(Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Apakura)
(Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Apakura)
Anaru Irwin with Dutch kaihoe, Leiden, The Netherlands 2010
Born in Ōtāhuhu in 1976, Anaru Irwin and his wife April (Ngāti Porou) moved from Manurewa to Hamilton where they have raised their two children, Manawa and Okeroa.
Anaru was introduced to waka through a chance meeting with Hoturoa Kerr, who recruited Anaru to paddle for Te Toki Waka Ama on the Waipa River at Whatawhata. Having recently retired from rugby league due to continuous injury, Anaru relished the opportunity to give his extra time to waka and quickly involved Manawa. Their combined dedication to training saw Anaru and Manawa chosen as kaihoe for Taheretikitiki, one of the premiere Tainui waka taua. Anaru described the memory of paddling with his son as an ‘experience he will cherish for the rest of his life.’ Now aged twenty, Manawa is a key kaihoe for Taheretikitiki and Te Toki Club, where he is training the next generation of paddlers.
Te Hono ki Aotearoa
In 2009, Anaru was selected as a kaihoe for the first crew of Te Hono ki Aotearoa and travelled to Leiden, The Netherlands for the official handover of the waka to the Dutch in 2010.
In preparation for the handover Te Hono ki Aotearoa kaihoe attended three wānanga lead by Chappie Harrison and Rutene Gabel. Their training included karakia, tikanga, haka and waiata and education in kaupapa waka, tikanga whakairo and kaitiakitanga. Due to the popularity of rugby and rugby league in Manurewa, this was Anaru’s first immersion in kapa haka and when he learned the haka ‘Ruaumoko,’ which was later performed at his wedding.
In Leiden, Māori kaihoe trained with Njord Royal Rowing Club members selected as the Dutch kaihoe and entrusted as kaitiaki for the waka taua while in residence at the Museum Volkenkunde. Anaru developed strong bonds with the Dutch kaihoe and it is his dream to take his family to Leiden to experience life in the Netherlands and visit Te Hono ki Aotearoa and Tāhimana, the waka tētekura used for ongoing kaihoe training.
Anaru was also chosen as a Te Hono ki Aotearoa kaihoe for subsequent European events. This includes the 2012 Queens Diamond Jubilee on the River Thames, which was an experience that demonstrated to Anaru’s children ‘they can do anything.’ Then in 2017, Anaru was among a select group of Māori kaihoe to crew Te Hono ki Aotearoa with Dutch kaihoe at Menin Gate in Belgium marking the Centennial Commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele during World War One.
Anaru also represented Māori on the 2013 North West Coast Canoe Journey ‘Paddle to Quinault’ (USA/CAN) at the invitation of the Grand Ronde.
Committing to the responsibilities of Te Hono ki Aotearoa is a challenge for Anaru, not as a kaihoe but as a father. Fortunately, April supported his passion and love for waka and supports the family while Anaru was away.
Anaru continues to train all year round and during the summer he paddles four-six times a week with his waka ama team, who are currently training for the Waka Ama Nationals to qualify for the Worlds Competition in London. It is through waka ama training for short and long-distance competition that maintains his fitness, endurance, and stamina for waka taua.
Future for Waka
Anaru was pleased by the Prime Minister’s 2020 announcement that waka will be included in the New Zealand school curriculum.2 He explains that waka teaches life lessons, unites kaihoe and builds bonds as strong as brothers. ‘When waters are sometimes rough, everyone needs to work together to help the get through the rough water.’
Anaru is proud and humbled to know that the efforts of his mentors such as Hoturoa Kerr, Hector Busby, Robert Gabel, and Tamahou Temara to revive waka had not gone to waste.