Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Introductory Words on Waka

When most people think of a Maori waka (canoe), they think of a waka taua - a war canoe - one of those magnificent traditional craft carved out of a totara or a kauri log, and paddled by a muscly crew of dozens. This is the sort of thing I'm talking about - above - this being the supreme waka taua, the biggest of them all, Ngatokimatawhaorua, which was carved in 1935 for the 1940 centennial celebrations at Waitangi. It requires 120 paddlers and now resides at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Paihia, Northland.

It is easy to get confused of course, especially when you bring waka ama and waka unua into the mix. A waka ama is an outrigger canoe, as illustrated above and below.Waka ama come in a range of sizes from one-man, two-man to the larger versions as shown below.

Unlike a waka taua, which is tapu and ritualised and does not permit female paddlers, a waka ama is a popular racing craft that permits both male and female crew.

A waka unua is another kettle of fish altogether. These are the large, double-hulled voyaging waka that ancient Polynesian cultures, including Maori, used to navigate the oceans. These are the waka that brought Maori to New Zealand shores. These are the waka that few people have seen in action. These are the waka that are the focus of a revival of interest in early Polynesian voyaging and celestial navigation. Among New Zealand Maori, the 'godfathers' of that revival are Hekenukumai Busby (Ngapuhi),Matahi Brightwell (ngati Porou) and Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr (Tainui).

I recently attended a Waka Wananga at Ngati Kuri'sTakahanga Marae in Kaikoura. It was organised by a group of enterprising young Ngai Tahu waka ama enthusiasts, who are passionate about and committed to the revival of Ngai Tahu voyaging traditions. There to impart his rich knowledge of waka unua and voyaging traditions, was Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr (above & below), a man with nearly 30 years of experience on all types of waka. Among his many achievements in the field, is the fact that he has paddled as crew (since he was 17) and now as captain of Taheretikitiki, the royal waka taua of Turangawaewae, for both the late Maori Queen and now the Maori King.
Under Hoturoa's tuition, the 20 young Ngai Tahu crew members received a crash course in the finer details of sailing waka unua, in the lead up to their week-long voyage around Hauraki Gulf, out from Auckland, on the full-sized waka unua, Aotearoa 1 - a journey that started on April 25. Hoturoa and his whanau had driven down from Hamilton with his smaller training waka unua, Pumaiterangi, which out out to sea at Jimy Amers Beach, in Kaikoura. It was an historic moment and probably the first time a waka unua had sailed in Ngai Tahu waters for hundreds of years. Everyone who sailed on her came ashore 'buzzing' with excitement. Organiser of the wananga, Eruera Tarena (Ngai Tahu) summed it up: "This is it. This is the beginning of something big for all of us. We've been passionate about waka ama and the possibility of bringing Ngai Tahu's maritime traditions back to life for the last decade. Now we're on our way. This is one step closer and it's a pretty special moment," he says, with waves washing around his legs. www.ngaitahu.iwi.nz www.tekaraka.co.nz


  1. kia ora adrienne,

    loved this post. it is also a joy to know that some of this old(er) knowledge is not dying out, and being passed on to the young.

    had a question about the waka ama in the third picture. talking to someone else, in the context of the cook islands, i was told the vaka ama would 1) always have the prow facing the water, as once taken into the sea it was never to return to land, and 2) it would be rested on small logs (not the ground) for the same reason.

    is there a similar tradition among maori here?

  2. Arrrh you ask about the finer details - of which I know nothing. But as for picture three, the waka ama had just come ashore after being paddled, so I guess their prow is facing inland for that reason. And when they are being taken in and out of the water several times a day, there's no need to sit them on logs. Any further expanantion I can't help you with. But I'm glad you enjoyed the post :-) It's also important to realise that waka ama never 'put to sea never to return.' They are not open-ocean voyaging canoes - that's the role of waka unua.

  3. Kia ora Adrienne,
    I greatly enjoyed this post, and have returned a few times to peruse it. Also loved the prior photos of the paua - yum! My wife gave me Anne Thorp's book for xmas "Kai Ora", which has some some great kia moana recipes, but as you write, thin sliced and quick cooked is mouth watering.

  4. Thanks Robb - glad you've enjoyed reading about young Ngai tahu waka crew keen on reviving the old ocean-going navigation traditions ....and the paua of course. has to be THE most unappetising looking 'creature' in its raw state but always surprisingly delicious. I've always enjoyed Anne Thorpe's tv presentation....she has a lovely manner.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin