Hōkūleʻa Moʻolelo: Pitcairn

sam_lowAs Hōkūle’a re-enters the Polynesian Triangle on the last legs of her Worldwide Voyage, we take a moment to celebrate earlier voyages and the crew who helped her find her way. Hōkūleʻa is nearing the famous Pitcairn island, the refuge of the crew of HMS Bounty after they mutinied and set Captain Bligh adrift in a small boat. This is the second time in her life that Hōkūleʻa’s voyages have brought her to Pitcairn – read the account of her 1999 landfall written by crewmember and documenter Sam Low.


Friday, September 24, 1999 – Pitcairn

We arrive at Pitcairn on the back of a steep swell aboard a silver aluminum speed boat piloted by Jay Warren – the island’s mayor, constable, conservation officer and just about everything else. Jay seems to aim his boat directly at a cliff at alarming speed but, at the last possible moment, he turns abruptly to the left and ducks behind a steel and cement breakwater into a calm but tiny harbor.

pitcairnThe island is small, a finger of volcanic rock jutting out of the sea. Our time here is short – a few hours. Even so, Pitcairn gives us many memories:

Of dirt roads, the color of chocolate, rising precipitously from the harbor to houses that perch over steep cliffs and look out upon a vast and empty sea.

Of four-wheeled Honda motorcycles – the island’s only vehicle.

Of Fletcher Christian’s Bible in the Seventh Day Adventist church.

Of Wayne and Charlene’s garden where we find banana, papaya, mango, passion fruit, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, cabbage, beans, corn, squash, carrots, cucumber, sweet potato, beets, watermelon and taro – or, as Wayne puts it, “everything you need.”

Of VHF radios squawking in every home – the island’s only reliable communication service.

Of Jay Warren’s reply when asked if there was any crime on the island: “Not that I know of. The only time I remember the jail being occupied was in the sixties, and that was a ‘family matter.’”

Of pet frigate birds soaring over each house or settled into a tree branch overlooking the yard.

Of large freezers and shelves crammed with tinned goods to tide people over between the supply ships that arrive once every 4 months.

Of Charlene Warren telling us that once a year the entire population of Pitcairn goes to Oeno Island for a two-week vacation. They travel in two motorized lifeboats and spend their time fishing and living communally in a large tent.

Of Brenda Christian, 5th generation descendant of Fletcher, talking about the unique Pitcairn “language” – a heritage of the old style English spoken by the Bounty mutineers. Some examples:

“Bouyou gwen” / “Where are you going?”

“Fer yo nor lerna us yorly cumin des dey” / “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming today?”

“He yeckle ya es gudon” / “The food (victuals) here is good.”

Of the entire island gathering in the Town Hall to host us with a sumptuous potluck dinner and singing haunting 18th century songs in acapella harmony.

And most of all, of the kindness and generosity with which the people of Pitcairn shared their beautiful island home with us.


HawaikidustjacketrightcoverThe above moʻolelo was adapted by Hōkūleʻa crewmember and documenter Sam Low from his book – Hawaiki Rising, Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Renaissance.