Yesterday, Hec Busby began his visit to Waitangi quietly, down at the beach with the waka crews. A chance to say a personal thanks. Them, to him, for making what they do possible. And him to them, because nobody does it on their own: builds waka and carves a history into them and learns to paddle and sail and navigate across the ocean under the stars.
Yesterday was his investiture day. The day Matua Hec became Sir Hekenukumai Busby. The Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy, was there to do the honours. The kaumatua and kuia of Te Tai Tokerau were there. Titewhai Harawira was there.The Prime Minister was there, along with many members of her cabinet and other MPs from the three governing parties.
Sir Hekenukumai would have appreciated all that, but the people whose presence would have meant the most were the ones down on the beach that morning. Some of them were the men and women, girls and boys of Te Wānanga-a-Kupe Mai Tawhiti, the waka school he founded at Aurere, near Kaitaia in the Far North. Others were crew members of the waka of his iwi, Te Rarawa te Aupōuri, who had journeyed to Waitangi to be with him. All of thempeople who fill his life and to whom he has given so much.
Before long, they were surging up the track, chanting, and on to the parade ground. They crossed in groups, in long single file, and formed an honour guard for their Sir Hec, who followed in a golf cart at the head of a large procession of whanau.
The rain came and went, and came and came again, and the umbrellas went up and down, all through the speeches. There was a pōwhiri for Sir Hec himself, after which he crossed from the manuhiri side, the visitors, to become tangata whenua.
There's a very large pōhutukawa on the treaty grounds, planted by Queen Elizabeth in 1953. When she was welcomed to the Whare Rūnanga that year, Hec Busby was the kaitaki, the warrior who presented the challenge. He performed the difficult feat of throwing his taiaha or spear into the air, catching it in his raised outstretched hand and rolling it down his arm to his mouth.
The Governor-General walked by that tree yesterday, hand-in-hand with Titewhai Harawira, to receive her own pōwhiri. It was spectacular, with a triple challenge, and while her large party maintained a dignified solemnity throughout, Dame Patsy didn't. She just grinned from ear to ear. She could not keep the smile from her face.
Busby was a bridge builder. Left school the day he turned 15 and built, we were told, 178 bridges throughout Northland. But then, as he's said himself many times, that he turned to building other kinds of bridges.
In 1984 he was invited to travel to Hawai'i, where work had begun to re-establish the ancient skills of oceanic voyaging. Back in Aotearoa, Busby gathered a crew of 120 and set them on a three-year training course. He led the construction, from tree-felling to finished waka, of the double-hulled waka hourua. He led the crew training. And out on the ocean, he led the celestial navigation.
Crossing the world, by reading the tides and the birds and most of all, the stars.
What Busby and his crew did was prove that Māori did not arrive in this land by accident, which had long been a popular theory. That they could build the seaworthy craft, and sail them, and return. It's called changing the course of history.
What he also did, along with others, was re-establish, for Māoridom everywhere and more widely in the Pacific, the skills and aspirations of waka building and sailing. He helped to breathe the mauri back into that world.
He sat there during the long morning, a large man with a friendly, fleshy face, 86 now and frail, a cloak around his shoulders. He didn't make a speech. But tributes rolled on: few have been so wonderfully spoken for.
Dame Patsy spoke of the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, where the "Kaitaia Carving", dating from the 14th century, was on show with a similar carving from Hawaii. The works offer evidence of the "back and forth", as she called it, that the great navigators of the Pacific undertook so long ago. "They connect Sir Hec directly to that long history," she said.
He's curiously connected to history, our Sir Hec. He has the name Busby because one of his tipuna was godson to, and given the name of, James Busby, the British resident in 1840 who built the Treaty House, just across the grounds from the Whare Rūnanga.
And the ceremony connected him to still more recent history. In 1940, having declared that Māori had already given so much but now they must give again, Sir Apirana Ngata farewelled the Māori Battalion at Waitangi. On the paepae, the forecourt in front of the Whare Rūnanga, Ngata took off his jacket and led a great haka. There's a famous photograph; it became a famous moment in Māoridom.
Yesterday, history was also in the making. The waka crew members from Te Rarawa led a haka on that same paepae, immediately after the Governor-General dubbed the masterbuilder Sir Hekenukumai. They were joined by the trainees from the waka school, and students from colleges of the north - Te Kāpehu Whetū in Whangarei and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Āniwaniwa in Kaitaia.
It was ferocious, and it rolled on and on until the warriors were exhausted and their voices reduced to croaks, and then the school students took over and the singing began.
"Thank you," said Haami Piripi, chair of Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa, at the end. "Thank you for your gift to the nation. Your gift of knowledge."