Māori issues

Sir Hekenukumai Busby honoured at Waitangi

Sir Hekenukumai Busby is credited with restoring the art of celestial navigation for Māori.

Now, he occupies his own place in the constellation of New Zealand greats, after formally receiving his knighthood in a stirring investiture ceremony at Waitangi.

The master waka builder and carver was honoured on the Upper Treaty Grounds, with a crowd of hundreds gathering for the ceremony.

Starting his career as a bridge builder in Northland, Busby was inspired to begin waka building after Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hōkūle'a made a visit to Waitangi in 1985.

In the early 1990s, he built the double-hulled canoe (or waka hourua) Te Aurere, which has sailed over 30,000 nautical miles including trips to Hawai’i, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands.

Navigation on the trips was done using traditional techniques such as navigating by the stars and ocean.

Busby has continued to pass on his knowledge through Te Wānanga a Kupe Mai Tawhiti, his school which was opened in 2013.

The crowd waits for Sir Hekenukumai Busby's investiture. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

Addressing the crowd at Waitangi, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy said Busby had played a significant role in the revival of waka hourua, which carried the first Polynesian settlers to New Zealand.

“These waka carried Polynesian culture from its origins in the west of the Pacific as far east as Easter Island, Rapanui, as far north as Hawai’i, and as far south as Aotearoa. They’re at the heart of the voyaging histories of individual iwi,” Reddy said.

Busby had helped to “reconstruct an earlier chapter of” New Zealand’s history, she said, “helping make sure it will be part of the story yet to come”.

“Please wear your insignia with pride, knowing that your work is valued here in Aotearoa and beyond our shores, and has inspired many others to follow in your example.”

Speaking ahead of Busby’s investiture, Waitangi Day organising committee chairman Pita Paraone said the event would be more important than the Waitangi Day service for people in the north this year.

“Not only is he a fellow tribesman from the area being bestowed with such a high honour, the fact he was responsible for revitalisation of not only waka building, but celestial navigation in and around the Pacific for New Zealand Māori, and as a consequence he’s certainly been highly recognised by people of the Pacific in terms of his contribution to that.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds hands with Sir Hekenukumai Busby and Titewhai Harawira. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

Busby could claim credit for the fact that traditional waka building was now common, while the building of double-hulled waka was a craft that could have been lost had it not been for him, Paraone said.

Māori-Crown Relations Minister and Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis described Busby’s investiture as the highlight of the week at Waitangi, saying he had resurrected an aspect of Māori culture which was “all but dead”.

“He’s been on that crusade for a number of decades and has called on many Māori from across New Zealand of all ages, and he’s single-handedly almost resurrected the oceangoing voyaging that our ancestors used to do.”

Reddy said Busby had “his own special connection” to Waitangi.

James Busby, the British Resident in New Zealand at the time the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, hosted the signing ceremony outside his residence at Waitangi.

James Busby became the godfather of Teripi Temaru, one of Sir Hekenukumai’s ancestors, when Temaru converted to Christianity, gifting him the Busby surname.

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