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Tongan waka ama club focuses on deeper connection with its culture

Alakihihifo Vailala

A Tongan paddler is incorporating his culture into the sport he loves the most.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Fole Finau (Masilamea and Ma’ufanga) started waka ama over two decades ago with some friends at the Hauraki Sports Club.

He is a founding member and president of the Tui Tonga Canoe Club alongside being a board member of Waka Ama Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Tui Tonga Canoe Club was first established in 2006 by the late Tongan paddler, Kafoa Hala Latu.

In its first year, the club received the late King Tupou IV’s blessing to operate under the name Tui Tonga, meaning to have faith in the Tongan people.

Although their club is multicultural, Finau says a lot of the work they do as a club aligns with Tongan values.

Four Tongan values

“There are some values that a lot of Tongan recognise made famous by the late Queen Salote called the Faai Kavei Koula, the four Tongan values. We try to contextualise it in a modern day Aotearoa. It’s easier said than done but we’re finding our way through it.”

Hinerapa Rupuha (Ngati Kahungunu and Te Whanau a Apanui) says although she isn’t Tongan, she could resonate with the club’s values.

“I came for a paddle one time and one of our friends is Tongan. When they were talking at the first training, they talked a lot about connectivity and connection to the water, to the people and to our culture. So I think both Dani and I resonated with that.”

Connection and camaraderie

This year, the club has four teams made up of 24 paddlers from the ages of 11 - 51 competing in the National Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro, Waikato.

Finau competed in the Master Men division this year and says they’re pretty happy with results, particularly their youngest and newest team, the J16 women’s, who made it to the finals.

“For a small club, we’re pretty happy. Results aren’t a focus for us, it’s the connection and the camaraderie and the sharing that happens amongst the group.”

Looking at the future, Finau says they’re not focused on growing numbers but on making deeper connections with their own cultures.

“It’s more of a cultural practice for me than a sport because it goes back to our ancestors navigating the noana.”

Rupuha is also encouraging more Maori to embrace their Pasifika connections.

“I think some Māori are quite embarrassed to say that we have a cultural connection to the Pacific Ocean and something that I’m trying to teach my own is to just be a bit more open and to show that we come from the ocean as well.”

Hero Image: Fole (Daleki) Finau at the 2024 National Sprint Championships. Photo / Riria Dalton-Reedy, Whakaata Maori

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