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Vaka - Va'a - Waka - Canoe

The story of the Maori people starts with the vaka (canoe). The canoe is what allowed our ancestors to navigate the great expanse of
Te Moana Nui a Kiva (the Pacific Ocean) discovering and settling islands as they explored.

Vaka culture embodies not only making and carving vaka but also the protocols, values and ideas that align with the vaka. How to use the
oe (paddle) to move the vaka. The implements like the matau (hook) for fishing. Weaving the
kie (sail). Making ka'a (sennit) and braiding it into rope then lashing it to secure the parts of the vaka. The vaka has its own basket of knowledge.

Papa Mike and Mama Awhitia are master vaka builders. From 1999 to 2004 they were part of the

'Festival of Canoes' in Lahaina, Maui - building a Cook Islands vaka every year for this event.

Over the years they have carved numerous canoes. Most of them now reside overseas with only a handful still in Rarotonga.

You can see two of their vaka at the Rarotonga airport and vaka 'Ngaitemotu' at the University of the South Pacific Campus in Avarua. 



In 2022 Gallery Tavioni & Vananga collaborated on a project with the Cook Islands Voyaging Society (CIVS), funded by the Institute of Marine Resources of the University of the South Pacific.

Papa Mike led the concept design and named the project ‘Te Mana o te Vaka’
meaning the power or prestige of the vaka.

The purpose of the project was to carve and construct multiple traditional Cook Islands vaka with a focus on teaching and passing on the knowledge of natural material acquisition and preparation, carving techniques, lashing and weaving.

The carving and construction phase ran over 6 months and ended with a traditional blessing ceremony and launching at Tuituikamoana (Avatiu harbou) in February 2023.

The success of the project and the interest from some of the participants inspired Papa Mike
to make the decision to turn the learning experience from Te Mana o te Vaka into a pilot for an apprenticeship program about the carving and construction of traditional vaka and the life skills withing vaka culture that promote self-awareness and sustainable living practices.

The first students of this course are Bernadette King, Oliver Oolders and Sharnyta Henry.

In July 2023 Papa Mike took them with him to Aitutaki to support a community vaka project.

One day we hope to offer a curriculum about vaka construction and the skills and techniques involved.

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