SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
February 17, 2015
Greetings from Russell
Anchored in Russell Harbor
Clear and warm with a colorful sunset
I have the good fortune to be writing this from the bow of our ship the Robert C. Seamans, nestled down with some tea and overlooking the sunset. The boat is blanketed in the kind of quiet that only follows a full day of adventure and excitement. This morning we rose before the sun to catch the ferry to Waitangi across the bay. By the time we arrived the sun was out and shining for our stroll to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where we reunited with two of our dinner guests from last night—Mori Rapana, a man who has vast knowledge concerning Maori history and tradition, and his mentor Matua Wiremu Williams, a Maori elder whose openness and insight never ceased to amaze us. Having such wonderful guides and teachers with us made the experience exceptionally remarkable. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds hold much history, as it is the place where the British presented the Treaty of Waitangi to a number of the great Maori chiefs in 1840. While the Treaty was only signed by a handful of chiefs in Waitangi, the signatures of many prominent chiefs served as a catalyst for the signatures that would follow as the Treaty travelled from north to south. The Treaty of Waitangi remains controversial even today, namely due to the differences between the English original and the Maori translation, making it unclear as to what both sides were agreeing to. One of the largest arguments is over whether the Maori forfeited sovereignty as stated in the English version, or merely allowed for some British governance to have influence in the area as was depicted in the Maori translation. While many Maori rights have been restored, there is still a long road to travel towards bicultural unity. Today, our guide Mori described the Waitangi Treaty Grounds as a space that is rich in both Maori and British history, and therefore a prime spot for collaboration as well as for educational lessons of the history of New Zealand (Aotearoa in Maori).
After learning more about the social impacts of the Treaty of Waitangi, we were brought to a beautifully carved open-walled shelter that covered four waka, the traditional canoes of the Maori. Unlike the canoes that we use back at home, which may fit three people and potentially a cooler for lunch, these canoes are magnificent and larger than any we ever could have imagined, with one weighing just under 12 tons. While these are not the great wakas that carried the Maori across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, they are hand-made replicas constructed using the old methods. No power or steel tools were used to make these vessels, only traditional blades of stone and shell. We had the enormous pleasure of viewing these while listening to Matua Wiremu Williams tell us stories of how they were made and the traditional navigational methods Maori used. He explained how the great head of the canoe, which reaches towards the sky in intricate carvings, provided both physical and spiritual balance against the head winds and the gods. He also told us how the Southern Cross constellation can be utilized as a compass, giving us a better understanding of the new and different sky of the southern hemisphere we have been seeing nightly. Perhaps the most incredible methods he shared with us involved the reliance on marine mammals. Birds were often followed near sunset as they travel towards land at night, and the “trail of the whale” (named Pikopikowhiti), created by an oceanic river of krill which whales followed and fed on, was often used as a pathway as it passed near Waitangi. As sailors and students of the sea and its navigation, it was enlightening and interesting to hear how others have historically traveled these same waters.
After viewing the wakas we were told the story of how Waitangi gained its Maori name. As the story goes, a beautiful Maori princess once lived in the lands. Her beauty drove men from all over to pursue her until her father hid her in a cave offshore. With only dolphins to befriend her, it is said that her lonesome wailing could be heard at night as she cried, leading to the name of Waitangi, which translates to “crying waters." Our historical education continued as we walked upwards to an outlook over the bay, where a marae is contructed. The marae is a traditional Maori meeting house, and I cannot imagine a better setting and place to see one up close for the first time. We were greeted at the entrance by Maori performers, who demonstrated a greeting song and dance before welcoming us in. We were then treated to a number of traditional chants and songs, all in Maori, as well as the more recent “action songs” that include guitars and incorporated movements. Each performance was preluded with an explanation of its meaning and purpose to Maori, including the usage of poi balls and sticks to enhance balance as well as taihas, club-like Maori weapons. It was engaging, entertaining and educational, and all of the students gained a greater understanding of Maori music. At the end, they requested that we share a song from our homeland as well, and Professor Mary Malloy led us all in a booming rendition of “Cape Cod Girls”, a sea-shanty that has become very popular aboard the Robert C. Seamans. Afterwards we were treated to a delicious lunch that had been prepared in a hangi, an underground stove in which Maori customarily cooked their foods. We left the Waitangi Treaty grounds with very full bellies and
heads stuffed with knowledge.
After a heartfelt goodbye to both Mori and Matua Wiremu Williams, the group split up on various adventures around Waitangi and Russel. After hours of exploring we gathered back on the ship to discuss our various discoveries over yet another delicious meal and snacks provided by our steward Lauren. Stories described hikes to mangroves, ideal swimming spots, delicious ice-cream shops and even oyster farming. While we will be sad to depart from the Bay of Islands, it is with great joy and anticipation that we look towards tomorrow when we will begin our thirteen day passage to Wellington on our new home, the Robert C. Seamans.
“Whāia te iti kahurangi Ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei”
Pursue excellence—should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain