Tag Archives: Keola Levan Sequeira


Canoe joins tradition, technology (PDF)

Lahaina, Maui – The newest addition to Hawaii’s fleet of double-hulled voyaging canoes is three-quarters finished in a shed on the Lahaina waterfront. The Mo’okiha O Piilani will be the biggest such canoe in Hawaii and probably the most controversial in the Pacific.

What’s controversial about it is a fusion of Polynesian tradition and modern technology in a way that blurs the distinctions between the two.

For example, this canoe asks the question: Is it in the old Hawaiian tradition of conservation to hew a canoe from logs when logs are in critically short supply?

“Today you cannot waste 80 percent of a log lo make a canoe,” said Keole Sequeira, the canoe builder, “That takes too much out of the environment. “The Hawaiians took a log and carved away everything that wasn’t a canoe. We re laking a space and filling it with a canoe built of modem materials. I’m trying to combine the best of Hawaiian design with modem technology”

Sequeira makes another controversial companion between what’s traditional and what’s modern.

Hawai’iloa, built on Oahu of traditional wood logs, was funded as one activity under a $3 million federal grant to preserve Hawaiian culture.

The Mo’okiha O Piilani will cost only $200,000 in modern currency. It will be built of space-age materials, but most of the cost will come in traditional currency – at least I0,000 volunteer man-hours.

That doesn’t count half again as much  contributions of volunteer help to put on benefit luaus and other fund-raisers.

Sequeira can even tell You how much traditional currency is worth. He said he built the smaller Mo’okiha in l975 tor $11,000 in cash and volunteer help. Today the canoe is appraised at $120,000.

The whole concept of Mo’okiha O Piilani seems to be a new way of looking at the ancient art of canoe voyaging. Or is it the other way around, looking at today through the eves of old Polynesia?

Mo’okiha O Piilani will be the first voyage canoe with jet propulsion engines. The engines run on diesel fuel that will serve the vessel a range under motor power of about 500 miles.

So what’s Polynesian about that? The ancients used paddles of auxiliary power. Sequeira points out that Hokule’a carries an outboard motor for safety when sailing among the treacherous South Seas reefs and that Hawaii’s voyaging canoes never go out without escort boats.

“Inboard engines are safer than outboards,” he said. Our canoe will be so safe we won’t need an escort boat .”

There will be state-of-the-art satellite navigation gear on board and a desalinization plant that can make 160 gallons of fresh water a day.

At what point does the Mo’okiha O Piilani stop being a Polynesian voyaging canoe and become a modern Yacht? that what the controversy will be about. More important, will she sail?


11 June 2007 Personal Correspondence to Mr. McLeod (PDF)

Mahalo. Thank you very much for buying my sculptured vase. Kathy, the sales

June 11, 2007

Aloha Mr. McLeod,

woman said that you were drawn to the piece. It makes me wonder when a person is
attracted to a piece because as an artist, I also have had an experience in creating it.

Note that your piece is the first of it’s kind. The design is new and has evolved
over the years of making vases, exploring and trying to discover new expressions. The
wood is of ‘Cook Pine’, a species brought to Hawaii over one hundred years ago. It
looks like a tall Christmas tree. Although the wood is not interesting when first cut, after
letting it ‘spelt,’ the dark shades start to appear. This is what gives the piece so much

The wood is then turned and checked for thickness with a caliper; however, I take

the process one step further. I do a second check with a light. When I see light shining through the wood, I know that I’m close to its finished quality. The wood is then dried and soaked in an oil solution of my own making. After drying fully, I coat it with five coats of epoxy.

I had a wonderful adoptive family who cultivated my talent with wood and

When I heard that this piece was going all the way to Scotland, I was deeply


I’ve been doing wood working all of my life and I do it because I enjoy creating

works of art that people appreciate. On my tool box is a sign stating, “To honor the tree
Spirit.’ I believe that if I produce a work of art that people treasure, I have truly honored
the Spirit of the tree. For me, creating in wood is also an experience of shared inspiration
with the essence of the tree itself. To capture the beauty of the living wood in a piece of
sculpture that moves people in a good way is indeed a very rewarding experience.

moved for I am half Scot. I was adopted into a Hawaiian family at three days of birth and
had the gift of carving since age five but it was not until a dozen years ago that I found
my Japanese birth mother and learned that my father who was a U.S. Navy man named
Clifford Willis whose ship stopped in Honolulu where he met my mother. They were
never married. He went off to fight the Japanese in the South pacific and my mother’s
family, first generation Japanese in Hawaii, made her give me up for adoption.

provided a deep education in the culture and ways of old time Hawaii. Because of this
and because of my gratitude to them, I went on to re-create the double hulled Hawaiian
voyaging canoes, the images and all of the other cultural icons. This in turn helped
trigger the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s and was written up in National Geographic.
Oddly enough, when I did find my birth mother, I met an Uncle, who was 95 at the time
and had also appeared in National Geographic because of his artistry with wood and

My wife and I tried numerous ways to find Clifford Willis but so were not able to.
In an attempt to connect with my Scot ancestry, I took up fly-fishing and dreamt of a trip
to Scotland. I studied maps of your lakes and noticed a loch ‘Leven’- my English name
is, ‘Levan’ given me by an Aunty as Hawaiian culture dictates. Usually a lot of thought
and meaning goes into a Hawaiian child’s name so I asked her what the name means.

So, the story of your attraction to this piece and all the difficulties you’ve

Much to my shock, she said she did not know – it just came to her! Now I wonder if there
is a connection to Scotland – if something was breaking through?

experienced in getting it home, touched me. In fact this is the first direct contact I’ve
ever had with this side of my heritage. I feel really good to know that a part of my
creation, and life is there in Scotland with you and hope you and your wife get years of
pleasure from this Kanoa or bowl of Light.

If by chance, you should come across any connection or information about the
Willis Clan (from Southwestern Scotland) please let me know. I still hope to find my
family, there.


Keola Levan Sequeira
573 Wainee St.
Lahaina, HI 96761