narrow protrusion, believed by the Hawaiians to be where 'Aumakua, the guardian spirit, rode when the canoe was out to sea. When the tree was first cut down to carve the canoe out of, knobs were cut on the front and back of the log, where hauling ropes were affixed to assist in transportation. Once the canoe began its final transition, the knob on the bow was removed, while the hull knob was refined to a point, at which point it became a Moamoa.
  • 'Iako - Double canoes are fitted with whats called an iako, which is a platform between the hulls which rode higher above the waves. The 'Iako was finely carved, and is fitted to the wae (spreader) of the canoe. Traditionally, small double canoes would have two platforms ('Iako), while some larger canoes can have an upwards of eight!
  • Mo'o- The Mo'o are planks which are attached to the upper edge of the hull (ka'ele) as to prevent the canoe from normal wear and tear.
  • Ho'okele - Steerer
  • Mua - Stroker
  • Une - To turn the bow of the canoe to the turn flag
  • Kahi - To hold the paddle still so it the blade "cuts" the same line as the kanoe
  • Kae - The blade or edge of the paddle
  • 'E'e - Get in the canoe
  • Ho'omaukaukau - Get ready, get set
  • Hoe - Paddle (training)
  • Huki - Pull (racing)

Hawaiian Paddling Terms & Commands

Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Parts