Far North link to wa’a project

The Northland Age - - Rural News -

An an­cient Hawai­ian wa’a (waka/ca­noe) is con­nect­ing ex­perts from across the Pa­cific, in­clud­ing the Far North, and pro­vid­ing a unique op­por­tu­nity for Ma¯ori ca­noe builders to doc­u­ment the ca­noe’s con­struc­tion and help re­vi­talise the an­cient craft.

The wa’a was re­vealed to New Zealand Ma¯ori Art and Crafts In­sti­tute carvers at the Tuku Iho l Liv­ing Legacy ex­hi­bi­tion at the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in Wash­ing­ton DC in July last year.

Now, a NZMACI waka ex­pert and two stu­dents will re­turn to the Smith­so­nian this week to join those from the mu­seum and two wa’a ex­perts from Hawaii to par­tic­i­pate in a unique project to in­ves­ti­gate and re­cover the an­cient tra­di­tions.

The ca­noe, re­puted to be the old­est ex­ist­ing doc­u­mented Hawai­ian wa’a in the world, was given to the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory by Queen Kapi’olani of Hawaii in 1887. It is made from lashed planks, a con­struc­tion tech­nique now dor­mant in Ocea­nia.

Head of the NZMACI Te Ta­puwae o te Waka (Na­tional Ca­noe School), James Eruera, said the an­cient ca­noe in­cor­po­rated a long­stand­ing knowl­edge of engi­neer­ing, com­bined with “new” ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques from the mid-1880s, when it was likely built.

“The wa’a takes its form di­rectly from a tree, but to­day a tree’s shape doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily dic­tate the shape of the fin­ished ca­noe. The ca­noe it­self is a lens into the past,” he said.

Mr Eruera (Nga¯ti Hau, Nga¯ti Ka­ha­rau, Te Uri o Hina) will take part in the Smith­so­nian project with two of his waka-build­ing stu­dents, Bryce Motu (Te Rarawa, Tainui) and Les­lie Matiu (Te Rarawa, Nga¯ti Kahu).

Te Puia gen­eral man­ager sales and mar­ket­ing, Kiri Atkin­son-Crean, said the ob­jec­tive of Tuku Iho was to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment for cultural con­ver­sa­tions, en­abling the shar­ing of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ences be­tween Ma¯ori and host na­tions across the globe.

“In ad­di­tion to tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary works of art, live ta¯ moko, kapa haka and con­tem­po­rary mu­sic, the ex­hi­bi­tion also in­cluded in-situ ca­noe­build­ing,” she said.

“The ca­noe com­pleted on site as part of the ex­hi­bi­tion was gifted to the Smith­so­nian to strengthen ties be­tween our two coun­tries. The re­la­tion­ship forged from this is one of the key rea­sons why we were in­vited to view the wa’a.

“Ul­ti­mately this op­por­tu­nity has come from Tuku Iho l Liv­ing Legacy, an international cultural en­gage­ment and events pro­gramme. We have ex­hib­ited in Los An­ge­les, China, Malaysia, Chile, Ar­gentina and Brazil, but this is the first time we have been in­vited back in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity to fur­ther a cultural project.”

Mr Eruera said the carvers would ex­am­ine the wa’a in de­tail, with a par­tic­u­lar eye to as­sess­ing its con­struc­tion and lash­ing, as well as in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ca­noe-build­ing tools and mod­els.

“A digital copy of the wa’a will also be made, to make it ac­ces­si­ble to com­mu­ni­ties of ori­gin and the wider Pa­cific. We hope the scan­ning will also re­sult in a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the ca­noe,” he said. “To come to­gether from dif­fer­ent points of the Pa­cific, to have this conversation and share our views on ca­noe­build­ing, is an hon­our and a once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity for me and my stu­dents.”

The conversation be­tween the carvers would also be recorded, with the aim of later pro­duc­ing a film to con­vey the knowl­edge gen­er­ated to a wider au­di­ence.

Ms Atkin­son-Crean says this “ex­clu­sive” op­por­tu­nity had stemmed from Tuku Iho.

“It is an ex­am­ple of how Tuku Iho pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for Ma¯ori and New Zealand to reach across cultural and ge­o­graphic boundaries, to forge and strengthen re­la­tion­ships in all ar­eas — eco­nomic, so­cial, cultural and po­lit­i­cal — and demon­strate the val­ues these can bring to each cul­ture,” she said.

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