As commemorative events are gearing up throughout New Zealand to mark 250 years since Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour first visited our shores, our thoughts turn to Polynesian heritage, our bicultural treaty, and the massive ocean journeys shared by the many cultures in New Zealand.
Waka, in particular large vaka ama with attached outriggers and sails, were essential to the settlement of the Pacific, especially from east Polynesia to New Zealand.
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Māori soon adapted this form to traverse New Zealand's coasts and river networks, their craft assisted by the vast tracts of Podocarp and kauri forests.
Two major highways in the North were the Mangakahia and Wairua Rivers, which both carry Papatuanuku's tears along to the great Wairoa River travelling south and out at the meeting place Kaipara Harbour.
While supporting a collective of native biota such as the endangered long- and short-fin tuna (eels) and feeding wetlands and freshwater springs, these rivers were once the only access ways, joined to traditional ara (pathways).
Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North is privileged to be kaitiaki of two waka tiwai (river canoes), hailing from the Mangakahia-Whatitiri area, west of Whangārei. One is 9.6m long and the other 5.5m long, although they are both easily handled by one person.
Each has their own whakapapa, leading back to their original crafting in the early to mid-19th century, although the exact details of their origins are lost to the memories of our tipuna (ancestors). The first was kindly donated by Peter and Thelma Buisman in 1964 and the second by Cyril Wright in 1983.
At Kiwi North, we are making changes to the area where the waka tiwai are at present, assisted by a funding grant from Lotteries Environment and Heritage.
Over the past few months we have been developing a key display presenting our waka at their best, within a conservation-safe environment, with interpretative content explaining their interesting heritage within the context of early tribal interactions, large-scale kauri industries, new settlers, land sales and alienation and important Northland events such as the 1880s Poroti War and arrival of World War II American military camps.
We thank the Whatitiri Maori Reserves Trust, Environment River patrol, Te Au Marie Trust, and the Hihiaua Cultural Centre for their support of this project. Our aim is for completion by October 31, to tie in to the tarai waka (waka building) festival at the Hihiaua Centre and the arrival of the "Fleet" in the Whangārei Harbour.
With waka craftspeople being termed an "endangered species" at a recent Waitangi Voyaging Wananga, this project is a chance to bring greater appreciation to one of the earliest and most important forms of transport set on our local taonga, the Mangakahia and Wairua Rivers.
• Georgia Kerby is exhibitions curator of Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.