Lecture Series Explores Hawaiian Culture Through Canoe Racing

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PC: Dino Morrow of the Heart of the Wa’a.

A canoe is more than a canoe. In Hawai‘i, it is a powerful, soulful metaphor for a way of life and the knowledge to be gained. In outrigger canoe racing, a team of people must paddle in unison and work together as one to move the canoe forward. To reach a destination, there lies mana’o, a connection to the elements, and a readiness for whatever challenges that may emerge.

The public is invited March 25, 2020, for the next installment of Kona Historical Society’s Hanohano ‘O Kona: Wahi Pana Lecture Series, which gives residents and visitors an educational experience about the island’s unique history and vibrant culture.

The upcoming lecture, Heart of the Wa’a, will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, which sits on the shores of Kamakahonu Bay and Ahu‘ena Heiau.
Kamakahonu Bay is home to canoe clubs and the location of many outrigger canoe races throughout the year, including the world-famous Queen Lili‘uokalani Canoe Race.


Ahu‘ena Heiau is one of the most important historic places in the state. In 1795, Kamehameha I won a battle that led to the unification of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Seventeen years later, he moved his seat of government to Kona and ruled from this area until his death in 1819.

This free lecture will delve into the significance of Hawai‘i’s relationship to its natural surroundings and connection to the ocean through Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing. From the importance of koa trees and canoe carving to the people preserving these cultural traditions, the distinguished presenters, including respected kūpuna from different canoe clubs, will share the history and stories of canoe culture.

“Our journey to document and amplify the voices of Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing are part of a movement to capture intangible cultural heritage. In listening to these stories, you’ll discover the Big Island’s pivotal role in shaping outrigger canoe racing for the world,” said Alexis Ching, the keynote speaker and a lifelong paddler with a background in anthropology and qualitative research. “We are fortunate to still have kūpuna willing to share their wisdom and their stories of long ago. It is important to document these histories so future generations may understand the depth in which Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing shaped communities and made its mark as a sport in the world.”


Ching is the creator of Heart of the Waʻa Project, which is documenting Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing. Morrow is a Hawai‘i-based documentary photographer exploring cultural stories that highlight identity and sense of place. Their book in progress, Heart of the Waʻa, is a compilation of stories and photographs expressing the culture and traditions of Hawaiian outrigger racing on Hawai‘i Island.

Joining them at this lecture will be Iwalani “Pocho” Youderian from Kai ‘Opua Canoe Club, the Kimitete ohana from Kai ‘Ehitu OutriggerTeam and Mike Atwood from Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association.

“What I hope people take away most from this lecture is an understanding of the important role culture plays in Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing as expressed in the present day, and how the significance of this cultural component distinguishes it from simply being a competitive sport,” Ching said. “These practices are deeply rooted to our island’s identity and are currently threatened by modern challenges, including lack of access to koa trees, changing landscapes and liability insurance. To better understand and address these current challenges will allow us to support and perpetuate a traditional sport in a modern world.”


Funding for Kona Historical Society’s Hanohano ‘O Kona: Wahi Pana Lecture Series was generously provided by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority through the Community Enrichment Program. This series is an offshoot of Kona Historical Society’s original Hanohano ‘O Kona Lectures Series, which began a decade ago and has grown in popularity.

This new program, happening March through May, helps create unique learning opportunities that allow attendees to gain a deeper understanding of Hawai‘i’s local culture and history while being immersed in locations that help give a greater sense of place. The latter is being accomplished through a generous corporate sponsorship by the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, who is partnering with Kona Historical Society on this lecture and the next lecture, Aloha Aina: The Resilience of the Kona Field System, on April 27.

In addition to the venue, the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel will be offering discounted parking to attendees, who must present their parking ticket to Kona Historical Society staff at the event’s welcome table. Food and beverages will also be available for purchase at this lecture.

Kona Historical Society is a community-based, nonprofit organization and Smithsonian Museum affiliate that has spent the past four decades collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the Kona districts and their rich cultural heritage within Hawai‘i.

For more information, call Kona Historical Society at 808-323-3222 or visit To get the latest updates regarding the Society’s programs, historic sites and special events, “LIKE” Kona Historical Society on Facebook.

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