Story: Waka – canoes

Page 4. Waka tētē

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The waka tētē (or waka pakoko) was generally shorter and plainer than the large waka taua. Some hulls were constructed from single logs, and some had joints similar to those of waka taua. The basic components were also the same: hull, gunwales, thwarts, bow piece and stern post. The gunwales were generally not decorated, and the bow piece and stern post were less intricately carved. The bow piece typically took the form of a stylised face with a protruding tongue, described as tētē, or pakoko, by which the vessel is classified.


These canoes were used in many ways, and were often not subject to as many ritual restrictions as waka taua. They carried goods, produce and people along many of the coastal and inland waterways. Early settler records describe the Auckland waterfront of the mid-1800s as crowded with these waka, laden with wares for trade.

Waka tangata

A late 20th-century development has been the construction of canoes for educational purposes. Known as waka tangata, they are very similar to waka tētē, with uncarved gunwales and stern posts of simple ornamentation. They are free from the religious restrictions that many tribes associate with waka, and can be used by everyone – waka tangata means the people’s canoe.

How to cite this page:

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, 'Waka – canoes - Waka tētē', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, published 12 Jun 2006