New Zealanders Rekindle Indigenous Pride

The  New York Times recently printed an article written by Charlotte Graham-McLay that I thought was very interesting. It was about sailing traditional double-hulled canoes, or wakas, in New Zealand. Although I pulled out certain passages from the article, feel free to read the entire article by clicking here. It has some pictures!

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A traditional Maori canoe, pinterest.com

Centuries before the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and Britain’s Captain James Cook arrived in what became New Zealand, there was Kupe, a 10th-century navigator from Tahiti.

This past February — a group of sailors recreated Kupe’s journey, steering the double-hulled canoes known as waka hourua in New Zealand’s indigenous Maori language. The waka, whose crews included a group of teenagers from Maori language schools, were billed as the main attraction in the opening night of the New Zealand Festival, a three-week arts and culture event that began last month and runs through March 18.

It was the biggest fleet of waka to arrive in Wellington since the landing of Kupe, whose story was told in the opening-night spectacle. The crews had set sail from New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, when they hit squalls and bad weather on their four-week voyage to Wellington.

Around 20,000 people gathered on Wellington’s waterfront to see the waka hourua arrive, joined by a number of carved wooden paddling canoes, or waka taua. Actors playing the roles of Kupe and Kuramarotini sang and called to each other from stages at either end of the harbor, and a 300-strong Samoan choir performed traditional songs of welcome.

As the last of the waka sailed into the harbor and darkness fell, a thousand people launched into an energetic haka powhiri, a chant and dance of welcome. They were mostly students in their school uniforms, joined by 100 government workers who had practiced one lunchtime a week for months. 

Mr. Moeahu, who grew up not speaking Maori or participating in Maori-language performing arts, was emotional at such a public platform for his culture, as well as his own part in the performance. “At first I felt really calm,” he said. “But the moment I looked at the young kids and said, ‘It’s time,’ and they said, ‘Really?’ something changed.”

In previous generations, Maori were discouraged from speaking their indigenous tongue at school, and efforts to revive it in the past few decades have sprung up out of fears that the language would die out.

The significance of the mass haka was not lost on some of the teenagers performing it, who said they keenly followed public debates over whether Maori, an official language of New Zealand, was worth preserving.

At the head of the vessel was Fealofani Bruun, a 32-year-old female captain whom many — particularly “Moana” fans — had come to see. Ms. Bruun said that in addition to using celestial navigation, her crew had followed traditional protocols for every part of their journey, including their interactions with one another, meal preparation and, where possible, the food they ate, including coconut cream, taro and fresh fish.

Standing knee-deep in the sea on Petone Beach, a 35-year-old Haunui crew member, Dale Dice, said taking to the sea had strengthened his connection with his culture. Mr. Dice, who works as a furniture removalist, said “I never really knew the history of these waka,” he said. “Being on board, it adds a whole new dimension to my knowledge of being Maori. I feel more Maori now.”

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About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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