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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Polynesian Voyaging Symposium

The Transit of Venus

The first week of June 2012 was an amazing event in New Zealand, commemorating not just the first landing of Captain Cook in this country, but also the pathway to the future, in a forum focused on the June 6 Transit of Venus, where speakers were experts in science and communication from all over the world.

In 1769, Captain James Cook sailed to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus for scientific purposes. Accompanied by Tahitian navigator Tupaia, he sailed on to New Zealand.

Cook’s arrival at Tolaga Bay saw the first ongoing, positive exchange between Maori and European. The transit of Venus has been adopted as a symbol of the beginnings of New Zealand’s dual heritage.

Allied to this groundbreaking forum was the visit of a great Polynesian voyaging canoe, Aotearoa One.

Owned by Maori tertiary institute Te Wananga Aotearoa, the vessel is used to train students in the science and art of traditional Polynesian navigation.

During the week of the forum Aotearoa One sailed twice daily, carrying hundreds of enraptured school children on a voyage to the past.

The free trips, which were available to the public as well as school groups, included on-board celestial navigation and voyaging presentations.

And then there was the voyaging symposium.

An initiative of the Te Unga Mai Trust, and organized by the amazing Eva Nepia-Clamp, it was held on Saturday 9 June.

I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest speaker, my topic being the forgotten Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who joined the crew of the Endeavour in Tahiti on April 18, 1767, and who sailed with the ship when Cook left the island on July 13.

After arriving in Gisborne on the afternoon of Friday June 8, Ron and I were privileged to share a fish meal and a korero with Eva, her famous canoe-builder and carver husband, Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp, and some members of the crew of the waka, including Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr. Salty tales were told, and a stream of technical questions from me were thoughtfully answered.  I learned so much, and had so much fun.  An incredible experience.

Next day, after a sail on the waka (to be described in another post), there was the Symposium.

Titled The Traditional Science of Voyaging: Setting Our Course for the Future, it was held in the very pleasant surroundings of the Emerald Hotel conference centre from 4pm to 8pm on Saturday June 9.

Traditional voyager and master navigator Jack Thatcher discussed the theme Navigating with the Ancestors.

His talk was immensely enjoyed by all.  He had forgotten his "stick" -- he said -- and by "stick" he didn't mean his tokotoko -- a carved walking stick held by orators.  He meant his computer stick -- his flashdrive, which is indicative of the awe-inspiring capacity of Polynesians to embrace the newest technology.  This proved to be a bonus for the audience, as instead he simply told tales of his personal voyaging experiences -- and Jack Thatcher is a born storyteller.

Te Wananga Aotearoa’s voyaging programme manager Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr explored the theme Finding Our Way: Voyaging Today, while canoe builder Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp delivered a presentation on Voyaging Into the Future.

Again, I was stunned by the Polynesian enthusiasm for melding new technology with traditional design.  Double-hulled voyaging canoes with solar panels? With centerboards? Made of the latest plastic or fiberglass materials?  It is all part of the wide-ranging vision of these remarkable men.

The relaxed, jovial, and extremely learned moderator was Richard Brooking   

And of course I talked about Tupaia.

1 comment:

Shayne Parkinson said...

It sounds a wonderful few days, Joan. Radio New Zealand has been replaying some of the recordings from the 2004 Transit; I look forward to hearing some of this year's!

We had a break in the clouds for just long enough to do our own Transit viewing, using binoculars and cardboard. :)