Jamie Gray is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Dutch paddlers take up waka challenge

Tourists visiting the picturesque Dutch university town of Leiden could be excused for doing a double-take as members of a local rowing club put a traditional Maori waka through its paces on local canals.

Every Wednesday, members of Royal Dutch Rowing Club "Njord" have been hitting the water as part of an undertaking to keep a part of Maori culture alive on the other side of the world.

As chairman of the club's waka committee, Niels van den Berg explains, the crew have been immersed in Maori culture since 2010, when National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden had an exposition on Maori culture.

The waka Te Hono ki Aotearoa was made in Doubtless Bay by master waka builder Hekenukumai Busby for the museum, where it is on permanent loan.

One of loan's conditions was that the waka had to be used, and not be displayed behind glass.

"This is where we came in the picture, the museum needed a crew to paddle in the wakas," van den Berg said.

The museum chose to ask the Royal Dutch Rowing Club "Njord" to do this, because of the club's appreciation of tradition.

Njord formed a crew and they were trained by Maori in paddling, haka, culture and waiata.

"We have two wakas: a waka tete, Tahi Mana (coming from the Dutchman Abel Tasman who discovered New-Zealand) and a waka taua, Te Hono Ki Aotearoa (representing the bond between the Netherlands and New-Zealand)," van den Berg said.

The waka taua is a traditional war waka made from kauri.

"As a crew we train weekly, every Wednesday, to stay in shape," he said. "We train our hakas, waiatas and paddling as much as possible."

Every Waitangi Day, a small part of the crew travels to New-Zealand.

"They celebrate Waitangi there and exchange knowledge so we can train more and different things," he says.

The club's waka paddling contingent performed the haka for gorup of visting New Zealand tourists during a visit last week in the Netherlands, funded by the Netherlands Government in advance of a trade mission and state visit early next month.

- NZ Herald

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