Ke Kama Pono: Pualele


Pualele - A New Beginning

Ke Kama Pono, a Safehouse for adjudicated male youth ages thirteen to seventeen, serves twelve youth at a time for a period of no less than six months. One of the goals of the program is to support the development and integration of critical life skills necessary for long-term success. They are tasked with projects using the Hawaiian culture as a framework to build and foster the core values that Partners in Development Foundation instills in their clients and staff.

Dr. Mike Kahue, program director for Ke Kama Pono, saw an immediate shift in the attitudes of the boys when they found that they would have an opportunity to work on an outrigger canoe. “The norm is usually they hear about a project and react with a gung-ho attitude….‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ Then after a month or two goes by, they lose the spark and the drop off comes shortly thereafter. With this one (the waʻa project) there was no drop off and the boys were definitely excited and inspired to be around this massive sailing canoe.”

Ke Kama Pono was tasked with the restoration of this moku peʻa (sailboat), named Pualele. An outrigger sailing canoe, Pualele was built sometime in the late 1980’s and stands at a lengthy 45 ft. long. Although it doesn’t appear to be longer than a standard six-man outrigger canoe when it sits by itself, it is 13 feet longer for the sake of open water sailing. The single main mast reaches a height of 20 ft. above the “deck” of the canoe and it utilizes the traditional inverted triangle sail used by most Polynesian sailing vessels. Historically, Pualele was launched by the Lu’uwai ‘ohana of Maui where it spent most of its years. It was purchased in its later years by Partners In Development Foundation (PIDF) renamed “Waipualele” and used by PIDF’s sister organization The Mālama ‘Āina  Foundation (MAF) for educational programs with various Hawaiian culture-based public charter schools.  Eventually the canoe fell into a state of disrepair and sat unused.

In 2014, PIDF Communications Director  Billy Richards had the canoe taken to the shop of the Friends of Hōkūle‘a and Hawai’iloa at Sand Island for storage.

The next chapter of Pualele begins in the Fall of 2016 with monies donated to the Friends organization from The Disney Aulani Resorts. The donation came with a clause indicating that the grant money be used for youth/education to students living on the west side of Oʻahu. (Many of Aulani’s employees reside on the west side.)

It was a perfect marriage when our Ke Kama Pono Safe House was contacted by the Friends explaining the opportunity provided by the Aulani grant to its staff, indicating a project whereby the residents of Ke Kama Pono would fully restore Pualele. We jumped at the thought and began making plans to start the work in March of 2017 after making sure the necessary paperwork was completed.

In the months that followed, Tuesdays were set aside as the day the Ke Kama Pono team would work with Mr. Jay Dowsett, a master canoe builder at the Friends facility, to learn how to restore the canoe. They began the tiresome task of sanding and stripping the old fiberglass and resin, then re-applying new fiberglass and resin, followed by more sanding of any blemishes and flaws. The boys weren’t thrilled about the work at first, but as they saw the pieces come together, they began to pay extra attention to the finer details.  

The Ke Kama Pono boys worked on every aspect of the moku peʻa and even contributed to the final colors of red and yellow. Although they initially connected the red and yellow (and green) as the colors of the Jamaican flag, they were quickly reminded that no, we were not using the colors for that reason but for the better reason of Hawaiian royalty colors. All agreed and we were able to move forward. Each Ke Kama Pono resident who worked on the moku peʻa was then tasked with putting his own design (like a tattoo) that represents himself, his family, and his life story on the side of the canoe. Uncle Jay then allowed them the opportunity to sign their names on the canoe in remembrance of the work and energy they put in. It will stay as a lasting memory on the sides of the canoe until the next time it is restored, maybe in another 30 years.

It was at this point of the restoration effort that we decided to also restore its original name “Pualele” in honor of its long ago birth, and just completed rebirth.

Although the completion of this project will extend past their residency term, the Ke Kama Pono Program is offering the boys a chance to see it through until the end. “Our thing for the boys is they can always come back, even though they complete the program, get discharged, and move on. They will always be welcomed back to participate in a sailing venture when this canoe is ready.”

Many thanks to the men from Friends of Hōkūleʻa and Hawaiʻiloa for their commitment to teach and work alongside the Ke Kama Pono residents and staff. We are indebted to them as well as those from Partners in Development Foundation who envisioned the positive results that would come from this partnership.