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Vaka launch ‘a learning curve’

Sunday 19 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Culture, National

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Vaka launch ‘a learning curve’

A couple of the vaka launched last week under the Mana O Te Vaka project started sinking, and master carver Ta’unga Mike Tavioni BEM says he wasn’t surprised at the mishap.

The Mana O Te Vaka project leader Tavioni said he had already announced at the blessing and launching ceremony that he was uncertain of what was going to happen when the vaka were put out at sea for the first time.

The nine vaka were launched at the Avarua harbour on Thursday. The project with the aim to revive and teach the traditional practice of building a canoe from tree logs was a collaboration between the Cook Islands Voyaging Society (CIVS) and Gallery Tavioni & Vananga.

Tavioni said: “What happened on the day (launching) I expected it to happen, what I loved the most is that when the vaka was starting to sink they returned to shore bailed the water out redistributing the weight with less people on board, and they headed back out to sea sailing it successfully.”

“They have pride in their vaka … they managed to learn how to use it after that and I was very happy with that.”

Tau’nga Mike Tavioni BEM and his wife Awhitia watch the Te Mana O Te Vaka canoes launch at sea for the first time. 23021630
Tau’nga Mike Tavioni BEM and his wife Awhitia watch the Te Mana O Te Vaka canoes launch at sea for the first time. 23021630

Tavioni was also happy to see three young boys sailing one of the vaka to the Boiler surfing on the waves. “I really liked that because they knew that they knew how to do it.”

Over 300 people attended the special ceremony at Avarua harbour with some moved to tears to finally see the Mana O Te Vaka boat building and sailing project which started in September 2022, completed.

Tavioni is “very grateful” to the team of carvers and helpers who “have tolerated my attitude, but I will not say sorry because that’s the way I work, take it or you don’t”.

Now that the project is done, he feels it will be hard for the team to leave the Gallery Tavioni & Vanganga where they have spent so much time carving the vaka.

“I can sense that they think that they belong here … they’ve become and are part of a family, everybody knows everybody’s attitude, I know what people’s temperaments are and I know how they are.”

During the launch Tavioni acknowledged the skills of carvers Bernie King, Katu Teiti, Pounamu Tipiwai-Chambers, Olly Oodlers and Sharnyta Henry who were each presented with a red pareu.

“Those girls they can use a chainsaw, and I am convinced they (all five) can build a vaka if they want to.

“I have worked with them for months and I’ve been looking at everyone, maybe they think they don’t know that they can do it but I know that they can, so they received a promotion,” he said.

Tavioni now wants to host a traditional vaka fishing competition, but there are no sponsors.

“Sailing the vaka is fun, teaching the kids to learn to sail is a lot of fun but the real value of the canoe is to provide food for the people.

“There’s no need for the canoe if it’s not going to get fish

“If fishing using the canoe is promoted, I promise you a lot of families will not only have food but they will also have money.”

Many have put in their own money to finish this project. With the approval from the group, Tavioni announced that two vaka (without the sails) are up for sale to try and recover their costs. 

Anyone interested in purchasing a vaka can contact Georgina Tavioni-Bamber via the Mana O Te Vaka Facebook page.