Charles Nainoa Thompson is one of the OceanElders and is currently the Executive Director of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS).
Since 1976, he has played an integral part in the design, construction, sailing, and navigating of the double-hulled voyaging canoe, Hokule’a. Under Thompson’s supervision, PVS completed the construction of a new Hawaiian voyaging canoe out of traditional materials in 1994. The canoe, named Hawai’iloa, took its maiden voyage in 1995 across the Pacific from Hawai’i to Tahiti to Ra`iatea and back via Nuku Hiva, from where it is believed early settlers to Hawai’i came.
Nainoa studied non-instrument navigation, or wayfinding, under master navigator Mau Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia. Thompson is the first Hawaiian to practice the art of Wayfinding on long distance ocean voyages since such voyaging ended around the 14th century. His first long voyage took place in 1980, when he navigated Hokule’a from Hawai’i to Tahiti and back. In 1985-87, he navigated Hokule’a without instruments across Polynesia from Hawai’i to New Zealand and back, stopping at islands along the way while covering more than 16,000 ocean miles. Thompson has trained other Hawaiians and Polynesians in the art of wayfinding and has led a revival of traditional arts associated with voyaging in Hawai’i and Polynesia. In 1992, Thompson again took Hokule’a to Rarotonga for the Sixth Pacific Arts Festival celebrating the revival of traditional canoe building. In 1995, Thompson directed a voyage entitled “Na ‘Ohana Holo Moana – The Voyaging Families of the Vast Ocean,” that took three Hawaiian canoes – Hokule’a, Hawai’iloa, and Makali’i to Tahiti, being joined by five other Polynesian canoes from the Cook Islands (2), New Zealand (1), and Tahiti (2). These, with the exception of the Tahitian canoes, then sailed to the Marquesas, to Hawai’i, and back to their homelands.
Nainoa’s current interest is to develop an educational program for the schoolchildren of Hawai’i to teach them about Polynesian voyaging traditions and instill them with pride in their ancient seafaring heritage. The program will emphasize not just knowledge about ancient traditions, but also modern scientific knowledge about the ocean and sky and environmental principles based on traditional values for ensuring the conservation of resources and a safe, healthy, and sustainable future for Hawai’i.
Nainoa Thompson served on the Board of Trustees for Kamehameha Schools and on the Board of Regents for the University of Hawai’i.
Thompson is an Excellence in Exploration honoree from the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, the first Native Hawaiian to become a master navigator in 700 years. He's only one of a few left on earth.
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- Nainoa Thompson
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