Tommy Kapai: Waka centre would do city proud

By Craig Nicholson

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Jack Thatcher (centre) receives Tauranga Moana and Tuhua Island toanga from Awanui and Ani Black, aboard traditional waka Hokule'a in Waikiki, just before it sets sail on an around-the-world voyage.
Jack Thatcher (centre) receives Tauranga Moana and Tuhua Island toanga from Awanui and Ani Black, aboard traditional waka Hokule'a in Waikiki, just before it sets sail on an around-the-world voyage.

There is something about islands that unlocks the free spirit within us all and, for me, I have been an island boy for as long as I can remember.

As a young 5-year-old, I went out to stay with my Uncle Cotty on Motuhoa Island in the Tauranga Harbour and returned there 15 years later to celebrate my 21st birthday with 300 friends - some of whom stayed for three days before finding themselves and a friendly local to take them back to the mainland.

Bali and Leisure Island came next and a six-year stay on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef, followed with fleeting visits to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Cook islands. This connection with the serenity of isolation has kept the frequent flyer in me island-hopping for a good part of my life.

Last week I got to reconnect with my island-style spirit when attending the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) or as some may call it after a night of hula dancing and kava drinking, whoopsee!

What was great about this WIPCE was I got to spend it with some special friends who were in Hawaii to attend the conference and farewell traditional voyaging waka the Hokule'a as it set sail on a three-year voyage around the Earth, highlighting environmental sustainability and cultural harmony, my all-time two favourite kaupapa that rock my boat more than any other.

Jack Thatcher, the master navigator and world renowned traditional waka sailor, was there to represent Tauranga Moana, as was Ani Black (wife of regional councillor Awanui Black), who had recently completed a 3500km traditional waka voyage and, given half the chance, she would have jumped aboard the Hokule'a to sail it down to Tauranga, one of its first ports of call in October.

We have a rich history of waka and their traditional sailors, from navigators such as the Jack Thatchers and Ani Blacks of today, all the way back to when the Takitimu waka sailed into the safe anchorage of Tauranga Moana and Tamatea Pokai Whenua gave over the helm to Tahu, who sailed it south to eventually found the tribe we know today as Ngai Tahu.

Perhaps we need to capture this richness in a setting that no other city in Aotearoa can.

There has been recent korero about rehousing the Te Awanui waka down on The Strand to a more suitable prominent building and perhaps this possibility can be the catalyst in creating a centre that celebrates all of our traditional and ceremonial waka, such as the Takitimu that we get to see once a year on Waitangi Day and the other two traditional waka that Jack and his crew sail into Tauranga for maintenance and wananga training purposes.

With the recent success of the Battle of Gate Pa Exhibition, there is an obvious appetite for the history of Tauranga Moana to be told, and perhaps now is the time to be exploring the option of a first ever world-class traditional waka centre for both locals and overseas visitors to enjoy.

I have often heard it said by our kaumatua that Tauranga has a story like no other iwi when it comes to the three iwi having a connection to the moana, so it makes sense to tell that story to the world, just as it did to tell the story of the Battle of Gate Pa.

When I stood on the wharf with the thousands of others to farewell the Hokule'a, I could not help but dream about the welcome it will receive when it reaches our shores, and perhaps this could be the starting point of a seminar on traditional sailing that could kick-start the korero of a world-class waka centre.

We have grown up culturally in our town and we should embrace the cornerstones of our rich heritage, so others will be encouraged to tell their stories about their founding fathers, both Maori and European.

By the time this goes to press, I will be on the other side of the world from Hawaii on another island off Marseilles in the Mediterranean, at a conference coincidentally or divinely on islands, where I will speak about a lonely little island in the Tauranga Harbour called Tu Koro, which a group of us helped save - so its story can be told to future generations in a similar way to the story being told by the Hokule'a as it sails around the islands of the world.

I look forward to sharing that journey with you next Monday. Mahalo et merci.

Tommy Kapai is a Tauranga author and writer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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