Autumn New Zealand’s unique cultural identity came alive on Feb 23, 2018 as tens of thousands of spectators gathered on Wellington’s waterfront for ‘A Waka Odyssey’- a spectacular on-water show launching the 30th New Zealand Festival.
A fleet of waka led by four majestic waka hourua – double-hulled sailing canoes in which Polynesian seafarers crossed the oceans well before later European explorers – sailed into Wellington Harbour at dusk on Friday, February 23. They were joined by paddlers on waka ama (outrigger canoes) and waka taua (war-canoes) depicting the past, present and future of Aotearoa New Zealand like nothing before. As the waka sailed into Wellington Harbour, the air was filled with the sounds of the Pacific, a thundering 1000-strong haka and a mass choir for the 2018 New Zealand Festival opening Kupe that was two years in the making.
The Waka Odyssey marks the opening of the New Zealand Festival (February 23– March 18, 2018) which attracts artists and audiences from across the world. It’s a huge waka / boat flotilla to enter Wellington Harbour since the arrival of the first Polynesian explorer, Kupe 1000 years ago. The journey undertaken by the crews of the waka hourua began almost four weeks ago departing from Auckland, Tauranga and Napier to reach Wellington in time for tonight’s performance.
Performers paid tribute to Polynesian explorer Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa and first landing of the waka Matahorua in the harbour. Kupe and his wife Kuramarotini were played by well-known actors Te Kohe Tuhaka (Shortland Street) and Māori songstress Maisey Rika.
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve been involved with in a very long time,” says Warren Maxwell the composer of A Waka Odyssey and well-known New Zealand musician (Black Seeds, Trinity Roots). He further adds, “A Waka Odyssey is a story about where humanity sits in the universe, it comes from navigating by the stars and that has meant the music has been on a fully Bowie galactic trip. It went from being a cultural trip to a galactic adventure.”
Creative director Anna Marbrook, part of the Creative Team behind A Waka Odyssey says, “Tonight’s performance and preceding journey was a way of capturing all of our stories of voyaging here (to Aotearoa New Zealand) – at the heart of that are three thousand years of voyaging history.”
New Zealand Festival artistic director, Shelagh Magadza says, “The Festival is delighted to have been able to partner with Te Ātiawa/Taranaki Whānui iwi to host this once-in-a-lifetime event. It is fantastic that the Festival is able to produce these unique moments that reflect our unique cultural identity and use the arts as a unifying force within society”.
She further added, “I congratulate director Anna Marbrook, navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and designer Kasia Pol on realising their ambition for A Waka Odyssey to tell one of the most important stories of our island nation in such a wonderful way. Undoubtedly, this event will leave a remarkable legacy for people across Aotearoa and the Pacific as we honour the stories of our ancestors and forge new ways of living together.”