Each of our cultural communities have, at some stage, traveled over water to be part of New Zealand/Aotearoa. The whakatauki ‘He waka eke noa’ summarises where we are today ‘we are all on this journey together’. A waka, symbolic of our unity, was unveiled at The Incubator at Tauranga’s Historic Village on 27 June 2020 where it now resides. The waka was designed by Quinton Bidois and painted by Michelle Estall.
Quinton Bidois designed the waka at the heart of the 'This is Us' project. Quinton is a contemporary Māori visual artist and cultural ambassador of Måori descent with ancestral tribal links to Ngai-Te Rangi, Ngāti Tapu and Ngati- Ranginui Pirirakau. Born and raised in Tauranga moana, more specifically Arataki, Mt Maunganui, Quinton was educated at St Stephens Māori boarding school in the Bombay Hills. He is currently the marae chair for Waikari marae, Ngāti Tapu, and a full time lecturer on the Bachelor of Creative Industries at Toi Ohomai in Tauranga. Quinton holds a master’s degree in creative professional practice and a Bachelor of Teaching from Waikato University. As well as working as a contemporary Māori visual artist, Quinton has been a practitioner of Tā moko for 20 years and has travelled the world extensively through this art form.
Michelle Estall is a visual artist of Maori and European descent with tribal links to both Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri but born and raised in Tauranga Moana. Michelle is the artist who has painted the Waka that is at the heart of the “This is Us” project.
Michelle has been painting fulltime for the last few years, most commonly working with the medium of acrylic on canvas. Michelle draws inspiration from the beauty of Aotearoa and its people. Nature, connections to mother earth and one another are common themes in her work.
Painting Te Waka
"It has been an honour and absolute pleasure to be part of the ‘This Is Us’ project. I was excited to get started on the murals that would work in harmony with the waka taua designed by talented local artist and tutor Quinton Bidois.
The waka itself was the perfect vessel to symbolise the idea of inclusion based around the whakataukī, “He waka eke noa”, which translates to ‘We are all in the same boat’.
The artwork on the first side of the waka is a landscape scene, showing sky, land and water. In the sky a cloud hangs over the land below at sunset representing Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. In the water is the silhouette of a waka taua, that bears similarities to the intricately carved Ngātokimatawhaorua ceremonial waka that resides on the grounds at Waitangi. It is simply intended to represent the fleet of waka that migrated here after Kupe. Waka Taua can be extremely large and carry a lot of passengers and I wanted the image to give that sense of community in one boat.
The phrase ‘We are all in this together’ has gained even more significance since the painting of this mural, as our nation has pulled together to eliminate the spread of Covid-19. It is heart-warming to see communities rally to support one another through the rebuild of the economy post lockdown and be more present for one another in general.
I wanted to honour the traditional decorative elements found on a waka taua as much as I could, so consulted with Quinton for guidance. The kowhaiwhai patterns along the rauawa were painted to look as though they were carved. On the prow of the canoe is a puhoro pattern that emulates the way the water moves as the hoe (paddle) glides through the water, a pattern representing speed and agility. The taurapa (stern post) has two ribs that represent Ira Atua (the gods) and Ira Tangata (humankind) that join at the top symbolically battling the notions of war and peace. The ribs on a real taurapa were also there to strengthen the lacework of the takarangi double spiral patterns. Through the open spaces of the spirals early navigators would have been able to peer to the heavens.
On the opposing side of the waka the artwork depicts the story of Kupe’s voyage from Tahiti. Kupe was a great chief and warrior of Hawaiki. His mana extended to the islands his mother and father were from (Ra’iatea and Rarotonga respectively). Tribal narratives suggest Kupe was the first Polynesian to discover New Zealand and it was his wife that gave Aotearoa its name when she saw a long white cloud hanging over land in the distance.
One version of the legend tells us that Kupe’s fishermen found that their bait was repeatedly being taken from their hooks, so that they were not able to catch anything. It was felt that the great octopus of Muturangi a neighbouring chief was responsible for stealing the bait from their hooks. Food had become scarce, so Kupe confronted Muturangi and told him to restrain his octopus or he would be forced to kill it. Muturangi refused, so Kupe and his fishermen then tried to catch the great octopus, but it disappeared out to sea. Kupe returned to shore to ready his waka and collect provisions, determined to follow the monster and kill him. On the voyage it is believed that Kupe’s waka Matawhaorua carried 72 people, including his wife and children across the Pacific Ocean.
The journey following Te Wheke led Kupe to the shores of New Zealand. Kupe would eventually kill Te Wheke at the entrance to Te Moana o Raukawa by way of a deathblow to the head.
In the mural depiction of this story I wanted to focus less on this battle between Kupe and Te Wheke-a-Muturangi but rather celebrate Kupe as the great celestial navigator that he was. The Pacific Ocean is the greatest expanse of water in the world and Kupe was the first to cross it. It would have taken incredible navigational skills, stamina and forward planning using the stars, currents and migration patterns to stay on course. Yet Kupe not only managed to navigate his way here but also back to Tahiti.
The giant octopus Te Wheke may in fact be a metaphor for the challenge of the sea – which Kupe overcame (shown by the killing of the octopus). Another theory for Te Wheke-a-Muturangi states that the name refers to the many navigation paths centred on Raiatea with tentacles reaching out across the Pacific.
In the imagery on the waka the emphasis was put on some of the constellations that would have guided Kupe on his journey."
- Michelle Estall