Polynesian Voyaging Society Announces Death of Founder Ben Finney

The Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) is saddened to announce that Ben Finney, co-founder and first president of the organization, passed away today in Honolulu surrounded by family.  He was 83 years old.  Services are pending.

Ben Finney

Nainoa Thompson, president of PVS, responded to Finney’s passing with the following statement:

“What I was told was that there was a Hawaiian Professor in Hawaii who handed Ben a book called Kon Tiki, and she said ‘this is all wrong, you need to change this.’ Years later, Ben called a man named Herb Kawainui Kane, who together with Tommy Holmes spearheaded the building of Hokulea.  So, if we’re going to celebrate 42 years of voyaging and honor and celebrate Hokulea’s voyage around the earth, we have to think that none of this would have happened without that phone call.  Ben provided the vision and mission and the leadership to set the foundation for all that we would do in voyaging since 1976.  If Ben didn’t make that phone call, there wouldn’t be a Hokulea and there probably wouldn’t be voyaging in the Pacific today.  And, there would be no real connection between the values of malama honua and this island earth.  We owe so much to him. Hawaii, the pacific and the world is indebted to the work of Ben Finney.”

An anthropologist and pioneer in the reconstruction and sailing of Polynesian voyaging canoes, Finney first began dreaming about building a canoe and sailing it to Tahiti while studying at the University of Hawai’i in 1958.  In the mid-1960s, he built Nalehia, a replica of a Hawaiian double canoe that provided the basic information on sailing performance that went into planning Hokulea’s initial voyage to Tahiti.

Finney co-founded PVS in 1973 with Herb Kawainui Kane and Tommy Holmes and served as its first president.  Together with countless volunteers, they built Hokulea, the first Polynesian voyaging canoe in 600 years and launched her in 1975.

He set out to show that Hawaiians could intentionally sail long-distances without modern instruments.  He sailed on Hokulea’s first voyage to Tahiti in 1976.  He also sailed on the 1985 voyage to Aotearoa, the 1992 voyage to Rarotonga, and also covered the 1995 voyage from the Marquesas to Hawaii from Hokulea’s escort vessel.

The history and practice of Polynesian voyaging is an epic story of human migration: Ben’s love of it inspired his contributions to the anthropology of the human experience in space.

During his career, Finney held faculty appointments at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Australian National University, the University of French Polynesia, and the International Space University. From 1970 through 2000 he was a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his courses included Human Adaptation to the Sea and Human Adaptation to Living in Space.  From 1994 through 2003 he was the co-chair of the department of Space and Society at the International Space University.

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