Story: Waka – canoes

Page 6. Moriori waka

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The Moriori people of the Chatham Islands (Wharekauri), 800 kilometres east of mainland New Zealand, used four types of waka: waka pūhara, waka rimu, waka pahī and waka rā. These have been described as rafts rather than canoes. The likely reason was that the Chatham Islands did not have timber of sufficient size and quality to make canoes. As long as the components were properly fastened together, these waka were very safe, and unlikely to fill and capsize. It is known that one such craft could carry more than 50 people.

Waka pūhara and waka rimu

The waka pūhara, or kōrari, had two keels (made of poles or small beams) and was flat-bottomed. The stern post (koua to Moriori) and the pūremu (two pieces of wood projecting from the stern) were carved. The bottom and sides were formed of dry flower stalks of flax. To help keep the vessel afloat, kelp was inflated and stored in the base of the canoe.

The waka rimu was similar, except that the sides and bottom were covered only with pieces of bull kelp (rimurapa).

Waka pahī

The waka pahī was a deep-water vessel, used for trips to the outlying islands. It was built up on two keels of matipou wood, up to 9 metres in length. The stern post, made of akeake, could be over 3 metres high, while the pūremu was a little shorter. Bull kelp was also used for flotation.

The waka rā

The waka rā was made of bracken stems and flax stalk, similar to the mōkihi. The sides were low, and the craft was used ceremonially: images of men, each with a paddle tied to his hand, would be placed in the waka, which was then set adrift. Its purpose was to ask Rongotakuiti, representing seals and blackfish, to send an abundance of food supplies.

How to cite this page:

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, 'Waka – canoes - Moriori waka', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/waka-canoes/page-6 (accessed 20 August 2017)

Story by Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, published 12 Jun 2006