A large waka on the horizon at sunrise.

Huinga Waka – A Gathering of Canoes

1 Feb 2022
For Waitangi Day 2022, staff at Ngā Taonga combed through the archives to make a special audiovisual programme to commemorate the signing of Te Tiriti.

Each Waitangi Day, Ngā Taonga creates an audiovisual programme that we share with libraries and museums around the country. Maimoa Toataua-Wallace, one of the curators involved, explains the kaupapa and process behind this year’s compilation Huinga Waka – A Gathering of Canoes. The second part of this blog explores the material used, and finishes with a glossary of kupu hou (new words).

Hero image: Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua on the horizon at sunrise. From Rere Ki Uta. Rere Ki Tai (1988). Courtesy of Ngāpuhi and John Miller.

Excerpt from Hiunga Waka | A Gathering of Canoes

Huinga Waka is a 20-minute compilation that follows the building, launching and paddling of waka taua – a huge cooperative undertaking that requires the knowledge, skill and labour of many people to succeed. Many of the faces of those involved, and the places where the construction and launching take place, are found on recordings in our archival collections.

Links to the videos used in this compilation are available below.

Image of Princess-Te-Kirihaehae-Te-Puea-Herangi.

Princess Te Kirihaehae Te Puea Herangi. Shown her wearing the New Years medal she received in 1938, the Commander of the British Empire (CBE). Courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library.

The kaupapa of this programme was inspired by two things – the vision of Te Kirihaehae Te Puea Hērangi, and various whakataukī (proverbs or sayings).

For the 1940 commemorations of the centenary of the signing of Te Tiriti, Te Puea envisaged the construction of seven waka tūpuna that would recall the migration of iwi Māori from Hawaiki to Aotearoa. Though some waka were built, her vision was not fully realised until 1990, for the sesquicentennial.

In addition to this, Huinga Waka is guided by whakataukī that illustrate key messages and concepts, in particular the importance of cooperation that is required for a successful voyage. Waitangi Day invites all of us to reflect on the foundation and development of our country – and the role we each have to play.

Image or Tāne Mahuta.

Tane Mahuta from iNaturalist.


Te wao-nui-ā-Tāne – The great forest of Tāne

Our waka journey begins not with a paddle in hand, but an adze or saw, in the great forest of Tāne. We must first construct our vessel: ‘The life of a waka begins with the death of a tree’ as Tukuroirangi Morgan notes in Waka – The Awakening Dream (1990). Many karakia are conducted to ensure that when taking from the forest of Tāne Mahuta, respect for the sacredness of rākau (trees) is shown. These concepts and more are acknowledged when conducting karakia. You can learn more in this 1987 recording that explores and exemplifies karakia for felling trees, featuring Selwyn Muru and Haare Williams.

Listen to Nga Puna Waihanga

  • Kohikohia ngā maramara – Gather the chips together

Once we have our tree, work on the waka can begin. This whakataukī derives from a tongikura (saying) of King Tāwhiao ‘Kohikohia ngā maramara o te waka kia topu ai ki to aroaro. Waiho ma waho hei wherawhera he kokopi tau – Gather the chips of the canoe together and confront the challenges before us’. It is also a call to people to gather together in trying times.

Each iwi have their own kaupapa, techniques and processes for waka construction, but they all require many people to come together. The work is overseen by tohunga – in this way, the less experienced can learn. Traditionally, native trees are used in the construction, though material like fibre glass is also an option.

Lastly, the work on the waka is not complete until we ‘gather the wooden chips together’ and burn them.

  • Me he pītau whakareia – Like the carved figurehead of a canoe

This phrase is an acknowledgement of appreciation – each waka is unique, beautifully crafted and rich in meaning. The iwi and the wider community will be able to see the skill and care put into the waka taua. The term ‘pītau’ is the carved figurehead of a canoe that is often ornamented with specific spiral designs that may vary from iwi to iwi. The term ‘whakarei’ means to ornament or to embellish. We can now prepare it for launch.

Launching Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua.

Launching Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua. From NZBC News Maori War Canoe (1974).

  • Rere ki uta, rere ki tai – From land to sea

This whakataukī is often heard when embarking on a journey. It is said in hope of safe travels from land to sea; then from the domain of Tangaroa back to Papatūānuku. After the long journey it takes to construct a waka, here we arrive to the shore, or perhaps the bank of the Waikato River, where the launching of waka takes place. For kaihoe (paddlers) and kaiarahi (leaders), now is the time their long hours of training are called upon.

  • Te pae tawhiti – The far horizon

‘Te pae tawhiti’ derives from the whakataukī ‘Ko te pae tawhiti, whāia kia tata. Ko te pae tata, whakamaua kia tīnā – Seek to bring distant horizons closer and sustain and maintain those that have arrived’.

As the challenging voyage nears its end, we now think about our arrival. For many in 1990, the destination was Waitangi as 22 waka and other ships arrived from around New Zealand for the 150 year commemorations of Waitangi Day. As a country we come from different places, but at the end of a long journey, we all savour being welcomed home by loved ones.

Waka house - Te Korowai ō Mākiukiu.

Te Korowai ō Mākiukiu, courtesy Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Huinga Waka – A Gathering of Canoes drew material from the following recordings:

NZBC News Māori War Canoe 1974

This silent black and white newsreel shows Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua at Waitangi being prepared for New Zealand Day celebrations in 1974. This is the world’s largest in use waka taua and it was commissioned by Te Puea in 1938. It was carved from three large kauri trees, is 35 metres long and weighs six tonnes. It takes its name from Kupe’s original ocean-voyaging waka.

Te Korowai ō Mākiukiu is the waka house where Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua rests when not at sea.

Learn more about Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua with Ihaka Poata as he traces back in te reo Māori the history of this waka with whakapapa, karakia and more.

Tāhere Tikitiki: The Making of a Māori Canoe 1974

This unique film shows the construction of Tahere-tikitiki II by the men of Tūrangawaewae Marae, Ngāruawāhia, under the supervision of elder Piri Poutapu. The whole process took 18 months and was done with blessing of Dame Te Atairangikaahu – the waka later paddled to mark her tangi in 2006. In addition to Tahere-tikitiki II, two other waka were constructed during the making of this film: Rangatahi and Tumanaako.

You can watch the complete documentary on NZ On Screen.

Rere Ki Uta, Rere Ki Tai: The Voyage 1988

To celebrate the centenary of Whangaroa County, Ngā-toki-mata-whaorua was paddled for ten hours on a 70 km journey from Waitangi to the head of Whangaroa Harbour. The men were instructed and trained by waka tohunga including Bill Williams and Hector Busby. The waka had been relaunched to mark this special day.

You can watch the complete documentary on NZ On Screen.

Waka – The Awakening Dream 1990

Marking 150 years since the signing of Te Tiriti, the 1990 commemorations at Waitangi saw a mass congregation of waka. The 22-strong fleet was powered by 1,000 paddlers. Many waka were built for the occasion and travelled from around the country. All those that took part did so to honour their tūpuna (ancestors), Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in the spirit of tino rangatiratanga (self-determination/sovereignty)

You can watch the complete documentary on NZ On Screen.

Ngā mihi

It is important to acknowledge the waka and iwi that arrived on the Treaty grounds in 1990. Though some were identified in our programme, we weren’t able to name them all, yet they are still just as important.

In some cases, there were iwi and waka who were unfortunately not able to attend. Each waka and iwi faced their own individual challenges, not only to get to Waitangi on 6 February, but to construct their waka and train their kaihoe – a huge cooperative undertaking that cannot be executed within a small span of a few months. In other instances, waka were damaged on the journey to Waitangi.

Although we do not highlight these challenges in the programme it’s important to acknowledge them.

He nui maunga, e kore e taea te whakaneke; he ngaru moana, mā te ihu o te waka e wāhi.

An enormous mountain cannot be moved along, but a great ocean wave can be pierced by the prow of a canoe.

The solution to some complications is as difficult as moving a mountain. Others, however, can be solved as easily as the canoe parts the wave with the correct vessel.

Tēnei te reo o Ngā Taonga e pōwhiri ana te marea kia mātakitaki mai, whakarongo pīkari mai ki ngā tutuku a ngā tūpuna. Please enjoy Huinga Waka – A Gathering of Canoes by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

Glossary | Kupu Hou

  • Tāne (also Tāne-mahuta, Tāne-nui-a-Rangi and other names) – God of the forest and of birds
  • Tūmatauenga (also known as Tū) – God of war and people
  • taurapa – sternpost
  • tohunga – chosen skilled expert, priest
  • pītau – prow or carved figurehead
  • kaihoe – paddlers
  • kaiarahi – leader

Ngā momo rauemi | Forms of tools

  • toki – stone adze
  • toki uri – dark coloured adze
  • toki ngao tu – medium-sized stone adze used for shaping beams, canoe hulls etc.
  • hemihemi – diminutive adze used with one hand
  • whakanakonako/mirimiri – adze for finishing work, to do final dressing

Ngā momo waka | Forms of different canoes:

  • waka tauā – war canoe
  • waka kōpapa – dugout canoe fashioned from a single log
  • waka tētē – fishing canoe with a carved figurehead and vertical stern piece
  • waka tīwai – dugout canoe with no sides
  • waka ama – outrigger canoe
  • tūpuna waka – ancestral canoe (e.g. Tainui, Te Arawa, Aotea)