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Te Papa exhibitions celebrate waka and their communities

News: 1 November 2022

Te Papa media release.

Two new exhibitions opening at Te Papa on Saturday 12 November celebrate waka – their inspiring history and the communities who keep the knowledge of waka voyaging alive today.

In Manu Rere Moana | Pacific Voyagers visitors can learn about the knowledge and skill that enabled Māori to sail to Aotearoa in waka hourua (double-hulled sailing waka) using celestial navigation.

He Kaupapa Waka | A Fleet of Waka celebrates the continued culture of waka taua, waka tētē, and waka tangata, the elaborately-carved waka powered by dozens of kaihoe (paddlers) working in unison.

A photograph from the exhibition He Kaupapa Waka shows a waka taua at Waitangi 2020. Photo by Te Rawhitiroa Bosch, courtesy of Te Papa.

In these side-by-side exhibitions, stunning photographs along with video and immersive soundscapes share the mātauranga and history of waka, and their significance for the thriving waka community in Aotearoa today. 

“Navigating the Pacific was one of the world’s great acts of exploration, and there is a thriving waka community in Aotearoa today,” says Dr Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa Kaihautū | Māori Co-leader. 

“We are honoured to celebrate the waka community and its mātauranga at Te Papa.”

The opening weekend of 12 and 13 November will feature public talks, workshops and whānau activities, including the chance to see the waka hourua (double-hulled sailing waka) Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti on the Wellington waterfront. A highlight on Saturday 12 is a panel talk with ten original members of Te Aurere’s maiden voyage to Rarotonga in 1992.

Full list of opening weekend activities for Manu Rere Moana | He Kaupapa Waka.

Manu Rere Moana

The navigation of the Pacific by waka hourua (double-hulled sailing waka) is one of the great achievements of human technology. The exhibition Manu Rere Moana | Pacific Voyagers celebrates the mātauranga of celestial navigation that enabled these extraordinary voyages.

At its heart is the legacy of Tā Hekenukumai Ngāiwi Busby (Tā Hek Busby) and Mau Piailug of Satawal, Micronesia. In the 1980s and 90s they rekindled the knowledge of Pacific navigation, culminating in the voyage of Te Aurere, captained by Stan Conrad, from Aotearoa to Rarotonga in 1992. The exhibition includes a one-third-size replica of Te Aurere, Te Aurere-iti, built by Tā Hek Busby, along with large-scale hoe urungi (steering paddles) and a rare and precious tau ihu (prow) and tau rapa (stern) loaned by Auckland Museum. Sound and video installations evoke the experience of life on the high seas.

This is a renewal of one of the museum’s long-standing exhibitions. Led by the waka community, the renewal of the gallery marks the legacy of Tā Hek Busby who passed away in 2019, and celebrates the intergenerational mātauranga shared across Te Moananui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). Master navigators Hotu Barclay-Kerr, Stan Conrad, and Jack Thatcher, who learned navigation from Tā Hek Busby, are the exhibition’s three tohunga (experts).

Te Papa Head of Mātauranga Māori Migoto Eria says the museum is excited to be able to open the two exhibitions together.

“Te Papa is privileged to have the waka community work with us to share their mātauranga with the world,” Mrs Eria says.

“As was the kōrero of Papa Hek, we are inspired with what our tūpuna could achieve with the guiding knowledge of the whetū marama, the starscape of the Pacific night sky.”

He Kaupapa Waka

Waka taua are the elaborately-carved waka used in war, powered by dozens of kaihoe (paddlers) working in unison. The exhibition He Kaupapa Waka | A Fleet of Waka was created by photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch to celebrate and share the practice of hoe waka, the traditions around these waka taua, waka tētē and waka tangata. It features more than sixty stunning photographs of waka taua in action at Waitangi in 2020. At the heart of the exhibition are two scale replica waka taua, the last to be carved by Tā Hek Busby and his team before he passed away in 2019, and a collection of hoe (paddles) carved by Billy Harrison, a graduate of Te Wānanga o Kupe Mai Tawhiti. 

Featuring a soundscape by Tiki Taane, the exhibition immerses visitors in the sounds of karakia, waiata and waka chants, and even the scent of woodchips from a freshly-carved waka. 

This exhibition was curated and created by Te Rawhitiroa Bosch who worked alongside tohunga (experts) Tārai Waka Heemi Eruera, Billy Harrison, Tiki Taane, Cori Marsters, Joel Marsters, and the wider waka community. It honours Tā Hekenukumai Ngāiwi Busby (Hek Busby), and kaumātua Wiremu Wiremu, both central figures in the waka world who passed in recent times, leaving a powerful legacy. The photographs are of waka in Waitangi in 2020, where they were gathered for the 80th anniversary of the launch of Ngātokimatawhaorua – the waka taua built for the centennial of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. He Kaupapa Waka was first shown at Te Kōngahu Museum at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds before coming to Te Papa.

“It’s such an honour to be able to bring He Kaupapa Waka to Te Papa Tongarewa and to open it alongside Manu Rere Moana makes it even more special,” says Te Rawhitiroa Bosch.

“The whole waka community, waka hourua, waka taua, waka tētē, and waka tangata are coming together to celebrate the taonga and traditions left to us by our tūpuna.”

Updated on 16th November 2022