Karl Burrows and Anthony Hoete introduce the Birkbeck screening of: Te Hono Ki Aoteroa, a ‘waka taua‘, or maori war canoe made from a 800 year old NZ native tree. The waka taua was built for the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, Holland.
In Maori culture, artefacts are treated as living entities not museum pieces: historic canoes are paddled not hung from walls. In Britain, a nation with a long and proud maritime history, increasingly old ships are not kept afloat and, as The Guardian has reported, the Cutty Sark was “dead even before she went up in flames” in 2007. Today the Cutty Sark is held in dry dock suspension and conservation in the Western sense is thus more akin to preservation. The Maori understanding and treatment of heritage is unique (horitage) for its sees heritage as being alive and this represents a decolonisation of conservation.
There is also an anecdotal relationship between the maori meeting house Hinemihi (Grade 2 Listed Building sitting in Clandon) and a waka taua. Maori culture is steeped in mythology and the sighting of a phantom war canoe on Lake Tarawera in 1886 was an omen, a sign of death to all who saw it. The apparition was widely discussed and Maori consulted their tohunga, Tuhoto Ariki, who foretold a disaster would overwhelm the area. Mount Tarawera erupted.
The documentary Te Hono Ki Aoteroa has undisputed localised cultural value (for Maori, NZers, maritimologists?..) yet the distant event of cutting down a 800 year old tree and its chain-saw and chisel conversion into a naval vessel also raised some questions in relation to both boat and building heritage: