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Waka workshops with the people of Moana

Published: 29 June 2020

The Panuku placemaking team are dedicated to creating spaces in Manukau that give local communities a rich environment to express themselves.

This is an important aspect of the Panuku Transform Manukau plan, which seeks to develop healthy neighbourhoods by harnessing learning and innovation opportunities.

But there is a deeper level of cultural connectivity that Panuku’s Manukau placemaker, Ole Maiava, and his team weave into these communal spaces in south Auckland.

The flagship ‘waka workshop’ is the latest indigenous learning activity, hosted in collaboration with MUMA (Manukau Urban Māori Authority) at local events such as the Portage Crossing and Waitangi Ki Manukau. The waka workshop introduces Aucklanders and urban youth to the mighty Polynesian seafaring canoes and the sport of waka ama, where outrigger canoes race against each other, in one of the fastest growing water sports within New Zealand.

James Papali'i from MUMA says: “I think demonstrating indigenous sea-faring and waka workshops links our youth to their rich voyaging past.

“Māori and Pacific youth are the descendants of the people, that at a time in history, were the best sailors in the world. They were circumnavigating the Pacific Ocean centuries before the rest of the world, and discovered the earth wasn’t flat.

“To understand just a fraction of the fascinating achievements that their ancestors accomplished empowers and builds the significance of their own identities, because they are linked through genealogy, whakapapa and gafa (ancestors).”

The creation and storytelling of building Pacific waka is complemented by onsite learning about waka building with traditional tools and jury rigging. Jury rigging is the makeshift repairs made to canoes and sails with only the tools and materials at hand.

To demonstrate the mastery of waka building at these events was special guest Matahi Brightwell.

“To have someone with the mana (respect) of Matahi Brightwell to connect the people of south Auckland with Pacific sea-faring and the rich knowledge and history that comes with it is very special,” says Ole Maiava.

Matahi is considered the tohunga (treasure) of waka ama racing in Aotearoa and is also a master carver, an expert in sailing and a strong advocate for his iwi. He developed a fascination with canoe building, carving, and the traditions of Polynesian voyaging and technology as a boy.

In 1985, accompanying his father-in-law aboard a traditional Tahitian voyaging canoe called Hawaikanui, Matahi navigated the Pacific Ocean from the Society Islands and landed 5,000kms later at Hicks Bay on the East Cape.

In recognition of this he was the eighth recipient of the prestigious Blue Water Medal, awarded by the Royal Akarana Yacht Club. The following year’s award went to Sir Peter Blake.

Ole and Panuku, with the help of Matahi, are planning further waka workshops and initiatives around Oceania seafaring traditions in South Auckland for future events.

“The one thing that connects us all is awa (water). It links Aotearoa to the continents of the world and it is the water that binds us spiritually and nourishes us through kai moana (seafood).

“The Pacific Ocean was used by our Polynesian ancestors to navigate and explore its islands with sea-faring and star navigation skills aboard these great waka craft.”

“As a proud Samoan Kiwi working for Panuku, the most rewarding thing is to see the youth in South Auckland re-engage with their traditional seafaring cultures and skills,” says Ole.

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