Waka flotilla arrival a celebration of Māori and Polynesian voyaging culture

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Te Moananui flotilla has arrived in Gisborne as part of the Tuia 250 commemorations. The flotilla of three waka hourua - Haunui, Ngahiraka mai Tawhiti and a Tahitian waka, Fa'afaite - were all welcomed by Tūranganui a Kiwa mana whenua today.

Tangata whenua, Charlotte Gibson of Ngāti Oneone says, “Today is about the indigenous people of the Pacific, to celebrate our narratives and our customs pertaining to water, to the ocean, to Kupe, to Māui, to Paikea. Despite those other matters, leave those to the side, this here is for us to celebrate."

The occasion weaves people and cultures together across the Pacific as an example for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Also speaking on behalf of tangata whenua, Taharakau Stewart of Rongowhakaata says, “This is to celebrate not Captain Cook but ourselves, to tie ourselves to our historical narratives, the oral literature passed down from our elders so that we may acknowledge it and move forward."

The commemorations are based on the arrival of Captain Cook and the Endeavour but Māori have now come on board to change the narrative.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is also Minister for Culture and Heritage, says, “There have been commemorations before but this is really the first time that we have the story of Māori navigational history and that's the part that I would really love to make sure that our rangatahi and our tamariki are seeing, those waka coming in and learning about the celestial navigation of their ancestors.”

Minister for Māori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis says, “What the tangata whenua said was correct, this is for all of Aotearoa - Pākehā, Māori, Polynesians. So that's right, this is a beautiful day.”

The three traditional double-hull voyaging canoes are Haunui, Ngāhikara Mai Tawhiti and Fa'afaite from Tahiti.

Stewart says, “The arrival of the waka from Tahiti, who have just arrived here on this marae to bind us together, that's perhaps what Hoturoa (Barclay-Kerr) says when he embarks on sea voyages high and low, gathering the people together to arrive here.”

Gibson says it is important that future generations know the truth.

“My generation, we need to tell our grandchildren the truth. If we don't tell them the truth, what will happen to us? The narrative needs to be true for our grandchildren to see the right example.”

Next week, the three waka will sail to Uawa.