Te Toki-a-Tāpiri – Sacred War Canoe of Matawhāiti

Te Toki a Tapiri

The tau-ihu (prow) of the waka, Te Toki-a-Tāpiri, on display in the Auckland Musem.

Te repo o te Waiatai e, te whakaruruhau o ngā tāhora tokowhitu nei
The Waiatai valley, sheltering place of these seven whales
Te kāinga tūturu o te waka tapu a Matawhāiti, Te Toki-a-Tāpiri
The true home of the sacred canoe of Matawhāiti, Te Toki-a-Tāpiri

TE Toki-a-Tāpiri is the name of a traditional waka tauā (war canoe) on permanent exhibition in the Auckland Museum. It was built around 1836, is 25 metres long and carried up to 100 people. Although changing hands many times before being acquired by the museum, it was built by the people of Ngāti Matawhāiti, a hapū of Ngāi Tahu of Iwitea marae.

The builder of the waka was Te Waaka Tarakau who named it after Tāpiri, a prominent ancestor of Ngāti Matawhāiti. When Te Waaka had found a suitable tōtara log to build the waka from, it is said that it took a thousand men, working in relays, to move it the several miles from the bush to Tātā-te-hē where it was fashioned. Tātā-tehē is located below Taumata-hīnaki, the pa of Tahu-pōtiki. Assisting in building the waka were Tāmati Parangi and Paratene Te Pōhoi.

Before the waka was completed it was presented to Te Waaka Perohuka of Ngāti Kaipoho of Rongowhakaata, as a gesture of thanks for his help in battle. In return, Perohuka gave Te Waaka Tarakau a famous korowai (cloak) named Karamaene. Perohuka, along with other expert carvers of Rongowhakaata, including, Tīmoti Rangitoto- hī-kura, Wiremu Te Keteiwi, Pātoromu Pakapaka, Nātana-hira, Toumata and Mahumahu, carved the prow, the sternpost and the thwarts. This work was done at Te Angapārera on the banks of the Waipaoa river near Manutūke. The carvings on Te Toki-a-Tāpiri are the oldest surviving examples of the Ngāti Kaipoho school of carving of Manutūke.

In 1853 Perohuka presented the canoe to Tamati Waka Nene and his brother Patuone of Ngāpuhi, to commemorate a newly found peace in the aftermath of the northern tribe’s musket raids on the East Coast some 25 years before. In return Tamati Waka Nene and Patuone sent Perohuka a piebald stallion named Taika (Tiger), which he then gave to Te Waaka Tarakau. Te Toki-a-Tāpiri was then brought to Auckland and subsequently sold to Kaihau and Te Katipa of Ngāti Te Ata at Waiuku. In 1863, following the outbreak of war in the Waikato, government forces seized the waka, even though Ngāti Te Ata had not taken part in the fighting. Ngāti Te Ata later accepted Crown compensation for this wrongdoing by the government.

A British sailor made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the canoe while it lay on a beach at Onehunga. In 1869 the canoe was restored, and became the highlight of a regatta on the Waitemata Harbour organised for the visit of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Ngāti Whātua of Ōrākei later looked after the canoe until it was presented to Auckland Museum by the New Zealand government in 1885.

Te Toki-a-Tāpiri is a hugely important taonga for the people of Ngāti Matawhāiti, Ngāti Kahungunu and Rongowhakaata. Its journey has been amazing and its story memorable. Its future journey is just as important, a journey that the descendants of its builder, Te Waaka Tarakau and the people of Ngāti Matawhāiti, want to remain a part of.

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