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Waka: Woven Aotearoa's Identity

June 7, 2023

Header Image: That feeling of success when your waka hourua floats - enjoying Waitangi's natural environment at Te Ana o Maikuku, also known as Hobson Beach

Proud captains had great fun sailing their double-hulled canoes, built using only natural materials and tools at our holiday activity. Traditionally Māori built floats or rafts out of dried harakeke stalks; waka were essential for water travel and important in expressing identity.

Waka were of various sizes and designs, depending on use and waters travelled in. They were powered by both sail and paddle; river waka would also be poled. The forests of Aotearoa New Zealand produced a wide range of trees suitable for making waka. Harakeke – New Zealand flax, which grew almost everywhere, provided fibre for sails and cordage. Waka hourua, with decks fitted across them, were used for long-distance voyaging; once Māori had established themselves in Aotearoa, there was not the same need to carry people and their goods for weeks and double-hulled waka became rarer.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the perfect place to explore the place of waka in Te Ao Māori, in the past and today. During visits, students get up close to the magnificent Ngātokimatawhaorua – Waitangi’s ceremonial carved waka taua (war canoe). Traditionally expressing spiritual connection between people and deities, to this day waka taua are a taonga carrying the mana (prestige) of iwi and their leaders. Waka are woven into annual Waitangi Day commemorations, the main attraction the launching of Ngātokimatawhaorua, which requires at least 80 kaihoe (paddlers).

From whakataukī to pepeha to waka ama, waka are a big part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s identity. Explore the cultural and historical significance of waka with students – check out our education team’s Waka Inquiry Units: access at Teaching Resources

We also have a very special exhibition around waka opening on 5 February in the temporary gallery in Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi – listen to artist photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch talk about his upcoming  He Kaupapa Waka exhibition.

Message in a waka? Maybe we could send a message across to Russell, Kororāreka, in this waka hourua we built!