World renowned carver and celestial navigator Hekenukumaingaiwi Puhipi Busby – or Uncle Hek as he is affectionately known to thousands of waka paddlers – has been knighted today at Waitangi.
Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy recognised his lifetime of work as a master waka builder and celestial navigator.
“Sir Hek, your legacy is represented today in the best way possible with the presence of a waka taua below us in the bay and the representatives of many Pacific nations who have come here to join in today’s celebrations.
“On behalf of the Queen of New Zealand and all New Zealanders I congratulate you on your achievement and I thank you for your service.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was by Sir Hekenukumaingaiwi’s side during the ceremony, and held his tokotoko, or walking stick, while he received his medal.
Up at Tent City where the kaihoe (paddlers) gathered ahead of today’s investiture, there is a deep appreciation of what he has achieved.
Joe Conrad, from Te Aupouri, is the captain of Ngātokimatawhaorua, the world’s largest waka taua which is housed at Waitangi.
“We are very, very fortunate that we have some of these waka here in New Zealand, have some of his waka under my control,” he said.
“Because there will be a taonga that will be treasured and treasured forever.
Mr Conrad said Uncle Hek’s years as a bridge builder honed his mathematical mind and exacting attention to detail.
“The things we do, he’ll always come back and check – ‘I don’t think you’ve done that right boy’ – so that’s perfectionist. He’s brilliant.”
But it’s not just the skills, it’s the man himself they want to acknowledge for his impact on so many lives.
“His giggle, his munching of his teeth when he gets angry, when he gets grumpy, we run away when we know he’s in a mood, we try not to talk to him but he always has his way of picking the phone up and calling you. Usually when he calls he goes ‘kia ora’…and there’s a pause and then ‘hey!’
“When he says ‘hey’ you know he’s got something coming at you. You better be prepared to try and figure out what the ‘hey’ is. He’s a driver. He certainly drives you. It’s good for the person, it’s good for the man, he certainly drives you.”
Hek grew up milking cows by hand on his family’s farm at Pukekpoto in the north, and trained as a bridge builder.
The name Busby comes from James Busby who helped draft the Treaty of Waitangi. Hek’s ancestor Teripi Temarua was chief of Te Rarawa. He was baptised by James Busby who became his godfather – and gave the family his name, Busby.
His interest in waka was sparked when a team of paddlers from Hawaii arrived in Aotearoa in 1985 on a Hokule’a, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, which was retracing ancient migration routes.
At Waitangi the Hawaiian group were welcomed by Sir James Henare whose words had a profound impact on Hek.
“When the Hawaiians came over in 1985 he greeted them and welcomed them and I remember the words that he said: ‘this is one of the happiest days of my life’.”
Published 4 February 2019 on Radio New Zealand website