Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Te Papa opens He Kaupapa Waka

Manu Rere Moana Pacific Voyagers at Te Papa includes many seafaring taonga and work from the photography collection of Te Rawhitiroa Bosch (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu). MAARTEN HOLL/SUPPLIED.

Rangimarie Sophie Jolley, Te Hīkoi Toi: He Waka Eke Noa – We’re all in this together, Stuff, 26 November 2022

So much of what we value in our communities is founded by the cultures that form it. We wouldn’t be who we are without our relationships across the great moana our ancestors traversed. He Kaupapa Waka, currently showing at Te Papa o Tongarewa, is an ode to the revival efforts of many visionaries.

The exhibition is a testament to their efforts to bring waka and navigation back to the forefront of our collective search for the matauranga of our ancestors. It includes a replica of the legendary Hekenukumai Busby’s inaugural waka, Te Aurere, many seafaring taonga and work from the photography collection of Te Rawhitiroa Bosch (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu).

It’s an acknowledgement of our ancestors’ wisdom in knowing how to traverse the seas, and the leaders who have recently spearheaded its revival. Acknowledging Busby and navigator Mau Piailug, it’s a touching nod to lives dedicated to ancestral knowledge reclamation.

Bosch provices stunning photographic mementos of the fleet of 15 waka and crews who gathered on Waitangi Day 2020. The images capture the 80-year anniversary of the vision of Te Puea Herangi, who established the carving of the lead waka, Ngātokimatawhaorua, in 1940 for the 100-year celebration of the Treaty of Waitangi.

A Kasi Valu work in the Ocean of Whispers exhibition at Enjoy Gallery. Supplied.

Each face depicted in the portraits is a unique, heartwarming moment of its own. One of the most compelling stories told is of Eru Pataone Heperi, the last remaining original crew member of Ngātokimatawhaorua’s inaugural sailing. Heperi was only 12 years old at the time, and returned from Australia at 92 years of age to join the 2020 proceedings. His story is available to read as a booklet within the exhibition – an absolute must-read.

Another highlight is ‘Ngā Hoe – Te Waka o Tamarēreti (The Paddles – the Canoe of Tamarēreti)’ by Billy Harrison (Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa, Muriwhenua). Hoe have a special place in ngā toi Māori. They represent the journey one goes on – symbols of the tools we use to get there. This set of nine hoe are beautifully crafted to demonstrate verses of a karakia used to keep travellers safe on their journeys. However there is a 10th, crafted in dedication to Busby and the star named for him following his passing in 2019.

A photograph from the exhibition He Kaupapa Waka shows a woman and child in front of a waka taua at Waitangi 2020. SUPPLIED/TE RAWHITIROA BOSCH.

There is also an immersive element to this addition to Te Papa’s whare mana whenua. Visitors are able to smell shavings of freshly carved kauri, are invited to touch some of the carved waka (with respect and tikanga in place) and listen to Tiki Taane’s remarkable soundscape. With summer coming, the raumati programme at Te Papa is promising. I recommend this as a great starting point for any whānau looking for things to do on a day out.

Our relationships across the Pacific are an important part of this journey of reclamation. Without the input of our Pacific whanaunga, the efforts of those who were so instrumental to bringing these waka to shore would have been severely impacted. An exhibition currently showing at Enjoy Gallery brings the efforts of many notable Moana artists to Te Whanganui-ā-Tara.

Ocean of Whispers features new works by Elsie Andrewes​ (Fiji), Jasmine Tuiā (Sāmoa), Jimmy Ma’ia’i (Sāmoa, Scotland), Kasi Valu (Tonga) and Natasha Ratuva (Fiji). It works to unpack the conversations that happen between the self and family and community, both publicly and privately,

Works by Elsie Andrewes and Jasmine Tuiā at Enjoy Gallery. Supplied.

‘Si’uomatautu, Where The Oceans And Lands Meet’, is a 20-metre tapa draped from the gallery ceiling. It was originally an unmarked tapa gifted to Tuiā’s whānau, however it lives a new life in the hands of Tuiā, who has mapped her grandmother’s memories of water across the piece. Its mauri was collaborated with by the arts community of Tāmaki Makaurau, who were invited to engage with the tapa through touch, by marking it with their own stories of vai (water).

Andrewes’ series of brightly painted whispers are sure to bring out the fantastical elements of art within us all. As are the playful sculptural works of Masa’i, such as those in ‘Sunday best’. Our collective sense of belonging is an important part of the deep, complex layers of the Tangata Moana existence.

I encourage you to explore these relationships and visit these incredible bodies of work while we can.

He Kaupapa Waka is on now at Te Papa o Tongarewa, Level 4. Ocean of Whispers is showing at Enjoy Gallery until 4 February 2023.

See also: He Kaupapa WakaA Fleet of Waka

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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