Traditional skills revived
Young Tokelauans will soon be making waves in more ways than one, as a community initiative to build a traditional vaka (canoe) nears completion.
A core group of 30 men and boys has been working eight hours a day, six days a week since November to carve a Tokelauan outrigger vaka from two huge totara logs.
The vaka is an attempt by Porirua’s Tokelauan elders to interest young people in the culture and traditions of their homeland.
Once complete, the vaka will be launched and used to teach teenagers fishing and navigation skills, community member Moses Viliamu said.
‘‘It’s something to get the young people interested.
‘‘ They like things to be hands-on. We’re going to use it to teach the culture to the next generation, about how to sail, how to read the stars, how to read the water and fishing techniques.’’
Vaka are hugely important to Tokelauans – without them there would be no food or communication on the three tiny atolls that make up the nation.
Hardly any plants grow on the coral atolls except coconut trees, so fishing provides a huge part of Tokelauans’ diets, Mr Viliamu said.
‘‘They say if we didn’t have the vaka we wouldn’t survive in Tokelau.’’
The vaka project only came about after Mr Viliamu, a painter and graphic artist, applied for Creative New Zealand funding and received $ 20,000. Mana Community Grants also chipped in $4500 for educational resources.
‘‘ We were over the moon when they said we won [the funding],’’ he said.
‘‘The whole community was really happy.’’
Master carver Vase Reupena has passed his skills on to the community’s amateur carvers, first teaching them how to make the carving tools themselves, then how to butterflyjoin two hollowed logs together to form the seven-seater vaka.
The canoe will be seaworthy and the community is planning an ambitious journey from Porirua to Auckland in it, Mr Viliamu said.
Porirua is home to 6000 Tokelauans, the highest number in the world, including in Tokelau which has a population of 1500.
‘‘We like to unofficially claim Porirua as the Tokelau capital of the world,’’ Mr Viliamu said.
Most Tokelauans came to New Zealand in the 1960s to get factory jobs and escape overcrowding back home, Mr Viliamu said. Each atoll in Tokelau is about the size of four rugby fields and the three islands together have an area of just 10 square kilometres.
The vaka has been built at Matauala Hall in Cannons Creek, which was built in the 1970s as a gathering place for Porirua’s Tokelauan community.
Group effort: Porirua’s Tokelauan community is carving a vaka to teach the next generation traditional fishing and navigation skills. Artist Moses Viliamu, front right, won the community $25,000 in grants for the project, which was led by master carver Vase Reupena, third from front on the right.