How Mau Made All The Difference

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - July 21, 2010
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Nainoa Thompson and Mau Piailug

There were several elements of the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance that helped Hawaii regain its identity in the 1970s. There was music and the resurgence of the Hawaiian language. There also was a renewed interest in traditional practices including hula, and a strong emphasis on subsistence, living off the ocean and land.

Hawaiians stood tall against land development and land abuse. Many remember the emotional battles for Kaho’olawe and Waiahole-Waikane.

But if there was one moment and one vessel that arguably symbolized the Second Hawaiian Renaissance more than any, it was the Hokule’a.

And the man who saw the importance in this opportunity was navigator Mau Piailug.

Piailug arrived in the Islands when Hawaii was in the midst of change. His timing was perfect. He came with a purpose and left with a legacy.

“He’s kind of like one in a hundred million that has skill and knowledge and courage and strength,” says master navigator Nainoa Thompson of his mentor and dear friend.

In 1975, the Polynesian Voyaging Society built a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe and named the vessel Hokule’a. Piailug would lead the crew on its maiden voyage to Tahiti in 1976 using only the stars, winds and currents to guide him to his destination.


“I think he understood from that compassionate side that Hokule’a had to be successful to find Tahiti,” says Thompson. “It was more than finding just that physical island; it was finding the islands in all of us to feel strong and proud of our ancestors.”

That one journey gave Hawaii hope. Hope in its culture and hope for its future. “He was crucial and he was pivotal, and finding Tahiti changed everything for us.”

It certainly changed Thompson’s life. He has since shared his knowledge with thousands of others in Hawaii and across the world. It’s what Piailug wanted when he opened up his heart to Thompson and willingly shared all he knew.

“Mau was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met,” say Thompson. “His 35 years of dedication was that part of the human part of him that wanted to serve young people that wanted to learn. His teaching was so profound and very simple - to sail and to learn and to teach.”

Piailug taught until his final day. The great navigator died July 11 at the age of 78 after a long battle with diabetes. He had 16 children, all from the same wife. He was an amazing gift from the tiny island of Satawal in Micronesia, a remote island with no electricity and no telephones.

In fact, word of his death was radioed to Thompson.


“Mau is just the testament of inspiration to how a single person can change the lives of so many,” says Thompson.

He was humble and intensely powerful. A man who not only helped a young crew find Tahiti, he helped a state find its identity.

“I would thank him for all his love and aloha to us, and we give love and aloha to his new voyage,” says Thompson. “In the end he set his own course and navigated it with strength and courage and I think it’s beautiful.”

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