Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

All female crew helps to keep Tongan voyaging traditions alive

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John Pulu | Presenter/ Reporter/Director

Tonga’s only licensed female sea captain is preparing a boat and crew for a voyage home.

‘Aunofo Havea Funaki is the first and only female in Tonga to become a licensed sea captain.

And for the past few months she’s been in Tauranga busy preparing a voyaging canoe and training an all-female crew of her country-women, for a journey back to the Friendly Isles.

“Twelve females will take Hinemoana, this waka, to Tonga,” she says.

“If we need to pass on something and if we need our young one to learn, this is the right thing to do. Build something or work on something that creates more knowledge, creates more talent.” 

Funaki is no stranger to the world of ocean-voyaging by sailing canoe, which has enjoyed a revival in recent decades. 

She grew up in Vava’u – in Tonga’s North – and had already secured her boatmaster and yacht captain’s licences when she joined the Te Mana O Te Moana regatta of traditional ocean-voyaging canoes in 2011. She was the only female captain sailing on the Hinemoana with a crew made up of ten different nationalities. 

Funaki continued to skipper voyaging canoes in the following years sailing an  all-female crew on adventures through the islands while using sailing vaka for eco-tourism in Vava’u.

For the current project, sponsors helped secure and transport to Tauranga a 50-foot sailing vaka that was in the Marshall Islands. Dubbed Hinemoana II, It is being restored and prepared for the journey to Tonga by its crew. 

And among the crew is Lahaina Tatafu who is excited about what lies ahead.   

“The vessels we have back home are all power vessels with motor engines,” she says. 

“I’m just so used to being fast on the water whereas this time I am more interested to learn about the traditional way of navigating, especially using the stars and the moon. I am very excited.”

And co-captain Fealofani Bruun says we can learn a lot from our ancestors and how they travelled across the moana.

“The vakas that we have today, it’s a blend of the old and the new so we use what our ancestors brought to us, the traditional knowledge, and not only that, the traditional values that they come with,” Brunn says.

The voyage from Tauranga to Tonga will take up to two weeks, depending on the weather, and during that time the crew will be doing some research on the migration patterns of humpback whales.

“We sail together with the whales, stay around in Tongatapu and then we can collect data and take footage of the tails and some other stuff like sea temperature.

“It’s not only a focus on whales but the oceans and then acidification as well; it’s a lot more bringing on to do this one,” Funaki  says.    

The project has united generations. Another crew member is Hollie Havea, captain Funaki’s daughter. She is looking forward to joining her mother on the trip.  

“I feel excited cos she’s there it wasn’t for her, I won’t be here yeah and it’s very exciting to see how she does work.”



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