Top of the South Iwi relaunch their waka traditions

By Jessica Tyson

A new era of cultural revitalisation is rolling out for iwi in the South Island with the recent launch of their new waka.

Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō,  Ngāti Kuia and Te Ātiawa o Te Waka-a-Māui have each launched new waka in a bid to share the knowledge of their ancestors by training their whānau how to paddle.

Two weeks ago, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō launched 'Haeata', while Ngāti Kuia have set 'Hoiere' and Te Ātiawa 'Te Aorere and Te Tairere' on the water.

It had been around 20 years since Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō previously launched a waka," Kiley Nepia says.

"It has been a long time since we last paddled waka on the currents of these sounds in this region. Today, they’ve returned," the Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō descendant says.

Te Aorere & Te Tairere, Hoiere and Haerata. Photo/File

This week provided an opportunity for each iwi to share their stories during the welcoming of the Tuia 250 fleet to Marlborough.

"Each of the tribes have their respective skillsets and we each can align their histories in their work."

Rangatahi had been preparing for weeks for the event, says Kiri Pounamu Nepia of Ngāti Raukawa, Maniapoto and Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō.

“Coming up to that, we've had wānanga to get our kids ready to be kaihoe,” she says.

The waka arrive to Picton.  Photo/File

The carvings on Te Haeata were done by Fayne Robinson, in honour of Ngāti Apa tipuna Tamahau, who led some of the migrations to Te Tauihu at the helm of the famed waka taua Te Awatea.

“We really do try to hold onto our Māori stories, she says.

"Then having our rangatahi actually being able to go into our waka of Te Haeata, into our river Rotoiti as a part of Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, kind of revitalises our iwi and our stories."

The hope is that those stories will continue being shared on the waka in decades to come.

"It is not as if we have only just arrived for the one day event. No, this will live on and thrive,” Nepia says.