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Reviving traditional vaka building

Wednesday 21 September 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Culture, Local, National

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Reviving traditional vaka building
Carvers, vaka voyagers and supporters attended Te Mana O te Vaka kava ceremony at Gallery Tavioni & Vananga in Atupa yesterday. 22092007

Thirty years ago, vaka/canoes from across the Pacific and the islands of the Cook Islands sailed to Rarotonga for the 1992 Pacific Festival of Arts. These days the traditional art of building a canoe from tree logs is rarely seen, however, things are about to change.

With the extra blessing of rain, a special kava ceremony was held yesterday for the official opening of Te Mana O te Vaka boat building and sailing project –   a collaboration between the Cook Islands Voyaging Society (CIVS) and Gallery Tavioni & Vananga.

The special occasion was led by master carver Ta’unga Michael Tavioni who explained the kava ceremony was to signify bringing everyone together to become centred and focused on the job at hand of building the vaka which will also strengthen their connections to one another.

Tavioni says the revival of the cultural aspects of our people is vital, adding one of these is to make vaka “so that we can fish and feed our people”.

He would also like to see the reintroduction of the traditional moon phases of fishing and navigation methods, and the making of fishing lines and fishing hooks “so we do not depend on other countries to survive”.

Dr Evangeline Daniela-Wong from the Voyaging Society said there was the option of making canoes out of plank and plywood.

“But we chose to do the dugout traditional vaka because we want to perpetuate the art, and we want to keep the art and carving alive,” Daniela-Wong said.

“The purpose is to teach the construction, and the sailing of the canoes which will be used for training programmes.”

The project which will be based at the Tavioni Gallery for the next two months will include the building of six double hulled vaka from traditional methods, techniques and materials reflecting canoe designs from across the Cook Islands. The project will be led by Tavioni.

“We are really lucky and fortunate to have sponsors come on board to support this project,” said Daniela-Wong.

Dr Debi Futter-Puati, the campus director of the University of the South Pacific (USP) Cook Islands, is very excited and honoured to be a part of the project.

“In the same way that the great ocean highways connect countries and peoples with each other, this project is the result of the combined effort of local and international people,” Futter-Puati said.

“Vaka building is a community effort that requires the skill of many to ensure its success.”

Te Mana O te Vaka project is made possible with funding provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), European Union, Government of Sweden as well as USP with the Pacific European Union Marine Partnership programme.