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Hawaiian Starlines

The Guidance in the Sky

Na Ohana Hoku Eha, The Four Star Families, is a modern teaching device created by today's practicing navigators to organize the night sky. It is used as a tool to teach a growing population of deep sea voyaging enthusiasts.

At the heart of this is the importance of restoring the use of Hawaiian star names into the vernacular of today's voyagers to make the night sky relevant to the culture and descendants of the people that settled these islands.

These star families were created by dividing the celestial sphere into four sections that run from North to South. 

Voyagers aboard today’s deep sea sailing canoes should witness three of the four Star Families, between dawn and dusk. They must memorize the "families" and each of their members as well as their relative positions within the star band, and know which stars should be overhead even if they are obscured by clouds. 

The Four Star Families are used in the Navigator's Chant to sound out readiness to go sailing.

Employing a Hawaiian way of preserving knowledge, voyagers chose to name the Four Star Families after significant folklore and beliefs that make the night sky relevant to today’s generation of voyagers.

Na Ohana Hoku Eha (The Four Star Families)


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(The bailer of Makali‘i)

Makali'i is one Hawaiian name for the Pleiades star cluster. It was frequently used by navigators of long ago and is still used today. Makali'i was of great importance to Hawaiians of the past, for when the star cluster rose at sunset the following new moon marked the beginning of the Makahiki festival—a time when games, friendly competitions, and tax paying took place.

One legend tells us how Makali'i got its name. Click here to learn more.



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(The Backbone)

Hanaiakamala “Cared for by the Moon”
This is the second Star Family. Prominent in it is the Southern Cross, the southern most constellation in this starline. When sailing, the navigator uses the Southern Cross to determine the latitude of the Hawaiian Islands. This starline is called “Backbone” for it runs from the North Star, Hokupa‘a (Fixed Star) to Hanaiakamalama, the Southern Cross.



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(Maui’s Fishhook)

The Legend of Manaiakalani and Mokuola
The magic hook of the Hawaiian demigod Maui shares many of the same stars as the constellation Scorpius and was named Manaiakalani.

To learn more about this story of Maui’s fish hook, click here.


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(Kite of Kawelo)

The Legend of Kalupeakawelo
This fourth star family is named for the kite of the famous chief of Kaua‘i, Kawelo. The story goes: when Kawelo was young he saw a kit flying and immediately asked for one for himself. To learn the rest of the story, click here.

The four stars in the kite of Kawelo are named after four prominent chiefs of the islands: Manokalanipo, chief of KauiKeawe, of Hawaii Island; Pi‘ilani, of Maui; and Kakuhihewa of O‘ahu.