Imiloa, Hilo Attractions | Star Paths
  1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content

Na 'Ohana Hoku 'Eha: The Four Star Families

Guided by the waves, winds, birds and stars, the non-instrument navigator or wayfinder must make sense of diverse relationships and patterns in the environment in order to navigate the wa’a, the canoe. 

A critical tool of the Hawaiian or Polynesian navigator is their knowledge of ka lani pa’a, the fixed celestial sphere. The position of key stars and where they rise and set along the horizon, are memorized and used to set course and direction.

With a vast number of stars and complex information to memorize, the wayfinder simplifies this daunting task by mentally dividing the celestial sphere into four nearly equal parts. The brightest stars within each quarter are then grouped into large constellations that stretch across the sky from north to south. These four groupings collectively form  Nā ‘Ohana Hōkū ‘Ehā, The Four Star Families. 

Varying by the season, three of the four star families appear in sequence, from dusk to dawn. Using this tool, navigators are able to know what stars are overhead, even when obscured by clouds.

Below is Nā ‘Ohana Hōkū ‘Ehā, The Four Star Families, are: 

 

Prominent in the night sky during the first half of Ho‘oilo, Hawai‘i’s wet season (Winter), is the first of the four star families, Kekāomakali‘i. Translated as “The Bailer of Makali‘i,” this star family forms a curve in the shape of a bailer that stretches from north to south across the sky. As it rises, it gathers the stars within it from the east, and in a scooping motion overhead, pours these stars out as it sets into the western horizon.

This ‘ohana hōkū, star family, consists of the following key stars and constellations used by navigators to guide them on their journey:

HŌKŪPA‘A ... POLARIS      PUANA ... PROCYON                         PUANAKAU ... RIGEL
HŌKŪLEI ... AURIGA         ‘A‘Ā ... SIRIUS                                 KANUKUOKAPUAHI ... HYADES
HŌKŪLEI ... CAPELLA        KAHEIHEIONĀKEIKI ... ORION          KAPUAHI ... ALDEBARAN
NĀMĀHOE ... GEMINI        KAULUAKOKO ... BETELGEUSE          MAKALI‘I ... PLEIADES
NĀNĀMUA ... CASTOR       NĀKAO ... ORION’S BELT & SWORD   KEALI‘IOKONAIKALEWA ... CANOPUS
NĀNĀHOPE ... POLLUX

 

 

 

Visible during the latter half of Ho‘oilo, Hawai‘i’s wet season (Spring), is the second of the four Hawaiian star families, Kaiwikuamo‘o. Translated as “The Backbone,” this starline symbolizes a genealogical journey that follows a path across the heavens from Hōkūpa‘a, the North Star, to Hānaiakamalama, the Southern Cross. Each star and constellation in Kaiwikuamo‘o is one vertebra in the backbone, and when connected together, they symbolize Hawai‘i’s voyaging lineage and history since the rebirth of traditional Polynesian voyaging in Hawai‘i and throughout the Pacific.

This ‘ohana hōkū, star family, consists of the following key stars and constellations used by navigators to guide them on their journey: 

HŌKŪPA’A ... POLARIS        HIKUONO ... MIZAR              HĀNAIAKAMALAMA ... SOUTHERN CROSS
NĀHIKU ... BIG DIPPER       HIKUPAU ... ALKAID              KAULIA ... GACRUX
HIKUKAHI ... DUHBE          HŌKŪLE‘A ... ARCTURUS        KAMOLEHONUA ... ACRUX
HIKULUA ... MERAK            HIKINALIA ... SPICA              NĀKUHIKUHI ... “THE POINTERS”
HIKUKOLU ... PHECDA        ME‘E ... CORVUS                   KAMAILEMUA ... BETA CENTAURI
HIKUHĀ ... MEGREZ           LEHUAKONA ... ANTARES       KAMAILEHOPE ... ALPHA CENTAURI
HIKULIMA ... ALIOTH

 


 

Observable during the first half of Kau wela, Hawai‘i’s dry season (Summer) is Mānaiakalani, the third of the four Hawaiian Star Families. Named after the enchanted fishhook of the demi-god Māui, this string of stars embodies the seafaring spirit of the Pacific people and represents the legendary heritage of some of history’s greatest innovators and explorers.

This ‘ohana hōkū, star family, consists of the following key stars and constellations used by navigators to guide them on their journey: 

HŌKŪPA‘A ... POLARIS                 LEHUAKONA ... ANTARES
PIRA‘ETEA ... DENEB                   KAMAKAUNUIAMĀUI ... SCORPIUS
KEOE ... VEGA                            PĪMOE ... TEAPOT / SAGITTARIUS
HŌKŪLE‘A ... ARCTURUS             NĀMAKA ... SHAULA
HUMU ... ALTAIR


 
 

Dominating the evening sky during the second half of Kau wela, Hawai‘i’s dry season (Fall), is Kalupeakawelo, the final star family of the four Hawaiian star families. Translated as “The Kite of Kawelo,” these stars soar high in the night sky and represent the legend of the young Kawelo, who challenged his older cousin to a kite competition. His victory was interpreted as a sign that someday he would rise to become a powerful leader, a prophecy that was later fulfilled when Kawelo went on to become a great Mō‘ī, King of Kaua‘i Island.

This star family is composed of stars and constellations that represent some of Hawai‘i’s greatest chiefs and rulers. Many modern-day voyagers trace their lineage back to one or more of the chiefs represented in this star family.   As such, it becomes a source of comfort that their kūpuna, or ancestors, are watching over them and guiding them along their journey.

This ‘ohana hōkū, star family, consists of the following key stars and constellations used by navigators to guide them on their journey: 

HŌKŪPA‘A ... POLARIS                  KĀKUHIHEWA ... SCHEAT     PI‘IKEA ... DIPHDA
POLO‘ULA ... CAPH                       KAPUAHI ... ALDEBARAN      KŪKALANILOKO ... FOMALHAUT
KAMŌ‘Ī ... CEPHEUS                     PI‘ILANI ... ALGENIB            KAIKILANI ... ANKAA
‘IWAKELI‘I ... CASSIOPEIA            KEAWE ... MARKLAB            NĀLANI ... ALNAIR
MANŌKALANIPŌ ... ALPHERATZ     HUMU ... ALTAIR                 KALANIKAULELEAIWI ... ARCHERNAR

 

 

‘Imiloa, in collaboration with the Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco, CA., served as a reference for the Exploratorium's Never Lost Polynesian Navigation Site. Visit this site for more on Polynesian Navigation.