Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby: Not sir by chance

Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby was given a knighthood for his service to Māori on this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.

He is known by many names: Papa Hec to some, Hector to others. And now Sir Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby. You may not have heard of him but it is a name you should know.  His name is known all over the Pacific for his huge contributions to the revitalisation of celestial navigation, as a master carver, Te Rarawa elder, a font of cultural knowledge, for the revitalisation of waka building and waka hourua (double-hulled boat), as kaitiaki of Waitangi waka Ngātokimatawhaorua, and as he man responsible for the first return journey of Māori to Rarotonga by traditional methods after more than 600 years.

In February, I was extremely lucky to attend ACE Aotearoa’s Hui-Fono (an annual conference for Pasifika and Māori educators working in the Adult Community Education space) in Te Tai Tokerau – the Far North where we got to hear Sir Hec speak at his beautiful home in Aurere. Turning onto the Doubtless Bay Road after Te Awanui if you are heading north, you drive a few kilometres to the turn off to Aurere. There is no sign. Just a bridge that leads to a dirt road. Our two coach buses crossed that bridge, and although we couldn’t see the bridge under our bus we were assured that it was safe as Papa Hec was a bridge builder before he retired to carve waka and learn celestial navigation.

About two kilometres up the dirt road, we came to a clearing. A grassy hill, bordered by a warehouse, a carved whare, a waka hourua resting under a tarpaulin, and a house that had been extended several times looking out onto the expanse of the Doubtless Bay Sound.

On top of the emerald green, grassy hill was a ring of pou. And inside the ring was a group waiting to welcome us on. Papa Hec sat in the middle on a seat next to his golf cart. The scenery was breath taking. When Papa Hec began to speak his reo was so fluid, initially our group of over 100 sat far away from him. But as his sharing continued we crept forward mesmerised by his kōrero, and even when the Northland skies decided to sprinkle us with rain we still sat there listening intently.

Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby sitting next to his golf cart
Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby sitting in his special chair next to his golf cart

The circle that we sat inside was actually a compass. Each of the 32 pou, set 11 degrees apart represented a direction, and when he began to swivel in his chair we realised that through his own design Sir Hector had manufactured a seat centred in the middle of his compass, complete with adjustable sights to study the night sky. It was here that Sir Hec began to study celestial navigation guided by Master Navigator Mau Piailug who came to stay with Sir Hec at Aurere to teach wayfinding and navigating using the sun, stars, clouds, other indicators of nature, and the importance of finding true north.

32 pou on a hill at Te Aurere
32 pou on a hill at Aurere

I came away from Aurere, the lucky winner of a copy of Sir Hec’s biography written by Jeff Evans. I devoured that book, hungry for more and inspired by the ability of our ancestors to traverse the largest ocean in the world with ease. The things that are shared in that book made me realise that our hour with Sir Hec shed very little light on his amazing achievements and contribution to navigation worldwide.

Sir Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby and Jan-Hai with a copy of his biography
Sir Heke-Nuku-Mai-Nga-Iwi Busby and Jan-Hai with a copy of his biography

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to hear such a man speak in person at his beautiful home in Te Tai Tokerau, and we as a community that spans the Pacific Ocean are immensely grateful for your efforts and willingness to share your knowledge and inspiration to find our true North.

Thank you Sir Heke-Nuku-Mai-Ngai-Iwi Busby.

Find out more

Jan-Hai
Libraries Learning Specialist

Waka, Okain’s Bay, 1977: Picturing Canterbury

Waka, Okain’s Bay, 1977. Kete Christchurch. Waka__Okain’s_Bay__1977_2966945214_o. Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

“This is my 2nd photo of the waka on Waitangi Day, 1977. The launching coincided with the opening of the Museum. I’m not sure if this was taken prior to the official launching, or the way back. (I think it was the latter). See also File Reference: HWC08-SO-101.”

Date: 6 February 1977

File Reference: HWC08-SO102

Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt.

Photo Hunt 2017: Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way

This year the theme for Photo Hunt is Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way. However, the photos you submit are not limited to this theme. We invite you to share any of your photos and help grow the city’s photographic archive. All entries must be received by 31 October.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Waka launch: Picturing Canterbury

Waka launch Waka launch, Waitangi Day, Okain’s Bay, 6 February 1977 “As far as I know this Waitangi Day was the opening of the Thacker Museum at Okain’s Bay, and this was the first public Waitangi Day celebration to be held there. The tide was out, so there wasn’t much water in the stream. A TV crew filmed the event.”
Heritage Week 2008 Competition Entry
Highly commended – 1970s category

Explore our sampler of Waitangi Day photographs from our collection.