A Waka Odyssey

Meet Papa Mau

03 February 2018

A project on the scale of A Waka Odyssey is incomplete without sharing the work of Pius “Mau” Piailug. Join us for Kupe: Festival Opening Night, the spectacular free opening event of New Zealand festival on 23 February at 7pm, welcoming the arrival of Waka to Wellington's harbour.

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Papa Mau thumbnail CREDIT Kapulani Landgraf 600x450

Kapulani Landgraf

Known as ‘Papa Mau’ within the voyaging community, Pius Piailug (pictured above) was a pivotal figure in reviving Pacific waka culture during the 1970s. 

As captain of Hokule'a, the first traditional Pacific double hulled vessel to be built in 600 years, he navigated from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976 with no navigational instruments, proving that intentional two-way Pacific voyaging is possible. This also demonstrates that the voyagers who discovered New Zealand were not “orphans of the storm.”  

Born on Satawal, a tiny Micronesian atoll in the middle of the Pacific, he was raised learning celestial navigation. As a baby his grandfather held his body in tidal pools, to feel how the water and the currents flowed. After becoming a palu (master navigator) at age 18, he watched his people become accustomed to the sextants and compasses of Western navigation. 

He changed us forever.

Moana Swan

Duty-bound as a palu to pass on his knowledge, he travelled to Hawaii, to the Polynesian Voyaging Society to teach others how to navigate by the stars. He is a figure of great mana and knowledge among the voyaging community, and his work is still a part of waka culture in the 21st century. 

Moana Swan says of this image of Papa Mau, “in the image, Mau in his younger and vital days is working with sennit to make cordage for canoe lashings. [It is] a very forceful image that juxtaposes a small, unassuming man with a later to be revered, god-like figure in the Polynesian voyaging community. He changed us forever. We will not forget him.”


Each day, starting  1 February 2018, we will share new videos and stories online so you too can join the journey in the lead up to the start of A Waka Odyssey, 23 Feb – 4 March 2018. Be part of the story via our website festival.co.nz/waka, on the New Zealand Festival's Facebook and Instagram pages, or using the hashtags #NZWaka and #NZFestival. 


Join in A Waka Odyssey celebrations at the spectacular theatrical extravaganza KupeFestival opening night set on Wellington's waterfront; the Kupe Landing: Petone Family Day – a fun beach party for all the whānau; and the Kupe Dreaming series of waka-themed community events and activities. 

Haere mai - Come on board. 

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