Teremoe waka taua (war canoe) in Te Awa Tupua

Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Social Studies - Resources and Economic activities, Culture and Heritage, Place and Environment, Time Continuity and Change
  • Technology - Technology and Society. 

Key Competencies

Thinking, Using language, symbols, and text, Relating to others.

Levels of achievement

Levels 1-8 

Year group

Years 1-13

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • New Zealand Society, Past and Present.
  • Innovation and Invention
  • Pūrākau - Storytelling


How long might this take?

  • Allow 5-10 minutes for the waka taua (war canoe) and associated objects.

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Where do I find it?

  • Level 4, Mana Whenua (beside Espresso cafe).
  • Lost? Ask a Te Papa Host.

Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • See a type of waka used in the past on the Whanganui River to transport warriors and goods.
  • See amazing, multi-layered pieces of whakairo (carving).
  • Learn something of the history of this waka. 

What is there to do there?

  • Close your eyes, listen to the waves, and imagine Teremoe travelling on the river.
  • Tell the stories of the deities or atua associated in the carvings of this waka taua.
  • Look closely at the decoration of the waka: the feathers, the carvings, the pāua, and the bindings.
  • Check out the hoe (paddles) and bailers in near-by cases.

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What should I know about this?

  • On the 21 February 1930, Teremoe was transferred from the then Alexander Museum (Whanganui Regional Museum) to the Dominion Museum, Wellington, at the request of its donor Ema Hipango, on behalf of her late husband Waata Wiremu Hipango (1853-1915). The Museum’s carver, Thomas Heberly of Te Atiawa, carved the new sideboards and thwarts. A carved prow from Matata in the Bay of Plenty and a magnificent sternpost from the Horowhenua were also added.
  • The waka taua Teremoe from the Whanganui river is a canoe that has been used during wars on a number of occasions. It belonged to Te Reimana Te Kaporere and Matene Rangitauira, upriver Hauhau leaders who in May 1864 declared war upon the Māori of the lower reaches in order to drive out the Pākeha living at Whanganui town. A ritual battle was waged at Moutoa Island, a large shingle bank in the river near Rānana. Teremoe not only took part in the warfare, but also carried the dead from there back to Whanganui. In February 1865, Teremoe was deployed in another Hauhau battle not far from Moutoa at Ohautahi at which prominent Whanganui chief Hoani Wiremu Hipango was killed. Teremoe did yet another tour of duty on the river later in 1865, at Pipiriki, when the Hauhau besieged the garrison stationed there. Teremoe also took part in the pursuit of Te Kooti in 1869 when Hauhau and Kawanatanga factions combined together to chase the guerrilla leader from the upper reaches of the river.
  • This waka was also used as river transport, carrying produce down-river to Pākaitore, the Whanganui market, and was put to sea for fishing.
  • Therefore, Teremoe is a waka taua of antiquity. The hull is fashioned from a single trunk of the tōtara tree, and can be seen to have been wedged at the taurapa or stern end. Also, another part was added to lengthen the waka. The hull itself is called Teremoe.
  • Teremoe is 16.5 metres long and carried a crew of between 30 and forty warriors as well as the chief and tohunga (ritual expert). Strict tikanga and kawa (protocol and customs) were observed throughout the building process. For instance, during the process of selecting a suitable tree, the tohunga would disappear into the forest and give thanks to Tāne, the god of the forest. The tree was carefully felled and trimmed to the accompaniment of karakia (prayers) and was sometimes placed in water to drain the sap. The process of floating the log also determined the hull of the waka.
  • The tauihu (prow) records the creation story. The takarangi (spirals) depict eternity and the world of light and dark. Tāne (the Māori deity of the forest) has separated Ranginui his father (sky father), at the rim, and Papatūānuku his mother (Earth mother), the figure at his feet. Tūmatauenga, the deity of war, sits at the front of the tauihu (prow) with his tongue protruding searching the way. Tāwhirimātea, who looks into the faces of the warriors, is disgusted that his brothers dared to separate their parents and went skyward to be with his father. Every now and then he returns to cause havoc with his brothers causing hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, and so on.
  • Waka can be divided into three classes: war canoe - the finest and most richly carved type of Māori canoe, used in war expeditions and coastal voyages; fishing canoe - smaller and plainer, used for sea fishing and coastal voyagers; and river canoe - a plain dug-out hull, used for many purposes.
  • Parts for the war canoe: hull - main part of canoe, taurapa - stern piece, tauihu - prow, thwart - cross bar or seat, lashing holes - to bind pieces together, wooden plugs - to keep lashing holes watertight and lashings secure.
  • Māori canoe paddles were manufactured from the hardwoods of New Zealand manuka, matai, maire, pukatea or tawa, which when dry were extremely light and yet could bear the weight and pressure. Each area had its own distinctive type of paddle, plus richly carved ornamental and ceremonial types. The paddles were very important and were looked after and past down through the generations.
  • Toko waka (canoe poles) are made to fit the handgrip of the owner - varying in length from 2.5 to 6 metres. At one time everyone plying the section of the Whanganui River above Pipiriki used, and maintained, pole holes on the cliff faces. These holes are still maintained and used by local canoeists today.
  • The albatross is a highly revered bird to Māori - the white albatross feathers on the waka represent the idea of strength and endurance. The kāhu (New Zealand hawk) feathers represent speed and agility.·
  • These were the type of waka that met Captain Cook’s Endeavour in 1769 as recorded by Sidney Parkinson, the ship’s artist.

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Possible topics for discussion

  • How many warriors was Teremoe built to carry? Have a look at the thwart (seat) to estimate. (Teremoe was built to carry between 30 and 40 people.)
  • What do you think the different types of decoration on Teremoe represent? (For example, albatross feathers - albatrosses are known for their strength and endurance - feathers may symbolise these qualities.)
  • Compare Teremoe with Te Aurere iti (around the corner just past the sleeping house Mākōtukutuku in Mana Whenua). What are the main differences between them? Which boat would you sail around the Pacific in, and why? Which would be most suitable for battle, and why? (Te Aurere iti is a ōne-third scale model of a double-hulled ocean-voyaging waka (waka hourua) with sails and room to carry cargo. Teremoe is built for speed and for river or coastal journeys and is imbued with the deities that will hopefully aid the warriors in battle.)
  • How do you think Teremoe was made, and what is the waka made of? If you had to go into the forest and make a canoe like this today, using no modern tools, how would you go about this? (Māori people have set rituals that come into play during the manufacture of a waka taua. The Māori deity of the forest is asked for permission to cut down the tree that will become the waka. Teremoe is made from tōtara. The hulling of the waka and the adzing is the hardest part. Sometimes fire is used in addition to adzing, to clear the chips of wood away. The intricate carvings would have been carved with stone tools including pounamu and ardulite. These days, carvings are achieved with modern tools including steel.)
  • Who sat where? Why? (The chief would have sat in the middle of the waka to command the warriors. The warriors would take all other seats except for the seat with the two lizards on it: this seat was reserved for the tohunga.)
  • What other objects around Teremoe would have been used with Teremoe? (The hoe (paddles) to the side of Teremoe were used to row the waka; there is a saying, ‘Look after your hoe and in turn it will serve you well.’ The bailers were used to bail the water from inside the waka.)
  • What kinds of vessels do we use today to carry or transport warriors, soldiers, or cargo?
  • Are waka like Teremoe still used today? What are they used for? (Waka like Teremoe are used mainly for ceremonial purposes these days.)
  • Discuss how waka culture is of great importance to Māori identity as many Māori tribes arrived in New Zealand by waka. Also during a pepeha (genealogical introduction to the speaker), the waka is mentioned. Therefore the waka is also an icon of identity.

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Further information

  • This experience is available throughout Te Papa’s opening hours. Te Papa is open daily from 10am to 6pm everyday, with late nights on Thursdays closing at 9pm.
  • Teremoe is one of Te Papa’s long-term exhibits.
  • There are two points of access to Teremoe on Level 4: opposite Signs of a Nation and through the Mō Tātou: Ngāi Tahu Whānui exhibition
  • Nelson, Anne. 1991. Māori canoes - Nga waka Māori. Auckland: Macmillan.
  • Best, Elsdon. 1925. The Māori canoe: an account of various types of vessels used by the Māori of New Zealand in former times, with some description of those of the isles of the Pacific, and a brief account of the peopling of New Zealand. Wellington: Board of Māori Ethnological Research for the Dominion Museum.
  • Evans, Jeff. 2000. Waka taua: the Māori war canoe: Auckland: Reed.
  • Evans, Jeff. 1997. Nga waka o nehera: the first voyaging canoes. Auckland: Reed.
  • Tahere Tikitiki: the making of a Māori canoe. 1974. National Film Unit. Maori Waka Image Gallery.
  • Waka Ama NZ. Get involved and learn to paddle a waka. 
  • Whakapapa on the Manukau Library web site

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Related material  

  • Te Aurere iti (scale model of a double-hulled ocean-voyaging canoe), Level 4, in Mana Whenua, just to the right of the Moriori case exhibit. There are also two large hoe (paddles) to look at.
  • Kupe’s Anchor Stone, Level 4, in Tangata o le Moana.
  • Tauihu - there are two tauihu from Whanganui right at the prow of Teremoe, Level 4.
  • Hoe (paddles) - there are four hoe next to Teremoe plus one inside Teremoe.
  • Waka pūhara (reef canoe). You will find the reef waka in the ‘Te iwi Moriori’ exhibition case in Mana WhenuaLevel 4.
  • Te Papa’s main structural wall. As you enter Te Papa, you will notice to the right the grey main structural wall. This has been built to resemble a waka and has references to the taurapa and tauihu of the waka.

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