Waka takes to Lyttelton Harbour powered by He Toki

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22 Sep 2016

When He Toki ki te Rika students take to the water on Thursday to experience waka (canoe) experience that infuses traditional practices as part of the cultural component of the He Toki (Māori Trades Training) programme, they might be in for a surprise, waka ama tutor Haimona Hale says.

It can be a powerful experience says Haimona, who has been a waka guide for over 20 years, currently with the Tipu Tai-Tama Voyaging Trust.

A group of 30 to 40 current students will paddle the waka down Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour to Governor’s Bay, passing by Rāpaka Marae on the way.

“After the safety briefing and the karakia (prayer) then it’s like zen time and all the talking stops – what you did last night, what you had for breakfast, that all stops – and it becomes about the timing and the rhythm of paddling and the spirit of that starts to flow through the waka,” Hale says.

“Those who really experience this are empowered.”

The waka trip is a special event that coincides with the Ara Cultural Fest week of events and aligns to the cultural component of He Toki. Alongside their trades training, students learn haka (performance) and tikanga (customs or lore).

He Toki was established five years ago, led by Te Rūnunga o Ngāi Tahu in partnership with Ara Institute of Canterbury, Te Tapuae o Rēhua and Hawkins Group to train Māori for leadership positons in the rebuild of Christchurch. Over 1200 students have now enrolled in the course and the He Toki programme has extended to include apprentice and leadership programmes.

Although He Toki is reminiscent of Māori Trades Training of the 60s and 70s, it goes further by actively developing cultural knowledge and practice to encourage pride in succeeding as Māori.  

That is something Haimona can relate to. “Our goal is to infuse some traditional concepts into this activity. We also like to drop in some of the traditional stories about the bays and mountains, the Harbour, and Quail Island,” Haimona says.

“We move the waka to Rāpaki and stop just below the marae where we will blow a conch shell in recognition of ancestors of local iwi who have passed on. We offer our mihi (tributes) to them.”

“It is simple but it is offering them a chance to develop cultural consciousness,” he says.

The waka experience is open to men and women, Maori and non-Māori, Haimona says.

For safety, Haimona will lash two waka together to create a double hulled canoe that “takes the risk out 100%” and will accommodate 24 paddlers at a time.