Local Heart, Global Soul

May 22, 2018

Waka: Canoes That Ruled The Sea…

Filed under: NEW ZEALAND,PHOTOGRAPHY,WELLINGTON,Wellington: Te PaPa — kiwidutch @ 1:00 am
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(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Before leaving TePaPa I am keen to look at one exhibit in particular, the beautiful Waka on display.

Unfortunately for me it is housed in low light settings and since I am not a fan of using the camera flash this presented a problem.

Himself was getting restless by now, and keen to wheel me to where the other were waiting, the smaller children from our hosts extended family being rather overly tired by now. I therefore took these photographs under less than idea circumstances. Nevertheless, the carving is stunning and I hope to return on a future trip to photograph it better. The first photograph in this post is of the entrance area.

Waka” (pronounced: “wok ah”) are Māori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes (waka tīwai) used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes (waka taua) up to 40 metres (130 ft) long.


Waka taua (in Māori,waka means “canoe” and taua means “army” or “war party”) are large canoes manned by up to 80 paddlers and are up to 40 metres (130 ft in length.

Large waka, such as Nga Toki Matawhaorua which are usually elaborately carved and decorated, consist of a main hull formed from a single hollowed-out log, along with a carved upright head and tailboard.

The gunwale is raised in some by a continuous plank which gives increased freeboard and prevents distortion of the main hull components when used in a rough seas.

Sometimes the hull is further strengthened, as in the case of Te Winika, a 200-year-old design, by a batten or stringer running lengthwise both inside and outside the hull just above the loaded waterline. The resurgence of Māori culture has seen an increase in the numbers of waka taua built, generally on behalf of a tribal group, for use on ceremonial occasions.

Traditionally the war canoe was highly tapu (sacred).

No cooked food was allowed in the craft and the waka had to be entered over the gunwales, not the bow or stern which were highly decorated with powerful symbols. Canoes were often painted with black or white with black representing death.

The main colour was red which stood for tapu. Sometimes a waka would be placed upright as a marker for a dead chief with the curved bottom of the hull carved.

Māori told missionaries during the Musket wars that battles between waka took place at sea with the aim being to ram an enemy’s waka amidships at high speed. The ramming vessel would ride up over the gunwale and either force it under water or cause it to roll over.

The enemies were either killed, left to drown or captured to be used in cannibal feasts or as slaves if they were female. This description matches the attack on the ship’s boat of Abel Tasman in Golden Bay in 1642 when a Māori catamaran rammed a cock boat and 4 Dutch sailors were killed.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Wikipedia / Waka / Maori Canoe / New Zealand

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