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Captain Fealofani Bruun (left) and Aunofo Havea Funaki (right) in front of the Hinemoana II.

Langiouiha Isileli Latu


All female Pacific crew to follow whale migration route from Tauranga to Tonga

The 12-person crew aims to revive Tongan voyaging traditions while also conducting research on humpback whales.

A historic all-women voyage is set to embark for Tonga, following the migratory journey of whales and replicating ancient navigation methods..

The twelve person Pacific crew, aged from 14 to mid-fifties, will conduct scientific research on whale populations and integrate traditional knowledge during their two-week voyage, planned for mid-July.

Co-captain ‘Aunofo Havea Funaki has a boatmaster and yacht captain’s license and is excited to share traditional sailing methods with the crew, who hail from Tonga, Rarotonga, New Zealand and Samoa.

“It’s about time for Tonga to get a canoe, a vaka for everything, including reviving traditional navigation, not only focusing on modern technology, but the background and importance of our culture and our traditional knowledge.

“Because every island has their own, but it’s not practiced. So in this voyage and this project, we’ll bring everything back to life.”

The Hinemoana II is a 50-foot (15 metres), double-hulled sailing vaka or kalia from the Marshall Islands, which is now in the Tauranga marina being readied for the voyage.

The Hinemoana II has come from the Marshall Islands, and is being readied to sail from Tauranga. Photo/Tonga Voyaging Society

Co-captain Fealofani Bruun says they had a vision of maining sustainable sea transport and being good caretakers of the ocean, but also expanding the horizons of their crewmates, many of whom are already accomplished career women.

“There’s a lot more out there where they can be oceanographers, biologists, there’s a lot that is required in our own homes instead of just narrowing yourself to one plane.”

Crew members include a boat builder, a dive master, doctors and community workers and the current Oceania Jiu-Jitsu champion.

Following ancient ocean pathways

Bruun says they will be arriving right when the whales migrate up to Tonga.

“It'll be a research platform as well for collecting non-intrusive whale samples just in the water and shots [footage], we will be following their migratory corridors while we're actually heading up to Tonga.

“It's the ecosystems as well that the whales will be passing through, so it's not just the marine wildlife underneath, but the marine wildlife above, so we which will be collecting data samples along the way and then we'll be sharing a bit of that with our communities in Tonga along the way, making our way from from Nukula, Alofa, up to Ha’apai, up to Vava'u.”

Co-captain Aunofo Havea watches as the Tongan flag is raised onboard the Hinemoana II. Photo/Langiouiha Isileli Latu

Women sailing the Pacific

Bruun says there are stories from different parts of the Pacific of women who carried knowledge for wayfinders, along with traditional tattoo markings being used for navigation.

“In the North West Pacific in the FSM area they talk about navigation which was given to a woman.

“In the center of the Pacific, where Samoa is, the tatau was brought by women, and that was shared throughout the Pacific.

“In [the] east Pacific, there are a lot of similar designs, motifs, stories as well that are being sung, chanted about women who were on board.

“In what capacity, it's not quite clear, but they were on board."