Vaka (canoe) Tauhunu

circa 1900

Te Papa

Te Papa
Wellington, New Zealand

This vaka (canoe) is from the atoll of Manihiki in the Northern Cook Islands and was probably made in the late nineteenth century. Its name is Tauhunu and it is one of only a few full-size vaka from Manihiki known to exist in museums today. Tauhunu was originally sent to the Christchurch International Exhibition in 1906 by Colonel Walter Edward Gudgeon, a New Zealander who was working in the Cook Islands at that time. In 1907, after the exhibition, Tauhunu was acquired for the Dominion Museum by director Augustus Hamilton.

Used mainly inside the lagoon, Tauhunu is an outrigger vaka that could be either sailed or paddled. The hull is immaculately finished and precisely tapered. It is decoratively inlaid with carefully cut pieces of pearl shell that also spell out Tauhunu - the name of the main village on the Manihiki atoll.

In the late 1990s, Tauhunu was carefully restored by Te Papa conservation staff, and members of the Manihiki community were consulted on aspects of its care and future access. The vaka is a significant treasure, for although canoe building continued in Manihiki until recently, modern examples do not match the quality of workmanship used to construct Tauhunu.


  • Title: Vaka (canoe) Tauhunu
  • Date Created: circa 1900
  • Location: Cook Islands
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 430mm (width), 1050mm (height), 8860mm (length), 480kg (weight)
  • Provenance: Purchased 1907
  • Subject Keywords: Manihiki, Cook Islands, Polynesian, Oceanic, Cook Islands Māori
  • Rights: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
  • External Link: Te Papa Collections Online
  • Medium: Pearl shell, wood, coconut fibre
  • Support: wood
  • Registration ID: FE010421

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