Far North link to wa’a project
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.