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Object: Vaka (outrigger canoe)

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Title Vaka (outrigger canoe)
Production Piavale (maker/artist), 1974, Niue
Nemaia, Harry (maker/artist), 1974, Niue
Evans, Donald (maker/artist), 1974, Niue
Materials wood, fibre
Classification canoes
Dimensions Approximate: 4700mm (Length) x 1220mm (Width) x 410mm (Height)
Credit line Gift of Donald T Evans, 2014
Registration number FE012844

The Niuean vaka (canoe) and the ancient tradition of vaka building, was and continues to remain integral to Niuean culture.  The vaka is a physical manifestation of the connection between people, land and the sea. The most common type of Niuean vaka is that of an outrigger canoe that holds one or two people and is useful for fishing the tahi (near coastal waters) of Niue.

Vaka from Niue have a torpedo shaped hull, ama (outrigger float), kiato (outrigger booms) and tutuki (small sticks) that are attached to the kiato and secure the ama in place.  This vaka has all of the elements of a standard Niuean vaka and was transported back to New Zealand (NZ) by Donald T Evans, a previous Niue resident who would often use the canoe to fish in the Wellington Harbour and on holidays to Taupo.




This vaka was made in Niue from 1973 - 1974 by respected vaka maker, Dr. Harry Nemaia, formerly Director of Health in Niue; Piavale from Alofi North and with help from the vaka's owner Donald.  Donald was stationed in Niue as the Secretary to the Resident Commissioner for five years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Interestingly,  a rare image taken as part of the Dominion Museum Science Expedition in the 1970s, held in Te Papa's collection (Reference: CT.027500) actually depicts Harry, Piavale and Donald with other men surrounding a moota tree (dysoxylum forsteri) that had been shaped and dug out as part of the vaka building process.




This vaka is significant as it was made during a time of great threat to the vaka building practice; new fishing technologies became available in the 1960s and 1970s and vaka building together with the use of vaka decreased significantly in Niue.  Motorised dinghies proved easier to operate on the open sea and the quantities of fish caught were significantly higher than that of indigenous methods involving a vaka.  Historically, the making of vaka was undertaken by households or family groups.  From the 1960s the practise became uncommon and the profession is now reserved for specialist vaka makers who are paid for their work.


The fact that Donald transported the vaka to NZ in 1974, the same year Niue gained self-government in free association with NZ makes this acquisition further significant.   It was an important journey to a new home for the vaka, as it was on one of the last, if not last voyage of the cargo/passenger ship Moana Roa.  The Moana Roa was a NZ government supply ship that travelled monthly throughout the 1960s and 1970s to Rarotonga until it was taken over by the Royal NZ Navy in 1974.  Cargo on this ship to the Pacific consisted of tinned food, general merchandise, machinery and building materials that were traded for fruit, coconuts and later on, timber, copra, sugar and coffee.  Together with other cargo/passenger ships Maui Pomare and Matua, the Moana Roa (commonly referred to as banana boats) were the main transportation route for not only trade products, but also Pacific people as they migrated in large numbers to NZ.  


This vaka has a strong connection to New Zealand's Colonial legacy in the Pacific Islands through its association with Moana Roa, as well as its representation of a cultural treasure created out of the relationships between NZ government officials, a local community and their cultural practices.  




Tracey Evans, daughter of Donald donated the vaka to Te Papa Tongarewa in 2013 on his behalf.




Evans, J.  (2009, November 12).  Niue: Ancient skills still float the boats.  The New Zealand Herald.  Retrieved from

Haddon, A.C & Hornell, J.  (1975).  Canoes of Oceania.  Honlulu, Hawaii:  Bishop Museum Press

McLean, G.  (2012).  Barques, Banana Boats and Boeings. In S. Mallon, K. Mahina-Tuai & D. Salesa (Eds.), Tangata o le Moana: New Zealand and the people of the Pacific (pp. 123-137).  Wellington, NZ: Te Papa Press

Ryan, T.  (1981).  Fishing in transition on Niue.  Journal de la Societe des oceanistes, 37, 193-203.  Retrieved from

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