A Beginner’s Guide to Maori Wakas
The first Maori ancestor Kupe sailed from distant Polynesian islands to New Zealand in a waka (canoe) about 800 years ago, using stars and ocean currents for navigation. Since then, several Maori ancestors have voyaged the sea on wakas and settled in different parts of New Zealand. Therefore, wakas hold a special place in the history and traditions of Maori culture.
If you want to know more about wakas and their importance in Maori culture, read on.
Early design and construction
Traditionally, to build wakas, the Maori people attached sideboards to hardwood trunks. The ancient design only had a single narrow hull due to a dearth of broad tree trunks. Later on, when the Maori people reached New Zealand, where wide-girthed trees were abundant, the design and construction methods gradually changed.
Types of Wakas
Over time, the Maori people have developed several waka designs of varying sizes and shapes, each with a unique purpose.
Here are some of the most distinguishable types:
Waka taua, ranging between 9 and 40 meters, were some of the largest canoes built by Maori people. These large warships could carry up to 100 people and needed 80 paddlers to row. Maori people often carved Waka taua with ornate paintings that described the iwi’s (tribe) history that built them. Due to their association with war, Waka Taua is often considered a symbol of death and destruction in Maori culture.
Waka tētē are the smaller and plainer versions of waka taua. These versatile vessels were used to ship cargo for coastal trade through the inland waterways. The bow piece of these canoes had a stylized face with a protruding tongue called tētē, from which the name is derived.
Also known as waka kōpapa, these were the most common forms of waka made by Maori people. Mostly used for transporting smaller goods or a limited number of people, they were also commonly used for recreational activities.
Waka hourua are large, double-hulled sailing canoes that can be up to 36 meters long. The Maori people mainly used these canoes for long voyages at sea. They joined the two hulls together, using long crossbeams to form a platform. Waka hourua also occasionally had two sails.
The Moriori people of the Chatham Islands used four types of Wakas: waka pūhara, waka rimu, waka pahī, and waka rā. They built these wakas more like rafts than canoes due to a lack of sufficient timber.