Students at Kuranui College got a rare treat last Thursday when two members of the Te Toki Voyaging Trust visited the college to talk about waka voyaging and navigating by the stars, as part of this year’s New Zealand Festival.
While the captain of ‘Aotearoa One’, Kere Mcleod, and ‘Haunui’ crew member Marama Beamish were talking to students, a fleet of waka hourua was sailing the Wairarapa coastline towards Wellington to arrive in time to celebrate the start of the biennial festival.
Raihania Tipoki, a Kuranui board trustee, was at the helm of ‘Te Matua a Maui’, one of five waka in the fleet. The fleet and their crew are taking part in A Waka Odyssey, a series of festival events that honour and celebrate the legacy of the pacific explorer Kupe.
As part of the festival activity, the students were given the opportunity to explore a huge inflatable planetarium, which was shipped in for the day. This was followed by a brief introduction to the celestial navigational skills that have been safeguarded and passed past down through the centuries by word of mouth.
“Papa Mau Pialug was a navigator from the Caroline Islands and he wanted to share his knowledge so it wouldn’t die out,” explained Beamish. “He shared this knowledge with the condition that it must be passed on.
“Stars are really reliable. If you can identify the Southern Cross and the pointers, you can always find south.”
Mcleod, who took the helm of his waka last November, gave the students some plain advice – “Don’t fall off the waka: it’s pretty simple to remember.” He added that these days there were safety plans in place and that the captain and crew make sure they are prepared for the weather and try to avoid storms.
“We do much better than our ancestors. We have packaged food, pillows and sleeping bags,” he said.
But he also warned “You have to be good at doing homework to be a great navigator: there is lots to learn and lots to study.”
Waka crew not only hail from New Zealand, but also from places like Malaysia, Samoa, the Cook Islands, China and Poland. “There is a balance of genders, ages and personalities. It connects us across the world,” added Beamish. “The waka are messengers of ocean protection and show us how really connected we are in the Pacific.”