Waitangi 1990. Photagraphed by Garry Nicholas
The Annual Waitangi Waka Pageant sees a mass gathering of waka at Te Pēwhairangi, Waitangi, in a show of Māori unity on the nation’s public holiday.
The strong association of waka with Waitangi Day began in the late 1930s. Tainui leader, Te Puea Herangi called for the building of seven waka taua representing the migratory waka to which all Māori affiliate, for the centennial commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1940. Her vision was to see a vibrant Māori presence on Waitangi Day to support Māori demands for the Treaty to be honoured. While Te Puea’s proposal for the full fleet wasn’t realised, Ngātokimatawhaorua, the largest waka taua built, was launched on 6 February 1940 and came to reside at Waitangi in the care of Ngā Puhi permanently.
In 1973, in response to the pending visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Waitangi and the proposal of the New Zealand Prime Minister to rename ‘Waitangi Day’ to ‘New Zealand Day’, the kaitiaki of Ngatokimatawhaorua decided to launch the waka taua as part of official commemorations and also constructed the wharewaka, Te Korowai ō Maikuku. On 6 February 1974, Queen Elizabeth II designated the waka taua as ‘Her Majesty’s Ship, the HMS Ngatokimatawhaorua of the Royal Navy’. These events also inducted a new generation of Ngatokimatawhaorua kaihoe to emerge as kaupapa waka leaders in the following decades.
Then, as part of preparations for the 1990 sesquicentennial commemorations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the return of Queen Elizabeth II to Waitangi, the vision of Te Puea Herangi was revisited. The call went out, and over two years, a massive national effort saw the preparation of 22 waka and kaihoe crews. Converging at Waitangi in early February to prepare for the official commemorations, the kaihoe were housed on flat land adjacent to Te Tii marae in a hive of activity known then, and today, as ‘Tent City.’
For several days in the summer sun, Te Pewhairangi was full of waka of all varieties and the beach alive with more than 1,000 kaihoe, serving as emblems of Māori tradition and kotahitanga o te iwi Māori. Among the many spectacular scenes witnessed during this period included Ngātokimatawhaorua carrying the Queen to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on 6 February 1990.
Waitangi 1990. Photographed by Garry Nicholas
To ensure the momentum of kaupapa waka, Nga Waka Federation was established in 1990 by Hohepa Mason (Chair), Hekenukumai Busby, Robert Gabel, Wiremu Wiremu, Bill Irwin and Doug Huria. Ngā Waka Federation promotes traditional waka practises and participation and enables the annual kaihoe wānanga at ‘Tent City’ and Waitangi Waka pageant showcasing waka taua as a ‘living art’ on Waitangi Day.
In 1996, Nga Waka Federation was one of the nine national Māori art form committees to come together as signatories to the founding deed of Toi Māori Aotearoa – Māori Arts New Zealand. The Waitangi Waka Pageant remains the key annual event for Ngā Waka Federation. The Pageant regularly features waka built for the 1990 campaign and waka communities forged through that event and attracts a crowd of 20,000 people.
Toi Māori Aotearoa works to support a variety of Ngā Waka Federation initiatives and directly assists Mataatua kaihoe to convey their 1990 waka taua, Mataatua, to the annual Waitangi Waka Pageant. Furthermore, Toi Māori Aotearoa initiated the building of the waka tētēkura, Hinemoana, in 2006 to provide a vehicle for rangatahi leadership training and kaihoe selection for the representation of Mataatua at Waitangi, and was launched in 2007 at Waitangi Day.