Heke-nuku-mai-nga-iwi Busby: Not Here by Chance by Jeff Evans (Huia Publishers) tells the life story of Hec Busby. Busby is a master waka builder, waka expert, celestial navigator, and highly regarded Te Rarawa Elder. We asked Jeff a few quick questions about his new book on Busby.
1. What made you want to write a biography on Busby?
There were two reasons really. Firstly, it was a natural progression from some of my earlier books. I had written about the Māori migration traditions, as well as Polynesian navigation, and had also written another on Māori war canoes, and of course Hec was heavily involved in all of these subjects.
It was also an opportunity to stretch myself as a writer, and it certainly did that. It was a big step up from my previous books and to be honest I was totally unprepared for the task. For the longest time I told myself I wouldn’t write another biography after this one, but I’m coming around to realising that it would be a waste of all the effort and learning if I didn’t.
2. Is there interest from the younger generation in learning about waka building?
Yes there is, but the real growth is in those interested in sailing on voyaging canoes. Hec Busby has two voyaging canoes, and there are another 3-4 stationed here in New Zealand as well. The opportunities for Māori to sail in the wake of their ancestors, to follow the same stars that guided Kupe and others from the Central Pacific to Aotearoa, are incredible.
3. Have you been in one of Busby’s waka?
I’ve only been a guest on board Hec’s first voyaging canoe Te Aurere once, way back in 1999 for an overnight sail from Auckland to the Bay of Islands. Even being on board for that short time helped me appreciate the conditions the crews have to live on during their voyages. I mean 10-12 individuals have to live in a space about the size of a typical living room for 3-6 weeks at a time – and you quickly become very aware that once you are out on the ocean there’s no getting off: you’re there for the duration!
4. How did Busby learn the art of celestial navigation?
Hec started learning navigation from the Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson in the early 1990s, and refined his skills while sailing Te Aurere through the Pacific. Hec was also able to take the smattering of voyaging knowledge retained in oral traditions, karakia and the like, and add it to a growing knowledge base. For example, there are lists surviving that name the stars and planets used to guide the migration canoes, and the time of year the voyaging canoes were sailing can be worked out thanks to stories that mention the crews seeing blooming flowers covering the trees when they first arrived.
5. What are you currently working on?
I have a couple of books on the boil at the moment. I’m currently researching the history of the giant war canoe Nga Tokimatawhaorua that rests at the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, and that promises to be a wonderful subject. I’m also trying to work out if I have the skills and perseverance needed to try my hand at some fiction.
Jeff Evans is a writer and photographer. He has previously authoredNgā Waka o Neherā– The First Voyaging Canoes, The Discovery of Aotearoa(republished as Polynesian Navigation and the Discovery of New Zealand), Waka Taua – The Maori War Canoe, Maori Weapons in Pre-European New Zealand, and Notes on the Art of War. This is his first biography.