In the fall of 1994, The Honolulu Maritime Museum and the Polynesian Voyaging Society invited the Native Hawaiian leaders from California and Washington State to discuss a joint effort in welcoming the Hokule’a and Hawaiiloa on their arrival to the Northwest coast of the North American continent. The significance of this voyage was to impact the knowledge that the Pacific Islander ancestors utilized to sail across the ocean. While there was much excitement among the communities, they recognized there would be great responsibility placed on them with such a commitment.
After returning to San Diego and meeting with the community leaders, it was decided to move forward with the planning of hosting the first Pacific Islander festival. Dolly Crawford, President of Ahahui Kiwila Hawaii O San Diego (AKHSD), and Clinton Helenihi, Vice President of Polynesian American Educational Scholastic Foundation (PAESF), engaged other Pacific Islander organizations to join in on the planning, including those from the Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Native Hawaiian and Tahitian communities. Hanalei Vierra would end up taking the position as this group’s first chairperson.
The “First Nation People” of the Kumeyaay Nation were also included in the planning of such an event in respect to honoring their nation and asking permission to come aboard their land.
With the commitment from all the leaders of these communities, the San Diego Steering Committee was established and developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Honolulu Maritime Museum to outline the responsibilities of each organization. The Steering Committee then met with the Port Authority to discuss the feasibility of a joint effort to participate in the first Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander welcoming of the Hokule’a, and the Port Authority issued the use of the Embarcadero Park North from July 22nd to July 24, 1995.
The Hawaiiloa, with great pride, sailed north along the coast of Canada to the Tlingit Nation in southern Alaska that gifted the tree that the Polynesia Voyaging Society used to build the double-hull canoe itself.
The Hokule’a sailed south along the coast from Washington to Oregon and on to California. The ship made multiple stops to honor the indigenous people of the land and to educate the people in methods of Wayfaring, or navigating using the sun, the moon, the stars, the birds, the currents, and the horizon.
Upon its arrival in San Diego on July 22nd 1995, there were food and boutique vendors, cultural villages from various island groups, entertainment from around the community, welcoming speeches from City dignitaries and local organizations, the celebration went on for three days. Around 200,000 people were in attendance during this event, as reported by the San Diego Police Department. Captain Nainoa Thompson of the Hokule’a and his crew presented the Steering Committee with their voyaging Hawaiian Flag for the blessings they granted upon them as a gesture of gratitude and to memorialize such an historic event.
This festival became known as the “Hokule’a” and today, the festival known as the “Pacific Islander Festival Association” also known as PIFA, will be celebrating 29 years of sharing its cultural richness with the City of San Diego that embraces diversity.
Celebrating 30 years of NHPI culture!
Meet the people who have shaped PIFA to become one of the leaders in the community. Their years of hard work and dedication has brought PIFA to where it is today.