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No. 74 (November 1973)
– 59 –
Published for the Maori Cultural and
Promotional Committee, $1.10

On 10 February 1973, a Maori canoe was placed in the water at Tauranga with all the traditional ceremonial adherent to such an occasion. And now the story of the building and launching has been told. For those who followed the saga of the canoe from its inception, the booklet will be a souvenir. For those who know not the story, and for future generations, Te Awanui will tell the story of an ambitious project that was brought to its courageous fruition.

The concept of a ceremonial canoe for the city of Tauranga took shape when, prior to the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the city fathers looked around for such a canoe to meet the Royal Yacht, ‘Britannia’, and escort it to moorings. No such canoe seemed available; the idea was born of building a canoe that would belong to the city and to the people of Tauranga, so that, when need arose, ceremonies could be carried out with all the ancient tradition of the Maori people.

For such a canoe, two requirements (apart form the financing of such a project) had to be met: the canoe would require a suitable tree, and the tree would require a very skilled and dedicated carver.

This, then, is the story told by Mr Morris. He records the finding and felling of the selected kauri and the traditional ceremonial attached to each stage of this. The committee did not have to search very far to find a master carver capable of transforming this giant of the forest into a masterpiece of the carver's art. Tony Tukaokao, Tauranga-born, was a craftsman, a mastercarver, and, as it proved, an artist who could take a piece of dead, inert material, and give it life, vibrant life. This is how the author describes the stages of the construction. He sees the carver as a creator, planning, designing, hewing with loving touch, so that each adze-cut etches into the wood the very embodiment of loving care.

Mr Morris describes the stages in the technicalities of the Maori method of canoe-building, for this canoe was to be truly representative of the Maori way of life that the committee was set up to promote. It began with the selection of a kauri that would lend itself both from its size and its shape to the fulfilment of the project. Such a tree was found in the forests in the vicinity of Tauranga, the chain saws bit into its living side, and very soon it lay, crumpled, lifeless, and awaiting its future.

The lower limbs were carefully trimmed, for from some of these would come paddles, carved adornments, and other extras added to the exterior of the finished canoe. So the trunk was brought to the heart of the city, where a rough shelter had been erected for the carver to do his work, and where the public, citizens and visitors alike, could see in 1972 the re-creation of a traditional Maori canoe, built in all respects like the canoes that gave service to the Maori of the past both in peace and in war.

For ease of handling, the canoe was to be built in two sections. Meanwhile, the timber seasoned slowly under damp sacking; at the same time planning and designing, and much other preliminary work had to be carried out. By early March, 1971, one half of the hull had assumed its hollowed shape solely by the use of the carver's adze, and in due course the second half was ready to be joined to the first. To give lasting life to the canoe, the two halves were taken to a treatment plant for impregnation.

The traditional Maori joint known as haumi ensures that the canoe will ride safely in deep waters and through the roughest of storms; proof of the safety and the security of the haumi lies in the long and safe voyages of the great canoes of the past. And so the hull is now one again, and ready

for the second stage. For the canoe is but a shell, lacking gunwale, prow, a bow-piece and a stern-piece, seats, paddles, and the adornments that will all transform this hollowed-out tree trunk into a thing of beauty, a dug-out into a ceremonial canoe.

Slowly, inch by inch, the carings appeared. Watched by the public, the carver chiselled and shaped, until design and form began to appear. The architect of the shape was now the artist, creating beauty from wood, giving by spiral and whorl the impression of motion, of the restless sea, making this canoe worthy to be consecrated to Taronga, the Sea God.

By November of 1972, that tree, which had been growing for 300 years, which had taken less than an hour to fell, was now, after 21 months of loving labour, of dedicated skill, of inspired artisry, a majestic reincarnation of the living force that had made it one of the great ones of Tane, and must now take its place in the roll of the great ones of Taronga.

The author of the descriptive booklet is a Tauranga poet who has won wider recognition. He has brought his poetic mind to bear in this booklet, first when in poetic language he traces the genealogy of Ngaite-rangi, whose ancestral canoe Mataatua has passed its spirit on to Te Awanui, and, second, in writing the Dedication in which he sees Te Awanui as ‘A whole concept of ancient Maori history floating free — revered into Eternity.’

So Te Awanui rides upon the waters from which it takes its name. Thirty paddlers will wield the paddles that will give the power and momentum for the 46-foot canoe to surge across the waters. Perhaps another royal occasion will arise when Te Awanui can play its allotted role. Whether it will bow to Royalty is of little concern, for Te Awanui is regal in aspect. Te Awanui is a Queen as she rides the waters in all the pomp and majesty of a ceremonial Maori canoe.