UH Hilo faculty and students conduct research for e-book on Pacific seafaring

The multi-faceted project is strengthening intercampus partnerships, developing mentorships, supporting students in their research, and providing a platform for practitioners from across Oceania to share their stories.

Group of five stands for photo.
At a workshop held on O‘ahu in April, a UH Hilo research group started the collaborative process of creating an e-book on Pacific voyaging and navigation. From left, seafaring expert Larry Raigetal and UH Hilo research team Tromainne Joab, Jerolynn Myazoe, Shania Tamagyongfal, and Joseph Genz. (Courtesy photo)

By Susan Enright.

An eclectic group of anthropologists, environmental scientists, and a philosopher from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are conducting research for an e-book on Pacific voyaging and navigation.

Celia Bardwell-Jones
Celia Bardwell-Jones
Joseph Genz
Joseph Genz

The project is led by Associate Professor of Anthropology Joseph Genz, with team members Professor of Philosophy Celia Bardwell-Jones, UH Hilo graduate students Shania Tamagyongfal and Jerolynn Myazoe who are in the heritage management program, and undergraduate Tromainne Joab, a environmental studies student.

Also part of the Hilo group is Kamehameha Schools educator and UH Hilo alumna Celeste Ha‘o.

Last month, the delegation traveled to O‘ahu to participate in a workshop sponsored by the UH Mānoa Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS), whose director Alex Maywer invited the group along with nearly two dozen other practitioners and academics from across the Pacific region, to collaboratively create the e-book on voyaging as part of the center’s series called Teaching Oceania.  The work will be accessible as an interactive iBook (to be opened in iBooks software on Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone) and also in PDF format.

“The iBook, to be used for undergraduate teaching, will have multi-media content and be written through the lens of Pacific Islands studies,” says Genz.

Attending the workshop were seafaring experts hailing from Yap, the Marshall Islands, Hawai‘i, Sāmoa, Fiji, and Tonga, each with a range of experience on voyaging and navigation.

“Graduate students Shania and Jerolynn were responsible for collecting audio and video recordings of the navigation practitioners to include their direct voices of their storied experiences in the iBook,” says Genz. Both students, who received their undergraduate degrees in anthropology and certificates in Pacific Islands studies from UH Hilo, will be co-authors of the e-book.

At the April workshop, the students interviewed fellow Hilo delegation member Ha‘o in addition to three other seafaring experts—Larry Raigetal, Alson Kelen, and Setareki Ledua—about their experiences learning as practitioners of navigation, the histories of their voyaging organizations, the roles of women in seafaring, and their programs’ goals of using voyaging for climate adaptation and resilience. Ha‘o, a UH Hilo alumna and former education specialist at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, navigated her way back to Faleapuna, her family’s village in Sāmoa, as an apprentice navigator of voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a in 2014.

“The interviews will primarily be used in the iBook, but also will be used in the graduate students’ master’s projects, which focus on oral histories of voyaging in Yap and Marshall Islands for climate change adaptation,” explains Genz, who is the students’ advisor.


At left seated is Setareki Ledua. At right are students with camera, Celeste stands behind.
UH Hilo graduate students Shania Tamagyongfal and Jerolynn Myazoe interview seafarer expert Setareki Ledua (at left). Seated in back is undergraduate observer Tromainne Joab. Standing at right is navigator Celeste Ha‘o. (Courtesy photo)

At left, Celeste Ha‘o is seated. At right is camera and students conducting interview.
UH Hilo graduate student Jerolynn Myazoe (center) interviews navigator Celeste Ha‘o (seated at left). Hidden behind is student Shania Tamagyongfal. Seated at right is undergraduate observer Tromainne Joab. (Courtesy photo)

At left is Larry Raigetal seated. At right is camera and three students conducting interview on lawn setting.
UH Hilo graduate students Shania Tamagyongfal and Jerolynn Myazoe interview seafarer Larry Raigetal who is seated at left. Seated at far right is undergraduate observer Tromainne Joab. (Courtesy photo)

During the workshop, the group engaged in a collaborative process to create the draft outline of the book. They also visited Kūkaniloko, one of the most significant cultural sites on Oʻahu, to learn from the stewards of the place about the historical and cultural significance in relation to voyaging in Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific.

Genz says he was overjoyed with the group’s first research trip in two years due to the lifting of covid restrictions.

“My major highlight was seeing the impact on the three students getting to know the navigators in person, hanging out with them, breaking down the barriers, hearing the heartfelt and personal stories of their lives, their hopes and dreams for their communities in the face of climate change challenges,” he says. “All three students and one of the navigators were in tears at one point, the stories were so impactful.”

Genz says the project brings together an exciting culmination of cross-disciplinary partnerships at UH Hilo that include faculty and students from the anthropology, environmental studies, and philosophy programs. He also notes the inclusion of the greater community of Hawai‘i Island with the inclusion of educator and former navigator Ha‘o.

A pathway of collaboration

The pathway to the collaborative e-book project began years ago.

Tamagyongfal and Myazoe were both mentored by Genz during their undergraduate studies at UH Hilo, and now as graduate students they are in turn mentoring undergrads through a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program called the Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program. Keaholoa is geared toward preparing budding scientists for future careers in STEM. In a purposefully designed support system, both graduate students are now mentoring undergraduate Joab, with Genz as her faculty mentor, for her Keaholoa research experience.

“Her Keaholoa project involves researching the histories of voyaging in her home of Pohnpei in relation to climate change adaptation and roles of women and learning as a research apprentice to the graduate students,” explains Genz.

Logo of sailing canoe and words: Islands of Opportunity AllianceJoab recently presented her research at a Keaholoa event and will present again later this summer for another program called the Islands of Opportunity Alliance. The alliance is a federally supported network of 11 higher education institutions from Hawai‘i and the Pacific with a mission to expand access to careers in STEM fields for underrepresented populations. UH Hilo administrates the alliance and Genz serves as project director. This program supports the Keaholoa scholars.

At the recent workshop for the iBook, undergraduate Joab shadowed the graduate students, learning interviewing techniques in the field. Genz cites this as an example on the importance of this type of mentoring and collaboration.

“Strengthening the partnership with UH Mānoa, UH Hilo, and the community, developing mentorship models that are culturally resonant, providing a space for practitioners from across Oceania to share their stories, kick-starting the graduate students’ fieldwork for their master’s projects, and building off of the foundation of [the other STEM projects] on campus, so much came together for an intimate, meaningful gathering, with so many future possibilities.”


By Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories.