Waitangi Day 2018

Te Waka Haunui, He Mātauranga Māori

Talking in te reo Māori and English with two young crew of an ocean-going waka navigating into the future using traditional knowledge.

by Anahera Parata
05 February 2018, 9:37pm

Turoa Kohatu and Pera Waaka. All images by the author.

Recently, the US Navy, with all the high tech resources at its disposal, reinstated courses in celestial navigation for one simple reason—you can't hack the stars. Satellites are at risk of cyber attack. The guiding blue dot that we have all come to pull out of our pockets and rely on with complete faith is vulnerable. So US sailors are travelling the seas the same way the earliest explorers made their way across the Pacific. Traditional methods of seeing the world and our environment are still relevant to our future.

Te Waka Haunui is a double-hulled voyaging waka that operates by these principles, preserving the traditional for the benefit of what's the come. It's led by respected navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr who has sailed the Pacific for close to 40 years. With a strong focus to continue the revitalisation of indigenous methodology and practise Te Waka Haunui provides an open and inclusive space of learning and self-determination.

It's currently on a two-week voyage down the coast of the North Island from Tāmaki Makaurau to Te Whanganui ā Tara, via commemorations at Waitangi, to take part in this year's New Zealand Festival. Waka Odyssey brings together a fleet of ocean-going waka from all around New Zealand and the Pacific.

VICE met up with two of Te Waka Haunui crew members, Pera Waaka and Turoa Kohatu, both aged 18 and part of a new generation of celestial voyagers empowered by their waka whānau are determining their own Tino Rangatiratanga.

Pera Waaka

VICE: Tēnā korua. Kōrero mai mo to tūranga ki runga i Te Waka Haunui?
Tell me about your role on Te Waka Haunui?

Turoa Kohatu: I was studying Business at university and following my performance at Te Matatini [national Kapa Haka competition] was offered an opportunity to sail from Gisborne to Auckland with my brother who captains Te Waka Haunui. I ended up working at the Maritime museum in Auckland mainly across vessel maintenance learning how to paint and mix varnish. There was lots of sanding, loads of sanding. That was over a year ago, and here I am.

Pera Waaka: He kaimahi au ki runga i Te Waka Haunui. Ka whakatere tātou katoa i tēnei waka...he kaupapa mīharo.

My journey started when I was 16 but I’ve been committed to it properly for the last two years and loving it.

He kaupapa tuku iho tēnei me pēhea tāu e ako i nga āhuatanga o nehe?
Tell me a little bit about learning the art of celestial navigation and its importance?

T: This is who we are it’s part of our whakapapa. I’m interested in the preservation of our waka as kaitiaki.

P: I te wā i tīmata au i ēnei momo mahi he tino uaua engari kua āhua roa au e ako ana nō reira kua puta ngā hua o te māramatanga.
[It was really hard when I first started but it’s been a while now so my understanding and appreciation for what we learn has continued to grow]

Turoa Kohatu

What does it mean to you to be using these traditional methods to chart your course?

T: It’s quite different travelling by waka, you need to be aware of your environment at all times.

P: Ko tātou ngā kaitiaki o te mana moana. We are guided by the stars a permanent map that we learn to read. Once you grasp being able to read the stars, tides and the wind it kind of comes naturally. But you need to be able to trust yourself! Understanding and learning about the kaupapa behind what’s beyond the stars is cool.

Kōrero mai mo ngā aupiki me ngā auheke i a koutou e whakarērere?
Tell me about some of the highs and lows being out at sea?

P: I had an opportunity to work with Stardome and rural schools around Aotearoa educating tamariki about navigation and my role as crew member on Te Waka Haunui. I was surprised by how much knowledge I had to share, even surprised the crew I think haha.

Ki a au nei ko te auheke o ēnei mahi te oho moata!
[The hardest thing is waking up early!]

A special story I like to share is one I experienced when I was on watch duty—by myself—it was pitch black. The waka was getting smashed by swells. I was being drenched in water cold and feeling sorry for myself. Out of nowhere the waves started to glow that fluorescent glow and dolphins popped up jumping all over the show. They looked like ghosts. But not the nightmare type it was beautiful.

Even though at times we feel like we’re alone up there while on watch there are reminders that we aren’t.

Ko wai nga tōhunga whakatere waka kei tō taha, kei ēnei waka hourua?
Who has taught you?

P: Ko Hoturoa Kerr te rangatira o tō tātou waka, tō tātou whānau. I te wā o tōku taiohi i whāki a Hoturoa ki ōku mātua me hāeretahi au ki tōna taha ki te whakatere waka kia kore au e haututū hāere ki te taha o ōku hoa! Na tōna kaha ki te tautoko i ōku wawata kei tonu au!

Ko John te kaihautū he tangata koi ia ki roto i tēnei āo, he tangata manaaki hoki.

We’re a whānau we’ve got a mutual respect. We know when we can have fun and when to be serious...most of the time.

[Hoturoa Kerr or uncle Hotu is the boss of our crew, and leader of our waka whānau. He more or less got me on a waka in my early teens to keep me out of trouble! His support and guidance is what keeps me here.

John is our captain he guides us and looks after us.]

How challenging is it physically to journey by waka like this?

T: The most difficult duty is being on watch, you’re alone for up to 6hours while the rest of the crew recharge (sleep).

P: If you know you can’t pull that rope find another job—like the dishes. Dealing with the weather is probably the hardest thing. But I think the hardest job is being our cook, because the boys eat too much.

What's the trip to Wellington going to be like?

T: This will be my first journey with my dad and brother on the waka so it’s pretty special I’m looking forward to it will be good fun.

P: We are sailing from Auckland to Waitangi then south to Wellington. Sailing in New Zealand is always hard because our winds are hard to read they come in from every direction. Our peaks create wind tunnels. Got to be on our A’ game! The waka festival is special. It unites waka crews from all over the pacific the theme is about Kupe who discovered Aotearoa so it’s cool to be apart of.

What does Waitangi day mean to you?

T: It’s the one day of the year where we—as Māori—get some recognition. It’s gonna be cool voyaging to Waitangi and arriving on Waitangi Day.

Whakamārama tāu Tino Rangatiratanga ?
How are you determining your own destiny, what does Tino Rangatiratanga mean to you?

T: It’s me putting my best foot forward learning what I can and passing on that knowledge.

P: Ko tōku tino rangatiratanga tōku mātauranga .
[I wanna share everything I learn with other tamariki]

New Zealand Festival runs from February 23-March 18 in Wellington. You can track Te Waka Haunui and the other waka as they journey to Te Whanganui-a-Tara for the festival launch on February 23 here.