Starry night with Baybayan Tanaka connects, informs


Photo by Ka Leo o Nā Koa

A Polynesian star compass is laid out on the quad of Kamehameha Schools Maui. Students, staff, and members of the public were invited to learn from Pāʻanakalā Baybayan-Tanaka about voyaging, star navigation, and expanding lāhui as part of the schoolʻs Huliau Film and Lecture Series, Thursday, Sept. 28.

Kamehameha Schools Maui welcomed the public to Hoʻokele: Guided by the Night Sky as part of the Huliau Flim and Lecture series on Thursday, Sept. 29, on the high school campus.

“I definitely would encourage students to attend these lectures because in about an hour, I learned valuable information–information that cannot be taught in a classroom,” sophomore Lee-Joseph Franco said.

Mālama Honua and Hui o Waʻa Kaulua, Maui’s Voyaging Society were represented by guest speaker Pāʻanakalā Baybayan Tanaka, who has served as an apprentice navigator on the Hōkūleʻa and who is the daughter of Chad Baybayan, a captain and Pwo navigator, an honor bestowed on him by master navigator Mau Piailug.

Baybayan Tanaka began her moʻolelo about her voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti on Hikianalia, the launch of Maui’s voyaging canoe Moʻokiha and Kauaiʻi’s Nāmahoe, and the basics of star navigation as the audience gathered around.

Her voyaging journey began with her father. She said that as he left for and returned from voyages, Baybayan Tanaka often wondered about his well being.

Eventually she was introduced to canoes and wondered how she could learn more, so under the mentoring of her father and other seafarers, she began her voyage of discovery. When she was about 20 years old, she set out on her first trans-Pacific voyage.

Pāʻanakalā Baybayan-Tanaka and her father, navigator Chad Baybayan on a trip to Nihoa.

Photo by courtesy of Pacific Voyaging Society

She hoped to be put on the Hōkūleʻa with her father, but was assigned to sister canoe Hikianalia. This, she said, turned out to be an excellent opportunity to learn from Bruce Blankenfeld.

“Iʻve been learning from years of apprenticeship in navigation that the more teachers that I have, the more experience and knowledge I receive,” she said.

This was not only her first long distance voyage, but also the first worldwide voyage of Mālama Honua in 2014.

Within 15 days the crew spotted land by first following the “string of apples” then heading towards Tahiti. She was able to learn from Nainoa Thompson, who taught her about weather patterns. She learned that there are many different “swells” and that it takes a high level of awareness to feel them. She said that Thompson can feel eight different swells at once, while she can definitely feel one, maybe up to three at a time.

She also learned from Mau Piailug, a recognized navigational master of Satawal.

Baybayan Tanaka recalls finally spotting land and celebrating after days of waiting and searching while at sea.

Baybayan Tanaka now resides on Maui, leading Hui o Waʻa Kaulua. She is inspired to extend these programs and what they have to teach to the community.

She said she was especially motivated to teach children cultural traditions after visiting students at New York Harbor School, who began and maintains the Billion Oyster Project, with the vision of restoring a billion oysters to the Hudson River to serve as natural water filters.

“I’m not gonna be the one to make the change. These guys, these kids, are [going to be the ones to make the change]. I’m just here to support them,” Baybayan Tanaka said.

As the final part of her presentation, Baybayan Tanaka went over the basics of using the stars to navigate. An enlarged star compass lay in the middle of the audience, and Baybayan Tanaka stood in the middle of it as she went over the Hawaiian terminology for directions: komohana (west), hikina (east), ʻākau (north), and hema (south).

Then she talked about how to identify the several star houses, Lā, ʻĀina,  Noio, Manu, Nālani, Nāleo, and Haka. Baybayan Tanaka then used a laser to introduce night stars to the audience, who were sitting under the open night sky on blankets and in lawn chairs.

“The most interesting part of the presentation was when she identified the stars and gave us their meanings and their purpose,” freshman Makena Nagasako said.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about voyaging is encouraged to reach out to Hui o Waʻa Kaulua, Maui’s Voyaging Society.

The next presentation in the Huliau Lecture Series will be held in Keōpūolani Hale Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.

Kalani Quiocho from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be presenting information about Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the recently declared largest protected conservation area on planet earth.