New Year Honours: Hekenukumai Busby

By Mike Barrington

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Hekenukumai Busby could set a boat's course from here to Rarotonga with a glance at the stars and he wants young Maori to learn the ancient Polynesian skill.

He is close to starting construction on a $1 million wananga (school) to teach waka building and celestial navigation on a reserve on his whanau land at Aurere, north of Taipa.

Now 81, the waka tohunga sees the creation of an education centre to ensure Polynesian navigation arts will not be lost as his "last little effort, and then it will be up to the boys who want to keep going".

Mr Busby was cautious yesterday when asked to comment on being appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the New Year Honours list, after receiving an MBE in 1994.

"Nothing to do with me," he said, loath to blow his own trumpet.

He received both honours for his services to Maori. He has led traditional waka construction and the revival of celestial navigation methods in Northland, building about 28 waka for iwi around New Zealand and for international groups.

Earlier this year, he completed a 10-week full circumnavigation of the Polynesian triangle with a twin-hulled waka and, in 2010, was the first New Zealand Maori to be appointed as a Polynesian master navigator. A branch of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, established at Aurere earlier this year, teaches canoe carving.

Mr Busby has been involved with the Waitangi National Trust for more than 50 years, maintaining the waka Ngatokimatawhaorua. He was the Tai Tokerau delegate on the national kapa haka body for 25 years and is now a life member.

He said there was a lot of interest in learning traditional waka construction and celestial navigation, with knowledge of the stars helping "a lot of guys who were on the wrong track - it's got them back on the straight and narrow".

He was pleased to have made the voyage to Easter Island, which completed circumnavigation of the Polynesian triangle, recalling how in 1985 Sir James Henare had said he hoped some day Maori would repeat the sailing feats of their ancestors.

Mr Busby described offering up a personal prayer to Sir James.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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