Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Moments of Waitangi

Waka Taua NgoToki with its war party (Photos by Matua G. Cross)

More images to add to the memory of storming the Waitangi beach with in Maori war canoes in celebratyion of the 1840 Waitangi Treaty.

Doing a Haka with hoe

Doing a Haka (war dance)

Young and old doing beachside Haka

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lashing the Waka

Getting the initial last tight on the Rawawa (carved plank) and black Piwai). The two pronged push lever is made of tea tree freshly cut from the bush.
The giant dugout hulls of the Maori Waka canoes are made even more water-worthy with the addition of planks tied on in an ancient technique of push and pull. This lashing process is what has keep me quite busy in the last couple weeks as we lash the new (though the swamp Kauri wood is more than 10,000 years old) Waka Taua (war canoe) or Waka Tete (fishing canoe). The same hull and Ngati Kahu (local Iwi or tribe) style carvings can be used for either canoe, but the spiritual process and practices of use will vary depending on what the Waka will be used for.

Pulling up as Alex, my lashing partner, puts the peg in to hold the cord
The lashing process is done with good old elbow grease, pulling a cord (now nylon, traditionally flax) through a whole three times, pulling hard with a fork on each past through. The cord is locked on each whole between the hull, carved plank and two sealing pieces called piwai, with a half hitch style nut slipped under the wrapped cord to the next hole.

Checking lash tightness, lashing tools in view
Up to a thousand pound of pressure are applied to each whole, pulling planks to the hull for a perfect fit (ideally). It still takes quite a bit of muscle to make it all work. Whether canoes, buildings, families, and even environments, the hardwork I learn in the process of keeping this traditional canoe from falling apart is a good lesson to be applied to the other systems in which we take part.

Nearly finished Waka
This weekend I went back to see my Maori fisherman friend Gavin in the Bay of Islands where I went to a Hangi. The Hangi is a traditional Maori way of cooking where stones are heated up and placed in the ground with root vegetables and pork on top for half a day. It was delicious! I'll leave it at that.

Hongi (ground cooked deliciousness) in Paihia
 Gavin, a Ponamu (or jade) carver in traditional Maori art styles taught me to carve ponamu pendants referred to as Taonga. Taonga are treasures embedded with life force not to be taken lightly,they are beautiful and to be revered for many generations. The little adze (canoe build tool) I made which now hangs around my neck gives me a new energy. The sturdy stone was quite a meaningful experience, carving its form from the stone as the Maori ancestors had done in order to build their canoes. I wonder who will inherit this little Taonga?
My ponamu taonga (jade treasure keepsake), just ignore sideways pictures!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Waitangi Day and Learning to Paddle the Waka

Doing a  Hongi (greeting by common breath) with Nga Toki, the great Waka

We were all sweating, our hearts beating quickly in our bare chests, after doing the Haka (war dance) with as much intensity as we could muster. The chief from the other iwi (tribe) was giving a speech with the ranging Haruru falls as more than two hundred of us listened, including the dozen or more Waka tied to the waterfront. The sun was out, the water flowing and the scene appeared to be no different from when the cheifs would meet here to discuss in the 1700's evenings. That was real life, and I was able to be apart of it. Such was the entire week of waka paddling training leading up to an epic paddle of Nga Toki, the 40 meter 73 year old beauty, and other waka from around the country. We were gather to celebrate the Waitangi Treaty of 1840, which marked the birth of New Zealand and coorperation between Maori and Pakeha (white foriegners) in a common land.

The only downside is that there was no room for a camera in only my tiny black shorts! So as I collect pictures from other people who were there and put them in later posts, you'll have to enjoy just stories.

Practicing the Haka (War Dance) at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (photo by Iguchi Yasuhiro)
If only for a week, we all come together in a tent city and practice Haka and paddling in unison until we are utterly exhausted. We think about nothing but Waka and being together and working hard. That kind of comraderie is what truly brings the waka themselves to life. 
Nga Toki after a lanch involving more than 200 strong.
Finally, on the day, the hundred paddlers entered the canoe, and each stroke, all together, is our strongest. No one lacks energy, we are infused with it from the "history that we are sitting on" as the Waka commander Joe Conrad had mentioned in an earlier speech. The canoe is alive, with us and through us, and she moves, in the same waters as her ancestors, with strength and courage. That was truly a life changing opportunity to be one of the paddlers.

Gavin getting ready to dive for scallops

After the celebration, a friend of mine, Gavin Cross, an expert jade carver and fishermen, invited me to skipper his marlin fishing boat for a competition. Eating fresh snapper and scallops while sleeping on his beautiful wooden Waka fishingboat was quite a way to relax before a week of lashing our 40 foot Waka back in the workshop.