Near the end of January, I got an email from Joe Conrad, the guy who was in charge of organising everything for the Kaupapa Waka (maintaining, celebrating and teaching the guiding principles of the Maori traditions) at Waitangi, to say that he had moved the location of Tent City to Haruru Falls. I missed the guy Joe sent to pick me up from Waitangi Treaty Grounds but eventually we found each other. Chappy, one of the waka paddlers, arrived at 1pm and drove me up to Haruru Falls where Tent City was.
Four of the Dutch waka crew were there: Anne-Wiebe, Annerie, Patrick and Jacob. Anne-Wiebe I’d met at the opening of the Maori boathouse at the Volkenkunde Museum, Leiden, Netherlands, last July and Annerie I’d seen before too but I hadn’t met Patrick or Jacob. At 2pm, the waka crew, made up of fifty paddlers, made their way down to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and paddled Nga Toki Matawhaorua, the biggest canoe in New Zealand, from Waitangi to Haruru Falls.
Normally Nga Toki sits in the waka(canoe) boathouse on the Treaty grounds on display. But for the Waitangi Day celebrations, they take it out on the water every year and paddle it during the celebrations. Haruru Falls was where Nga Toki was going to be moored for the next day or two until Waitangi Day on Monday.
So about fifty paddlers, including the three guys from the Dutch team, paddled it out of Waitangi, under the bridge and up to Haruru Falls. Nearly everyone in the camp went up to Haruru Falls to see them come in. The Maori girls and women stood on the foreshore and sang a waiata (welcome song). Then we went back to the camp. Dinner was at 8pm.
But before that there was a kawamate (memorial service) for a Maori leader, Pene Mamaku, who had passed away about a year ago. He wrote the words for a lot of the hakas and songs and was very well known in this area.
Two Maori women sang a waiata to welcome the bereaved family and once they were seated, then Joe and Robert Gabel from the Kaupapa Waka spoke, along with some members of the bereaved family. Throughout the service and at the end, there were some powerful hakas done and my God, could you feel the energy from them! Then all the family members did a hongi (touched noses) with everyone.
On the weekend, all the food was prepared and cooked by the New Zealand army. So for dinner, there was a lamb roast, cooked on a spit. God it was huge! The army were cooking for three hundred people and were well used to it. For desert, there was apple crumble, fruit and chocolate sponge.
After dinner, there was a dry waka practice and a sort of church service, where karakia (prayers) were said, hymns were sung and this was done half in Maori and half in English. I was so happy to be part of it and I thought to myself “God, please let me find my place here in New Zealand”. And I really would love to learn Te Reo Maori (the Maori language). It sounds lovely and it just rolls off the tongue.
Then Joe spoke about the achievements of the day just gone – the main one being the fact that they had brought Nga Toki down to Haruru Falls. It had been thirty years since the last time that was done and it was a big thing. Normally they wouldn’t have to do that but because the location of their camp had been changed to Haruru Falls for the first time, it meant they had to bring it upstream and it’s a BIG canoe!
He also welcomed me, “the Irish leprechaun” and the Dutch crew as guests. They talked about house rules and plans for tomorrow. That was over at about 10pm and everybody started heading to bed. There were still some people practising their hakas and it was lovely to hear. It’s not often that you go to bed with the sounds of deep throated salutes in the background. I loved it.