Te Ati Awa hapū Ngāti Te Whiti today took on an honorary but important role in the commissioning of the new Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Aotearoa.
For months representatives from the hapū have been involved in the plans for Aotearoa, including today when the commanding officer and Captain Simon Rooke was presented with a taonga designed by the hapū.
Rooke says receiving the taonga gave him, “an incredible sense of humility and pride. It’s not mine. I’m just the kaitiaki and I’m going to take good care of her.”
HMNZS Aotearoa will be affiliated to Taranaki. Ngāti Te Whiti Chairman Trenton Martin was invited to be a part of the whakanoa (cleanse) of the waka in Korea in Labour Weekend 2019, alongside Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, who launched the ship.
“Because it’s in our rohe of Ngāti Te Whiti o Ngāmotu, we took the responsibility for bringing together the hononga because of the ingoa of this waka, Aotearoa - it gives you the privilege of actually being the host symbolically."
Captain Simon Rooke presented with Tai-panuku / Source: NZDF
The taonga, Tai-Panuku, presented to Captain Rooke, was created from kauri timber, from a log washed ashore at Kiritehere Beach, south of Kawhia in 1981 by Te Pane Ariki, Te Poropiti Whakamutunga and Alexander Phillips.
Tai-Panuku, meaning smooth flowing tide, was crafted at Te Karangaiti carving school, Mana Ariki, in Taumaranui by Gregory Keenan of Ngāti Te Whiti o Ngāmotu.
“On the top of it is a kohatu that has come directly from Paritutu,” Keenan says.
Paritutu holds spiritual, ancestral and historical importance to Māori in Taranaki. It is recorded in Māori oral and written history and waiata (songs) as a place of shelter and refuge in times of need. The four paua around the kohatu representsNgā Tōpito o te Ao, the four compass points, Tai Tokerau, Te Tonga, Te Tai Rāwhiti and te Tai Hauāuru.
“It’s a very spiritual pou. It represents the rohe, the bounty between Taranaki and Te Ati Awa,” says Keenan.
A mauri stone, Moturoa, also rests in the engine room of HMNZS Aotearoa, gifted by Ngāti Te Whiti.
Moturoa is a river stone from Huatoki River in New Plymouth, sculptured by Graham Wilford of Te Kupenga Stone Sculpture Society, located at the base of Paritutu.
“My whole focus was what represents our port, Paritutu, and I wanted to do something that represented the harbour.”
He says the koru around the outside of the taonga represents waves and the ship being guided into safe harbour.
“Where [Moturoa] has ended up will be a significant event for the rest of my life because it’s here forever,” Wilford says.
For Captain Rooke, it will be a highlight of his career being a kaitiaki of HMNZS Aotearoa.
“Firstly it’s the name, the name Aotearoa, which means so much to us and that brings a higher degree of mana that anybody could possibly imagine," he says.
HMNZS Aotearoa is the largest-ever Royal New Zealand Navy ship.
Aotearoa boasts state-of-the-art design and capability features including ice-strengthening and ‘winterisation’ features for operations in Antarctica. The ship can carry up to 22 containers of supplies and produce 100 tonnes of fresh water each day, particularly useful when providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
“She’s a new capability, beyond that of a normal naval fuel tanker, because she can go into the ice regions of Antarctica in the summertime," he says.
"She’s got a massive range and logistic capability for us and of course she, combined with the rest of our fleet, will provide a potent capability for dealing with the problems in our region that we've encountered especially innatural disasters and resource protection,” Rooke says.
Today Rooke read his command directive in te reo Māori, a challenge since he has just recovered from brain surgery.
“It’s important to me to be able to speak te reo. I'm not fluent but it is important that I read my command in the language that the majority of my crew affiliate with - it's really important.”
The Royal New Zealand Navy deputy chief, Commodore Melissa Ross of Ngāpuhi, says the ship will open up many more opportunities.
“One for our people and then two for our country,” she says.
“If you're on board one of the ships you'll see some of the chefs, you'll see some of the seamen combat specialists, technicians, all sorts of trades that we have in the navy and we'll have a number of those people on the ship.”
Aotearoa will be welcomed by Taranaki iwi in November.