Waka take centre-stage at Te Papa museum this summer

By Will Trafford

Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, the ocean-going Waka Hourua is one of several vessels featured on the opening weekend on the new Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti and Manu Rere Moana exhibitions at Te Papa Museum in Wellington, starting November 12. Photo / Supplied

Waka hourua, waka tētē and waka tangata will take centre-stage at Te Papa museum this summer, as it welcomes two major new exhibitions showcasing the vessels, and the expert voyagers who helmed and navigated them.

From Saturday November 12, visitors to Manu Rere Moana, will learn about the knowledge and skills that enabled Māori to sail to Aotearoa in waka hourua (double-hulled, sail-propelled waka) using celestial navigation.

In He Kaupapa Waka visitors will learn about waka taua, waka tētē and waka tangata (carved waka powered by dozens of kaihoe (paddlers).

Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti,  a replica waka hourua, created by the late renowned carver Tā Hekenukumai Ngāiwi Busby (Tā Hek Busby) in an effort to revitalise expertise and history associated with the ocean-going vessels, will greet visitors to the waterfront museum on the launch weekend.

One of more than 60 images taken by photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch at Waitangi in 2020, celebrate the 80th anniversary of the launch of Ngātokimatawhaorua – the waka taua built for the 100-year commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Photo / Supplied

One of more than 60 images taken by photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch at Waitangi in 2020 during 80th anniversary celebrations of the launch of Ngātokimatawhaorua – the waka taua built for centenary commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Photo / Supplied

Two scale replica waka taua, the last to be carved by Tā Hek Busby and his team before he died in 2019, alongside a collection of hoe (paddles) carved by Billy Harrison, a graduate of Te Wānanga o Kupe Mai Tawhiti, will greet visitors inside the exhibition.

“Navigating the Pacific was one of the world’s great acts of exploration, and there is a thriving waka community in Aotearoa today,” says Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa Kaihautū (Māori exhibitions lead).

“We are honoured to celebrate the waka community and its mātauranga at Te Papa.” 

The side-by-side exhibitions feature photographs, video and audio designed to share the mātauranga of waka and immerse visitors in the history of vessels and their pivotal role in the discovery and navigation of Aotearoa.

Manu Rere Moana is a renewal of one of the museum’s long-standing exhibitions and celebrates the intergenerational mātauranga shared across Te Moananui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). Master navigators Hotu Barclay-Kerr, Stan Conrad and Jack Thatcher, who learned navigation from Tā Hek Busby, are the exhibition’s three tohunga (experts).

Karakia, waiata and waka chants, and even the scent of woodchips from a freshly-carved waka immerse visitors in an all-encompassing multi-sensory environment, with the ‘soundscape’ crafted by award-winning musician Tiki Taane.

Sir Hekenukumai and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern exchange smiles during the master waka builder's investiture ceremony. Photo / Peter de Graaf / NZME

Sir Hekenukumai and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern exchange smiles during the master waka builder's investiture ceremony. Photo / Peter de Graaf / NZME

At the heart of both exhibitions is the legacy of Tā Hek Busby, while in Manu Rere Moana, Mau Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia is also featured in the pair's 1980s, multi-decade mission to rekindle the knowledge of Pacific navigation that ultimately culminated in the voyage of Te Aurere, captained by Stan Conrad, from Aotearoa to Rarotonga in 1992. 

The exhibition includes a one-third-size replica of Te Aurere, Te Aurere-iti, built by Tā Hek Busby, along with large-scale hoe urungi (steering paddles) and a rare and precious tau ihu (prow) and tau rapa (stern) lent by Auckland Museum. Sound and video installations evoke the experience of life on the high seas.

Photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch who worked alongside tohunga (experts) Tārai Waka Heemi Eruera, Billy Harrison, Tiki Taane, Cori Marsters, Joel Marsters, and the wider waka community created He Kaupapa Waka.

The exhibition honours kaumātua Wiremu Wiremu alongside Tā Busby, both central figures in the waka world who died in recent times. 

Sixty photographs of waka taua at Waitangi in 2020, celebrate the 80th anniversary of the launch of Ngātokimatawhaorua – the waka taua built for the 100-year commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“The whole waka community, waka hourua, waka taua, waka tētē and waka tangata are coming together to celebrate the taonga and traditions left to us by our tūpuna,”  Bosch says.

“It’s such an honour to be able to bring He Kaupapa Waka to Te Papa Tongarewa and to open it alongside Manu Rere Moana makes it even more special,”

Photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch currated the He Kaupapa Waka exhibition opening at Te Papa museum in Weillington Saturday, November 12, 2022. Photo / Supplied

Photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch currated the He Kaupapa Waka exhibition opening at Te Papa museum in Weillington Saturday, November 12, 2022. Photo / Supplied

Te Papa Head of Mātauranga Māori Migoto Eria says the museum is excited to be able to open the two exhibitions together.

“Te Papa is privileged to have the waka community work with us to share their mātauranga with the world,” Mrs Eria says.

“As was the kōrero of Papa Hek, we are inspired with what our tūpuna could achieve with the guiding knowledge of the whetū marama, the starscape of the Pacific night sky,” says Mrs Eria.

One of more than 60 images captured during commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the launch of Ngātokimatawhaorua – the waka taua built for the 100-year commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and featured in a new exhibition at Te Papa Museum in Wellington this summer. Photo / Te Rawhitiroa Bosch

One of more than 60 images captured during commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the launch of Ngātokimatawhaorua – the waka taua built for the 100-year commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and featured in a new exhibition at Te Papa Museum in Wellington this summer. Photo / Te Rawhitiroa Bosch