Rangatahi cultural-exchange carve Cook Island waka

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

Carver Nathan Rei (Ngāti Toa Rangatira) has returned to Rarotonga to complete a traditional fishing waka under the tutelage of expert carver Michael Tavioni.  

The project is a cultural-exchange with the Porirua-based Mana College teacher and some students, to learn traditional waka building of their Pacific ancestors.

“It’s the most important vehicle or equipment they have in order to sustain themselves and their families, for over thousands of years,” says Tavioni. 

For Rei it’s about reconnecting back to their wider roots. 

“Porirua has one of the biggest pacific island communities in the world, and Vaka building is something that we all have in common.”

“Although the majority of my students are New Zealand Maori. I also teach Cook Island Maori and other pacific island students. So it’s a connection for us all.”

“We are the Māori nation and our nation is Te Moananui a Kiva,” says Tavioni. 

“But the islands we live in are merely towns where our people live in, but they’re not separated from each other, because the ocean joins all the islands together.” 

The build began earlier this year in September with karakia. 

Rei says, “I want my students to learn not only the history of whakairo in Aotearoa.

"But also history of whakairo, pre-aotearoa, waka building and star navigation.”

However, it’s the second fishing vaka Rei and his students have carved. The first lays in Tavioni’s Gallery. 

“I first learnt vaka building in Aotearoa with Hector Busby, last year,” says Rei.

“Myself and one of my students from Mana College, Pedro Busby, who is Hector’s grandson, came over to learn vaka building from Papa Mike Tavioni.

"Pedro also came over this year with us to build our second vaka with Papa Mike.

“What Nathan wanted was he kōrero as well,” says Tavioni. 

“Connecting Aotearoa and this place through the common vehicle of the waka.”

Tavioni wants Rei and the student students to return next year to launch the fishing waka.