Te Kākano

A gift on behalf of New Zealand to the people of China

About the project

Early in 2010, NZMACI carvers began shaping a 10 metre waka whakamaumahara (canoe cenotaph) with a two metre waharoa (gateway) as a gift to the people of China.

The initiative was named Te Kākano and the purpose of the carving was for it to act as a cultural portal between the two countries; an enduring symbol of cultural dialogue and engagement between the people of New Zealand and the people of China. 

The waka whakamaumahara was shipped from New Zealand to China in late February 2010 and completed onsite by NZMACI carvers at the New Zealand Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai. The World Expo attracted 70 million visitors (approximately 40,000 per day) over the six month period.

On 9 July 2010, the completed carving was gifted on behalf of the Nation by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Hon. John Key, to Chinese officials. At a special meeting in Beijing, the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, gifted a scale miniature of the carving to the then Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao.

The finished carving was installed at the Baoshan Folk Arts Museum in Shanghai supported by the Hon. Pita Sharples, Minister of Māori Affairs at the time, and was named by master waka builder Hekenukumai Puhipi (Hector Busby), Te Ara Whānui ki Aotearoa (the many pathways to New Zealand).

Concept & Development

This concept was designed using two traditional forms; the waka whakamaumahara (canoe cenotaph) and the waharoa (traditional gateway), with the carving developed in two main pieces which were later lashed together using a haumi join (traditional canoe join). 

A 3500 year old swamp kauri log from Kaihu, Northland was identified for the carving in 2009 and transported to Doubtless Bay where master waka builder, Hekenukumai Puhipi (Hector Busby), supervised the initial shaping of the waka whakamaumahara.

In January 2010, the waka was welcomed to NZMACI by pākeke (tribal elders) before the remaining 12 tonnes of kauri was hoisted by crane and placed outside the carving school where further shaping and carving took place. 

On 18 February 2010, a special ceremony was held on Te Puia | NZMACI's Rotowhio Marae which saw the Chinese Ambassador Zhang Limin, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, and other dignitaries from the two nations come together to carve a small part of the waka whakamaumahara and farewell the carving before it was shipped to China.

Kōrero (narrative)

Te Kākano literally means ‘the seed’ and was used in this instance to indicate the beginning of a series of ongoing cultural projects. The terminology is also used to reference a well-known Māori proverb - E kore au e ngaro te kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea (I will never be lost, the seed which was sown from Rangiātea). This proverb refers to the knowledge, traditions and values that link Māori back to their Polynesian homelands.

Te Kākano was founded on the notion of gifting. The cultural portal is a symbol of New Zealand and China's ongoing relationship and is a high-level mark of respect from the people of New Zealand. Cultural portals are founded on cultural connection and values, and operate to memorialise relationships between nations and people.

The waka whakamaumahara (canoe cenotaph) is a customary monument reserved to memorialise high-ranking chiefs following their deaths. Functional waka were converted and stood upright to mark their significance and remember them. In this instance, the cenotaph’s purpose is to memorialise the relationship between New Zealand and China. 

The waharoa (traditional gateway) acts as a portal between two separate groups, the host and the visitor. In this context, the waharoa symbolises a relationship pathway between China and New Zealand.



Te Kākano was primarily funded by the Cultural Diplomacy International Programme Fund, a fund administered through New Zealand's Ministry for Culture and Heritage.