By Brad Wong, Crew member for the Hikianalia voyage from Aotearoa to Tahiti
On Monday September 18, 2012 a group of 15 crew members headed north to visit the towns of Waitangi and Aurere to learn about the history of canoes and the first voyage of Hōkūle‘a to Aotearoa. Maori tahunga tarai waka Uncle Hector Busby, arranged for our group to go to Waitangi to learn about the famous waka taua (Maori war canoe) Ngatokimatawhaorua, which was built for the centennial of the Treaty of Waitangi. The waka is 116 ft. long (almost twice the length of Hōkūle‘a!) and is paddled by over 80 people. Its bow and stern are made from one giant kauri tree.
Continuing on our journey to Aurere, we stayed with Uncle Hector at his home. Nainoa showed us the stars in the southern sky as we stood in the middle of a large star compass. Each house of the star compass is marked by a different kiʻi and if you sit directly in the middle, each kiʻi is aligned with the horizon.
Star Compass. Photo by Jenna Ishii
Over the years, Uncle Hector has built countless waka of all sorts, including the double hulled sailing canoes Te Aurere and Ngahiraka-mai-tawhiti currently sailing on their way to Rapa Nui. Uncle Hector talked to us about how to select kauri logs for carving and describing that one side of the tree is denser than the other, making it perfect for making large waka taua needing a dense bottom to keep it upright in the water.
Uncle Hector even took us to the Waipoua Forest to see where these giant kauri trees come from. We visited Tane Mahuta which is over 2,000 years old, and it takes 28 people to hold each other’s hands around the base of the tree.
Tane Mahuta. Photo by Jenna Ishii
For me, as a person who has been around canoes for most of my life, to see, listen, and learn from any kalai wa‘a is priceless. The skill that all these people have at finding logs to carve and working with the wood to make a living canoe is extremely impressive and inspiring. The craftsmanship on the canoes we saw especially the inlay carvings was amazing and an incredible work of art definitely giving life to every waka.