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NKW Blog

E Ola Mau Loa - 30 years of Nā Kālai Waʻa

By Pomai Bertelmann (Board President) & Chadd ʻOnohi Paishon (Executive Director)


Aloha nō e ka lehulehu. Lonoikamakahiki!!!


In the thirty years of Nā Kālai Waʻa’s existence, we have experienced and been supported through the evolutions of learning and growth by the communities of Hawai’i. Nā Kalai Wa'a as a non-profit organization was able to CELEBRATE this 30 year accomplishment because of the moku (land base), our communities who love our canoes and work side by side with us to ensure their life force remains strong. You filled our sails, our bellies, our hulls, and our spirits, inspiring us to always strive to be our best possible.


ʻO wai lā, ʻO wai hoʻi, ʻO wai hou aʻe?

Who are you, who will you become, who is next?*





*excerpt, Mele Hānaumea Waʻa, Kaleomanuiwa Wong, FNFP-Papa Mau, 2018


Our response to this query: we are students of a great man, “Capt.” Clay Bertelmann, and in his wisdom he would constantly reiterate to us the manaʻo, “Think island, think canoe - think canoe, think island”. He would say it so often that the words became ingrained in our spirit and soon these words would make all the sense in the world and become our purpose into the future.


On a particular sail in the early 2000ʻs from Kawaihae to Kahuwai (Kona) on canoes Makaliʻi and Kānehūnāmoku, with our haumāna (students) from Kanu o ka ʻĀina and Hālau Kū Mana, Capt. was sharing how he believed, “Think island, think canoe - think canoe, think island” meant that resources on a deep sea voyage are finite and must be used wisely. At that point in the sharing, Kumu Kawika Mersberg turns to Capt. and says, “Unko, you mean like, He waʻa he moku, he moku he waʻa?”. Capt. responds to Kawika saying, “What does that mean?”, to which Kawika responds, “Think island, think canoe - think canoe, think island”.


Magic was made on the deck of Makaliʻi that day. Together, these words have become the profound values base and the vision for Nā Kālai Waʻaʻs work today. “He waʻa he moku, he moku he waʻa” is the wind in our sails along with the course line of our existence.




Our sister Pattiann, in a few poignant situations, reminds us, “the canoe is the mother, the navigator is the eyes, the captain is the discipline, and the crew is the way.” For the journey to be successful, no one person can do it alone and we must commit to do the work with a common vision and focus.


Nā Kālai Waʻa started with one focus, the canoe Mauloa. And, because of her, we have expanded. As Papa Mau would say, “The first step to navigation is building the canoe." The canoes have been built, and the koʻi continues to be passed on to new generations through our work with the Mauloa Restoration Project, and through our cultural education programs.

In reflection there is much to be thankful for. Nā Kālai Waʻa would not exist with out the work, and aloha of our staff, our families, our crew, our vessels, our board members, and our communities of Hawaiʻi.



The work that we do on a daily basis is compared to the islands that are pulled up out of the sea after many days on the water. Pulling up these islands is a direct result of many hearts, minds, intellects, and values coming together for a common good. In this sense, there is always more to do. The island is yet to appear over the horizon, and yet, with each passing day, it is closer than the day before.


Nā Kālai Waʻa needs all of us to continue into the next 30 years. On our horizon is the desire and need to train and reinforce the knowledge of sailing within the ranks of our crew to ensure that they will be ready for the future.




In early 2024 we will start our planning and preparations for a voyage that will celebrate Makali`i’s 30th anniversary by taking her and our family back to our homes in the South Pacific to reconnect, restore, and keep the stick that Papa Mau laid upon the ocean, relevant. Standby for more coming soon. Eō Makaliʻi.




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