Saturday, December 18, 2010

Norfolk Island Wa'a Club (article written for Norfolk On Line)

Sunday the 7th of November. The day started off cloudy and grey, showers and wind whipping the island. Typically for this time of year and the changing seasons, the skies had cleared by the early afterno

on, just as it had done the previous weekend. A heavenly blessing for the launch of Norfolk Island’s new outrigger canoe (in our language called wa’a).

The members of the Wa’a Club had gathered and set up gazebos, a BBQ for the snags, drinks, caps, and raffle tickets for an art prize. The wa’a was carried from where it had been kept in the grassy coverage of the middle of Emily Bay’s sand dunes to the area opposite the ancient Polynesian marae. Flowers were spread around the peripheries of the wa’a in tribute.

The ceremony began with Tihoti and John Christian, the founders of the club. John addressed the 200 strong crowd of locals and tourists in English, explaining the significance of the ceremony, the short history of the club and thanking those who have been so kind with their donations (of special note was the Norfolk Island Government and the Minister for Sports) and the builder, Jason Chubb. The club is also thankful to Slick and Joel for their generous donations for the BBQ.

Tihoti then began the Fa’ainura’a Ceremony. This ancient ceremony is conducted for every new canoe of importance in Tahiti to show respect for the ocean, the elements and to ask the gods for protection - for the wa’a and the people paddling her.

With the sounding of the conch shell and his children Oihanu and Mauatua standing sentry, he began his oratory,

O great Ocean! Welcome! O divinities of the ocean – welcome! O great sun! Welcome! O divinities of the sun – welcome! O wind of all directions! Welcome! O divinities of the winds – welcome! To the sky, the land, welcome!

Taaroa, founder of the world, of the thousand skies! Welcome to you! You are the lord of the sky and the land. You are the ancestor of all the divinities, You are the great creator. O Taaroa – welcome!

-Second sounding of the conch-

O Tane! Welcome! Tane the patron saint of all master canoe builders – divine Tane! Here is our wa’a, here is TEFAUROA! Here is our wa’a! Here is TEFAUROA! O divine Tane! Come and cast your spell on Tefauroa! Make Tefauroa auspicious! Oh Tane – welcome!

-Tihoti sprinkles water from the bamboo held by Oihanu-

O Tefauroa! Here is the ocean water, here is the water of the great ocean. Here is the water from the greatest marae of all! Tefauroa, here is the seawater to baptise and bless you, to make you propitious.

-Mauatua ‘faahei’ the wa’a by placing the flowers on the front and the back-

O Tefauroa, here is a necklace of flowers from this land! Here is the beauty that decorates this island! The beauty of this island! O Tefauroa! We crown you today with these flowers. O Tefauroa, you are our pride and joy today.

O Tefauroa! Welcome!

-Then came the Baunti Beauties (thank you Claudia, Kaitlin, Emily, Ashley, Mikiela, Tiffany) who danced so beautifully to the Norfolk Island ballads played by the Bumboras Band led by Don Reynolds.

During the ceremony, Kath King heard the call of a single red-tailed tropic bird, flying over the ceremony, watching from above. For Tahitians, this is significative of the presence of the gods, that they have heard the impassioned prayers.

Once the ceremony closed, members of the club carried the newly baptised vessel to Emily Bay and she was launched into the calm waters paddled by Tihoti, Tarn, Phil and Matt. There she stayed, paddled around and around the bay with many young and old having a go! What a wonderful day it was!

So why does a wa’a need to be blessed with this thousand year old ceremony? As Tihoti explains, the wa’a is a symbol for all Polynesian people - a symbol of transport and communication between islands, of nourishment, the link between populations, sport, voyage and migration; and then there is the metaphysical symbolism …

All Tahitians know this allegory - it is used in sport, in schools, and by politicians and by everyone in their day-to-day lives. If you have seen the Tahitian flag, you will know that it is dominated by a great voyaging wa’a (or va’a in Tahitian).

In life, there is the past, the present, and the future. You are alone on your wa’a - the future ahead and the past behind. There are three seats. When you sit at the front (in the future) the wa’a is difficult to paddle. You can hardly move forward. You change to the second seat, the present. Although it’s better, it’s still hard to manoeuvre the wa’a. So you sit at the back, looking forward from the past. From there you are better able to find your direction, the wa’a is easy to paddle and you are able to advance.

So it is in life, when we are in the present, look behind; study your history so that you might find the lessons and guidance to know how to go ahead at this moment and into the future. Today many people are in the first chair. Look to the past to understand the present and navigate through the future.

It is the club’s aim to purchase more canoes and that more Norfolk Island women and men will join, and that the junior ranks will swell. What a wonderful opportunity for our youth to learn this sport of their ancestors and perhaps one day participate in international competitions against our Pacific cousins - affirmation of our undeniable connection to other Pacific Island communities.

Good luck Tefauroa!

photos copyright Pauline Reynolds


You may wonder why we called this blog 'Tattoo and Tapa'. Tihoti's passion is design using the ancient symbols used by his tupuna or ancestors. Mine is the same, but applied on a different surface.

The designs used by Tahitians in 'tatau' (tattoo) often crossed over into the designs used in 'ahu (tapa) decoration. Some of the deep symbolism used in tatau today in Tahiti is lost, although Tihoti feels that by using nature as our inspiration we can come to understand these designs again, and from there evolve those designs beyond our misunderstandings. But that understanding has to come from a Polynesian perspective.

I am fascinated by the designs and colours used in the ancient 'ahu - everything was symbolic. Much of this knowledge is forgotten today: but not entirely. For me it has become an exhilarating adventure of rediscovery.