12. Te Toki a Tāpiri - War Canoe

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Te Toki a Tāpiri is the last of the great waka taua or war canoes. Picture this 25-metre long waka gliding along the coast, its 100-strong crew paddling furiously, the sounds of chanting mingling with the splash of paddles in the water.

This waka is unique because of its length and because it was carved from one tōtara log. Its association with five iwi and famous rangatira or chiefs also makes it special.

Form follows function with the waka taua. Take a look along the sides. Can you see the alternating side-on and front-on faces? These are called manaia and wheku figures, and they are representations of ancestors. Here’s a hint: look for the pāua-shell eyes to pick out faces. While you’re doing this look underneath the carving. You’ll notice the waka is mostly bound together with fibre – that’s right, very few nails have been used, and originally the waka was bound together with rope only.

Now walk back towards the tauihu or prow to the carved figure on the front. This is Tūmatauenga – the god of war – leading warriors into battle. On the sternpost at the back of the canoe is a guardian figure called a manaia, and at its base is an important ancestor of the tribe the waka belongs to. We’ll talk about manaia at the end of the trail.

Te Toki a Tāpiri means Tāpiri’s adze, and the rangatira or chief who commissioned it was Te Waaka Tarakau – an ancestor of Tāpiri. The waka was built around 1836 for Tarakau of the Ngāti Kahungunu iwi who lived near Wairoa in the Hawke’s Bay. Before the waka was carved it was given to Te Wāka Perohuka of Rongowhakaata – a renowned carver who along with others carved the prow, sternpost, and the seats. These carvings give the waka its mana or status.

Te Toki a Tāpiri has a long and interesting history – if you have time read the panel to find out which hands the waka has passed through.

Now let’s look at weapons. Walk around the side of the ramp to stop 13.

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