Hundreds honour waka man

By Peter de Graaf


A Northland man credited with reviving the ancient arts of waka building and celestial navigation has celebrated his 80th birthday.

Hekenukumai ("Hec") Busby celebrated the milestone at Taipa Bay Resort on Saturday afternoon, a short distance from his workshop at Aurere in Doubtless Bay.

Robert Gabel, chairman of the Nga Waka Federation, said more than 200 guests turned out to honour the waka tohunga's achievements.

"They heard a lot of very beautiful, fitting words about Hector and the impact he's had on many people's lives, through his willingness to share his knowledge with young people and revitalising the waka kaupapa - not just in Tai Tokerau, but in New Zealand and overseas as well," Mr Gabel said.

"He also revitalised the different types of waka and the cultural protocols around them, and reconnected the ancient navigation techniques using the stars and the currents."

It seemed fitting that a man who had started his career as a bridge builder had gone on to build bridges between people - not just between Maori and Pakeha, but also between other Polynesian cultures and North America's native peoples.

Saturday's event was MC'd by Pita Paraone, who said the guests included representatives of King Tuheitia, Te Puia Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua, Te Arawa and other tribes. Mr Busby's own people, Te Rarawa, and other Far North iwi were represented.

Engineering colleagues from his bridge-building days, including Far North Mayor Wayne Brown and Culham Engineering founder Dave Culham, were also there. Sir Graham and Lady Latimer were among the elders.

That guest list showed the esteem in which Mr Busby was held, Mr Paraone said.

The master waka builder has made at least 30 waka, including several waka hourua (double-hulled sailing canoes) used to cross the Pacific. Ten of his waka are in Hawaii and one, based in the Netherlands, was used in a river pageant for Queen Elizabeth II's 60th jubilee.

On August 17 two of his waka hourua are due to leave Auckland for Rapanui (Easter Island), a 18,500km journey expected to take up to 10 weeks with navigation only by the stars, moon, sun and currents. Mr Busby will travel the first leg of the journey.

His waka have already sailed between New Zealand, Hawaii and many other islands in the Pacific. The aim of this journey is to "close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle" formed by Hawaii, New Zealand and Rapanui.

A modest, practical man with little appetite for publicity or fuss, Mr Busby's work has nonetheless taken him around the world many times.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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