Allan George knew making a film about his uncle Sir Hector Busby would be emotional, but he had no idea it would be the star navigator's last.

Just two weeks after visiting the man credited with reviving the art of waka carving and celestial navigation in Aotearoa, Sir Hec, as he is affectionately known, had passed away.

The newly-released Loading Docs short documentary He Hekenga Tūhura captures those last words in te reo, where Sir Hec ominously considers who will carry the knowledge after he's gone.

For George (Ngāti Kahungunu), his uncle's passing added yet another spiritual layer to the film, born out of a promise made to his stepfather Monty - Sir Hec's brother - as he lay on his deathbed last year.

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Allan George, director of Loading Docs short documentary He Hekenga Tuhura about his uncle star navigator and waka carver Sir Hector Busby. Photo / Pepe de Hoyos
Allan George, director of Loading Docs short documentary He Hekenga Tuhura about his uncle star navigator and waka carver Sir Hector Busby. Photo / Pepe de Hoyos

As George sat at his side, Monty phoned his brother up north.

"How you getting on?" Sir Hec asked.

"Not good," replied Monty. "By the way, Allan is going to come film you."

The following day Monty passed away, and George knew what he had to do.

The idea to make a film about his uncle was not a "lightbulb moment", rather a longing George had to capture the ancient knowledge of waka hourua - Polynesian double hulled sailing canoes - that ran through his whānau.

Sir Hector Busby and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the master waka builder's investiture ceremony. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Sir Hector Busby and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the master waka builder's investiture ceremony. Photo / Peter de Graaf

He wanted to capture it, and he did, just in time.

Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu) was born in 1932 in Pukepoto, a settlement between Kaitaia and Ahipara, to Timoti and Wini Busby.

He started out as a bridge builder, before eventually finding his passion in restoring, building and ultimately sailing waka.

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In the film, Sir Hec reflects on quickly falling in love with Māori seafaring traditions, the relationships he built with his mentors and sailing using nothing but the stars.

When the waka hourua Hōkūleʻa arrived in New Zealand in 1985 after voyaging from Hawaii, Sir James Henare said to Sir Hec he wanted Māori to build their own and make the voyage back.

"Tā Henare said Pākehā don't believe that we navigated our way here," Sir Hec says in the film. When Henare died in 1989, Sir Hec took on the mantel, to prove the Pākehā wrong.

The tangi for Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi (Sir Hector Busby) at Te Uri o Hina Marae in Ahipara, Northland. Photo / File
The tangi for Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi (Sir Hector Busby) at Te Uri o Hina Marae in Ahipara, Northland. Photo / File

He learned the craft from Micronesian master navigator Pius "Mau" Piailug, then regarded as the last to hold the knowledge, and who spent 10 months living with Sir Hec at Pukepoto.

Once the waka hourua Te Aurere was built they made a return voyage first to Rarotonga in 1992, and three years later, fulfilled Sir James' wish in reaching Hawaii.

Stepping away from his roots in comedy writing, George as director, working with producer Justin Scott and director of photography Pepe de Hoyos, wanted to create something truly special about his uncle.

"What Sir Hec has done has a ripple effect, and will continue for generations, but what was behind it? The heart, the mana, and I wanted to capture that," George said.


Allan George

Allan George (Ngāti Kahungunu) is an Auckland based writer/director/editor/filmmaker working at NZME.

He is a five time Tropfest New Zealand finalist, won the Academy Award-Accredited LA Shorts Fest 'Best Screenplay' award and has been a finalist in some of the world's most prestigious screenwriting competitions, including: Screencraft, Hollywood Screenplay Contest, Canada International Film Festival, HollyShorts and more.

He has also had his work screen at festivals around the world including ImagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival and Austin Film Festival.