The crew from the Samoa Voyaging Society, the Gaualofa, played a starring role in Wellington New Zealand during the “ Kupe: Waka Odyssey.”
The Gaualofa was among the waka fleet in the capital’s harbour.
The once in a lifetime event saw more than 20,000 people gathered to welcome the majestic fleet of va’a and for many Samoans who got to witness the Gaualofa sail into the harbour, it was an extremely emotional experience.
Samoa High Commissioner to New Zealand, Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan was present at the opening of the Festival.
He told the Samoa Observer that it was a special experience to see Samoa represented in the festival.
“It was a very touching moment on Friday to see the Gaualofa sail by in the Wellington Harbour to the loud applause of the huge crowd and many VIP Guests which included the NZ Governor General and Sir David as well as our Prime Minister and Mrs. Gillian Malielegaoi,” he said.
“Standing behind the Prime Minister next to Tuatagaloa Joe and seeing our flag waving from the Gaualofa as she sailed past, made us feel extremely proud to be Samoan especially when she was the only Waka from outside NZ that is participating in the Festival.”’
Prime Minister Tuilaepa was present for the opening on Friday and also played a key role in the Saturday event when the Gaualofa sailed from the Wellington harbour to the Petone foreshore for a community occasion.
The crew and guests were received by local community leaders and Samoan dignitaries.
Wellington locals were invited to board the vessel.
Wellington community leader and well known sports commentator, Fauono Ken Laban, told the Samoa Observer that the atmosphere was exciting and it was a special occasion to have Prime Minister Tuilaepa present for the occasion.
Fauono said the Prime Minister’s response speech encapsulated all that the occasion represented and he felt that 300 years of history was celebrated with class and dignity.
“The Prime Minister spoke about the sacred relationship between Tangata Whenua and Samoa. He said that was what we were celebrating today,” he said.
“The voyages of our founding forefathers Maori and Samoa was the mission of the Gaualofa. He was full of praise for those who made the day a reality.
“He was humble and dignified when referencing history and the journeys of the Pacific Islanders over the course of history.”
Samoan, Henrietta Hunkin- Tagaloa who took her family to see the event said that the atmosphere at the Petone foreshore was pretty special and according to her, the cultural and historical significance, and the general excitement of seeing the Gaualofa on the shore made for a wonderful day for the family.
“Having all the different va'a from the Pacific docked up on the seashore was awe-inspiring and seeing the different crew onboard each va'a bought about a sense of pride for each of them, their families, their cultures and the milestone they had just created.
“It was awesome to see so many people down on the shore; and so many non-Pacific Islanders. I heard many conversations happening around me between young children and parents discussing what was happening, where they had come from, if they were from the same place as ‘Moana’. They all seemed to really enjoy being part of something that you wouldnt normally see these days, especially around here.”
The Gaualofa was received into the Petone foreshore with a powhiri and a haka (maori welcome) from several iwi tribes of the wider Wellington region and the Samoan response was given by the Prime Minister. The huge crowd that gathered included Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, Samoa High Commissioner, as well as local tribal leaders and Hutt City mayor Ray Wallace. The Waka festival will be showcased for a week.