LAIE, Hawaii — The Latter-day Saints in the Pacific Islands have a new and significant "Joseph" to add to their rich cultural heritage. The Iosepa — "Joseph" in the Hawaiian language — a stunningly beautiful, 57-foot long, double-hulled canoe built at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, was launched into the seas on Nov. 3 during a community celebration presided over by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve. (See July 14, 2001, Church News.)
Close to 4,000 people turned out to commemorate the launching of the canoe, which, in the Hawaiian cultural tradition, was "given birth" after nearly nine months of work from the time the dakua wood arrived at the construction site from Fiji. Elder Ballard capped the ceremony by pronouncing the name of Iosepa and giving the canoe a blessing.
The daylong celebration included remarks by dignitaries and singing by choirs from BYU-Hawaii and from LDS wards and groups from around Oahu, representing the islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and Hawaii, and the Maoris of New Zealand. Gift-giving, traditional chants, and a luau also were part of the festivities.
The naming of the Iosepa was meaningful to Elder Ballard as well as to the community. The name carries special significance to the Hawaiian members because one of the early missionaries on the islands was Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Church and Elder Ballard's great-grandfather.
President Smith, son of Hyrum Smith, first arrived in Hawaii when he was just 15 years old. Hundreds of people joined the Church due to his efforts, and shortly afterward a Hawaiian community was established in Utah, a place they lovingly called Iosepa. As prophet, President Smith purchased the land where Laie is located and dedicated the Laie Hawaii Temple, the first temple constructed outside the U.S. mainland.
During the canoe-launching ceremony, Elder Ballard reflected on the experiences of his ancestor. "He came to these islands many, many times, and during his tenure as prophet he made four visits to Hawaii," he said. "I feel in my heart that he is here with us today," along with his beloved Hawaiian saints.
Continuing, Elder Ballard expressed awe over the community process. "This has been a most remarkable morning," he said. "As I've seen the great outpouring of love here this week, I've thought to myself, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could transfer this love to other parts of the world."
In his remarks, BYU-Hawaii President Eric B. Shumway said, "This canoe turns the hearts of the children to their fathers. It represents the aspirations, hopes, and preparations of our youth as they prepare for their own mighty voyages in life."
"Our kapuna (ancestors) are here today," said Kawika Eskaran, one of the two "master carvers" of the canoe. "They've walked on the very same sands we are on today. Our feet truly are stepping in the footsteps of those great individuals who went before us. I pay tribute to them."
One of those ancestors was said to be influential in the naming of the canoe. The grandfather of William K. (Uncle Bill) Wallace III, director of BYU-Hawaii's's Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian Language and Cultural Studies, had lived in the Utah colony called Iosepa.
"In a dream, I felt inspired by my grandfather to name the canoe Iosepa," Brother Wallace told the gathering.
Along with connecting the generations, the canoe also has helped rally the community. For the weeks and months leading to the launch, thousands of people came from around Oahu, the islands of the Pacific, and even as far away as Switzerland to pay their respects, volunteer with construction, supply food, or simply satisfy their curiosity.
"This voyaging canoe is the culmination of a vast community effort," said President Shumway. "Thousands of hearts and hands and feet contributed to this remarkable monument — those of children, friends, strangers, tourists, Church leaders, teachers, old and young people of many nationalities, passers-by and, of course, our own Hawaiian studies students. This project has been totally inclusive. It has drawn many people to the inner circle of this community's love."
The unprecedented bonding was noted by Valerie Johnson of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which supplied a large grant for the Hawaiian Studies program at BYU-Hawaii. The grant made possible the building of the Iosepa.
"When we funded this project, little did we know that we, too, would embark on a cultural voyage," she explained. "We learned about so much more than the canoe building process. We learned about the importance of preserving a traditional native technology. More important, we learned about the power of community, friendships and family."
The Iosepa is the first traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe to be constructed in modern times entirely of Polynesian wood. The hulls are made of dakua wood imported from Fiji, while the mast is constructed partly of Hawaiian ohia wood. The lashings that bind together the hulls are made of fibers from Tonga, Samoa and Hawaii.
Master carver Tuione Pulotu oversaw construction of the canoe, assisted by Brother Eskaran. Brother Puloto, a native Tongan who has lived in Laie for 30 years, had already constructed a 105-foot voyaging canoe in Tonga along with a variety of other cultural artifacts.
The canoe will be a floating classroom for the Hawaiian Studies program at BYU-Hawaii. Voyages are planned to Molokai and other Hawaiian islands, so students can learn the ancient traditions of sailing, navigating, and other aspects of Hawaiian culture that were so vital to their ancestors. Voyages will average six to eight days. At 57 feet in length, the canoe also is 22 feet wide and 45 feet high when sail is unfurled. It is equipped for up to 45 people, but when sailing from island to island it likely will have 10 to 15 students and crew members on board.
Four courses in Hawaiian language and culture will be taught during each voyage, and students will be expected to take three of the courses. The Iosepa will be the first voyaging canoe dedicated to teaching.