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NKW Blog

Te Hau Kōmaru Festival 2024

The story of wa’a has grown throughout the years like a burning bright bonfire, for our people, illuminating so many aspects and traits about us that what we have come to understand is integral to our people and our ʻāina. It’s exciting! The story has come far since Hokulea first set sail to Tahiti with Papa Mau in 1976. At present, we have annual waʻa festivals. There are four double hulled voyaging canoes on the beach ready to greet and share their stories with the communities who arrive. 

In April I had an opportunity to be a part of Aoteareoʻs bi-annual waka festival Te Hau Komaru. This year's festival was held in Kaiterere.  Te Matau a Maui, Tairawhiti, Hinemoana, and Ngahiraka mai Tawhiti were the four double hulled voyaging canoes present for the festivities. Each waka has their own unique spirit, voice, and crew ready to bring “magic” to the communities in the southern islands. The festival aims to continue to spread the knowledge, inspiration, and stories of the waka in Aotearoa. 

The sight of the four canoes on the beach is breathtaking and it was beautiful to get to stand next to Aotearoa’s voyaging heroes, as they observe their young leadership, with pride. The canoes sailed into a bay while the children and communities chanted, blew their pū and presented traditional haka. The magic that waka has to ignite and inspire communities and crew will always be the true wonder of this art. 

Many years of magic and lessons forged by some of the forefathers of voyaging in Aotearoa, Jack Thatcher, Stan Conrad, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, Martin Bercic, and Frank Kawe, just to name a few. They live and breathe the life lessons that their students teach today. Lessons on how to utilize and understand the elements, how to manage and cultivate a healthy crew, and the positive effects that waka has on Māori to help them build their best selves through understanding traditional voyaging.

 The haumana of these waka legends took the helm on leading the daily operation and procedures, such as day sails, student workshops, lashing and carving demonstrations, coordinating crew changes, transportation, housing, and community analysis. I was fortunate enough, when I was not on anchor-watch, to share a cabin with Uncle Stan. We had daily talk stories and he would share his memories spent with Uncle Hotu and Uncle Frankie laughing and taking pride in how far waka has come today.

The Festival was full of wonderful exchanges and community engagement. Not often can you visit four voyaging canoes on your morning walks down the beach. But just as voyages must end, the waka also needed to go home. Part of the exchange allowed me the opportunity to get to sail on one of the waka on their journey home. This majestic waka kaulua is Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, a 16 year old double hulled voyaging canoe, built by Papa Hekenukumai Busby in honor of his wife. 

The trip home was a sail from Kaiteretere to Wellington to Taoranga. I sailed aboard on the leg from Kaitreretere to Welligton. It was a short but magical trip. I got to make amazing bonds and share stories with crewmembers young and old. We even shared the experience of sailing through the French Pass, a first for all of us. This pass is known for its strong cross currents and floating debris (that we had to dodge). The waka have not traveled through this pass due to its dangerous nature, but with all the canoes' collective understanding to stay together we decided to take the four waka through the pass for the first time.

Another cool note was that on our canoe we had some of the youngest crew members, one being  as young as 15 years old. Our young captains, Toiora Hawira, Tamahau Tangitu, and  Mahara Nicholas led our crew with their own unique style and grace that exhibited the years of learning, dedication, and respect they hold for their teachers, and the pride and privilege of  being trusted to continue the art of voyaging and teaching papa waka in Aotearoa.

It was an amazing opportunity to share the deck of Ngahiraka with my brothers and sisters. Many life stories and lessons were shared and it was awesome to see our similarities and laugh at the little differences we have, and learn the lessons of how they overcome some of our challenges and a few tips from their best achievements. 

I've come to see a different perspective of waʻa that I hope to see more of in Hawai’i. A waʻa era where there are so many young people inspiring the young at the same time still aiming to create spaces where my uncles’ Chaddie, Shorty, Maulili, and so many more can have opportunities to be recognized. To be given the chance to sit back and sail on the nav plat and watch their hiapo teach the muli, or stand near the compass as a crew member shares their latest tale of the star that led them home, or even kick back inside the star dome while one of their young captains bring the night and stars to the people. All this while still being present to share all that they can and to continue to lead and remind us of the course ahead.

This experience with Te Hau Komaru and the magical leg upon Ngahiraka mai Tawhiti and Uncle Jacko and my new ʻohana was such a wonderful gift. Iʻm very grateful to our leadership who asked me if I could represent them and our waʻa back at home. I plan to continue to share the stories, teaching, and life lessons I learn along my adventures to my ʻohana, waʻa, and moku. To continue to contribute what I can, like the lāʻau ʻahi (timber) to the ever burning puʻuahi (bonfire) which is our story of  Nā Waʻa Kaulana i ka Moananuiakea.

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