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Chancellor’s Statement on the passing of Kālepa Baybayan

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

As many of you may have heard on Friday and throughout this past weekend, UH Hilo faculty Chad Kālepa Baybayan passed away from natural causes at the age of 65 on Thursday evening, April 8, 2021, while visiting and caring for ‘ohana in Seattle, Washington. He will be greatly missed not only by those who knew him but also by those near and far whom his many contributions have impacted.

A resident of Kailua-Kona, Kālepa was born and raised in Lahaina, Maui. The 1974 Lahainaluna graduate went on to complete his bachelor’s in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo in 1997 and eventually earned his master’s in education from Heritage College in 1999.

Kālepa Baybayan wearing maile lei.
Kālepa Baybayan

In recognition of his accomplishments as an alumnus, UH Hilo was honored to have him as our fall 2017 commencement speaker urging graduates not to be observers, but to get into the race and paddle and be like the mariners who sailed into the Pacific and discovered the stars. (See video above.)

I share with you a message from his immediate supervisor, colleague, and friend, Ka‘iu Kimura, director of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i:

It is a huge loss for all of us, not for only his ‘ohana here at ‘Imiloa, but for the many who were fortunate to know Kālepa as a crewmember, captain and navigator aboard Hōkūle‘a throughout the Pacific and beyond. Born and raised in Lahaina, Maui, the 1974 Lahainaluna graduate went on to complete his bachelor’s in Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawai‘i and eventually earned his master’s in education as well. The canoe however was Kālepa’s main classroom. From that day in 1975 when Hōkūle‘a docked in Lahaina, Kālepa’s life was changed forever when that fire to ‘imi loa or to continually seek the knowledge of wayfinding was lit and burned brightly ever since.

He was mentored by the celebrated master navigator Mau Paialug, credited for reviving the art of non-instrument navigation in Hawai‘i, who eventually bestowed Kālepa with the esteemed title of PWO Navigator. Kālepa sailed numerous voyages, traversing thousands of miles, many as one of the lead captains and navigators of the Worldwide Voyage from 2014-2017.

While his love for the canoe was undeniable, it was his passion as an educator that left an indelible mark. Kālepa once said, “I was challenged to preserve this art as a PWO Navigator. It was really Mau passing on the stewardship of the art. But at the root of this is that you are an educator. You are a person who has to preserve the art. And the way to preserve the art is to share it!”

Kālepa not only met that challenge, but he made it his life’s work. Whether it was students and families right here in our Hawaiian language educational programs from Pūnana Leo to Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu and our Hawaiian language college at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, or the thousands of learners around the world that he interacted with during his many voyages, Kālepa really was a life-long learner and educator.

Kālepa is survived by his wife, Audrey, their three children and grandchildren. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult period. Memorial services are pending.


Bonnie D. Irwin
UH Hilo

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