New waka tāngata launched in Kāwhia

By Herewini Waikato

A 13-metre waka has been built in honour of one of the key people behind the revitalisation of Māori seafaring knowledge.

The Rātā He Kaha Ki Uta event held alongside the Te Hau Kōmaru National Waka Hourua Festival in Kāwhia at the weekend saw boat builders, carvers and navigators finish the years-long project to build the new waka, named Manawa Kuaka.

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, the captain of Haunui waka and a member of Te Hau Kōmaru was excited carvers and builders were able to continue the art despite the interruptions of Covid- 19.

“I want to honour our carvers and master carvers and all of those that made this festival and launch for our waka a success this week”, said Barclay-Kerr.

Building the waka tāngata (people-carrying vessel) was a collaboration that began in 2019 by mātanga and tohunga waka (masters and experienced ocean vessel builders), emerging practitioners, and voyagers from Northland, Gisborne, Waikato, and Wellington.

Jack Thatcher from Te Hau Kōmaru Waka Hourua was overwhelmed by those who followed the teachings of his long-time master carver friend Heemi Eruera from the north. “

"With his skill set, and the teaching passed down by the late master waka builder and navigator Sir Hekenukumai Busby we are where we are now with the launching of this vessel at Kāwhia this morning," said Thatcher.

Heemi Eruera master waka builder

Project Lead and waka builder, Eruera attributes the success of the new waka to the experts from the four iwi and their tireless dedication to the kaupapa. 

“It is a continuation of the work started by the late master waka builder and navigator Sir Hekenukumai Busby.

“What Sir Hekenukumai began, which we now continue, is accumulating mātauranga tārai waka. If we drop the ball now the greatest risk is that we lose that accumulated knowledge,” he said. 

“The greatest impact we could ever hope to achieve is engaging our young people; the relationship building across different iwi across the country,” Heemi added.  

Covid-19 pathed a way forward to build Manawa Kuaka

Manawa Kuaka was built during Covid-19 and was born out of the waka communities’ commitment to revitalizing the endangered art form of traditional waka building.

“During Covid- 19 people thought we couldn’t do it but we did. We were still able to even as a collective of tribes, and here is the result”, said Barclay-Kerr.

Te Wari Hetaraka, one of the master builders and carvers said the disruption tested their abilities.

It took the group of carvers many wānanga to complete the vessel using a 35,000-year-old kauri from the swamp forest of Pokopū in Northland.

Creative New Zealand spends $300,000 on waka programme

A 2009 report commissioned by Creative New Zealand identified tārai waka and associated knowledge as being endangered. Creative New Zealand spent $300,000 on the three-year programme that supported the retention of waka knowledge through wānanga, workshops and the building of Manawa Kuaka.

Creative New Zealand shares the same concerns as tohunga who have identified that waka-building knowledge and expertise are at a crisis point. As part of our Māori arts strategy, Te Hā o ngā Toi, we’re committed to building a stronger sector to advance ngā toi Māori aspirations like Rātā He Kaha Ki Uta and to ensure more whānau and communities have the opportunity to learn about waka building and the associated mātauranga

Barclay-Kerr says that support will ensure Manawa Kuaka and future Hau Kōmaru Waka Hourua Festivals will continue into the future.

“Manawakuaka will teach people how to paddle and navigate and create an opportunity to teach those who want to learn how to build and fashion these vessels," he said.

The next Te Hau Kōmaru Waka Hourua Festival will be held in the South Island in 2024.