Nainoa Thompson is the President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a master in the traditional Polynesian art of non-instrument navigating. Inspired by his kupuna, his teachers, he has dedicated his life to exploring the deep meaning of “voyaging”. Among many other important mentors, Yosio Kawano took him at an early age to tide pools to explore the mysteries of the inshore ocean; Herb Kane introduced hi to the stars his ancestors used to navigate great ocean distances; and pwo navigator Mau Piailug taught him to see the natural signs he would use to guide Hōkūleʻa, a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe, throughout Polynesia. Nainoa’s father taught him the universal values of voyaging – of having a vision of islands rising from the sea, of self-discipline, preparation, courage, risk-taking and the spirit of aloha that would bind a crew on arduous journeys.
On long voyages, under a dome of stars and surrounded by the vast empty ocean, Nainoa came to appreciate the Hawaiian concept of mālama – of care taking. “Our ancestors learned that if they took care of their canoe and each other,” he has often told his crew, “and if they marshalled their resources of food and water, they would arrive safely at their designation”. Astronaut Lacy Veach, who observed the Hawaiian Islands from space, helped Nainoa understand mālama from a planetary perspective. “The best place to think, about the fate of our planet is right here in our islands,” Veach told Nainoa. “If we can create a model for well-being here in Hawaii we can make a contribution to the entire world.” From all these teachings comes the next great voyage of exploration – Hōkūleʻa’s journey around the world to mālama honua – care for the planet.
Nainoa is the recipient of numerous community awards, including the Unsung Hero of Compassion, awarded to him in 2001 by His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama on behalf of the organization Wisdom in Action; and the Native Hawaiian Education Association’s Manomano Ka ʻIke (Depth and Breadth of Knowledge) Educator of the Year Award. He currently serves as a member of the Ocean Elders and leads Hōkūleʻa’s world spanning “Mālama Honua Voyage”.