Since 2010 – initially funded by the BankGiro Loterij (Dutch national lottery fund) – the museum houses two waka. As an important icon of Māori culture and of New Zealand, the waka is the obvious object and symbol around which to collaborate. Waka reflect the maritime traditions of the Māori people, Māori identity and the role of Māori culture in modern New Zealand society. Certain Māori principles and ideas inform the behaviour and customs relating to waka (kaupapa waka). They are used to welcome important visitors to the country and to mark significant events for the nation. The waka tētē kura is available for general use, making it possible for many to actively experience aspects of Māori culture, while the waka taua is used for Māori cultural purposes. Within the Netherlands, the responsibility for the kaupapa waka is shared between Museum Volkenkunde and the Njord Royal Student Rowing Club (Njord), established in 1874 and named after the Nordic god of water. The Museum is responsible for the care and maintenance of the waka, while Njord is in charge of the crew. Legal ownership of the waka taua remains with Toi Māori Aotearoa | Māori Arts New Zealand, a charitable trust and umbrella organization supporting contemporary Māori arts nationally and internationally.
The museum organises a waka weekend every year that aims at fostering relations between the museum, Toi Maori, the Nga Waka federation, Njord, Ngati Ranana, Kohanga Reo and the New Zealand Embassy in The Hague. The weekend is also presents an occasion to look after the physical and cultural condition of waka tete, waka taua and whare waka (the canoe shelter). Ultimately, the weekend offers the scope for creating a community around the waka in Europe.
Bringing together different communities with an interest in Maori culture allows the museum and the RCMC, in particular, to reflect on the ethical and responsible approaches for the care, display and use of collections. The waka project addresses questions of ownership, authority and access, but also indigenous ideas on curating and conservation/preservation.
Together with the different communities present, the waka weekend engages in discussions around the politics of representation. The waka project provides an opportunity to critically reflect on representational practices within ethnographic museums, examining how, over time, ‘other’ cultures or cultural practices have been presented and how objects are collected and mobilized as representatives of a culture or cultural practice. In the museum context, both waka address the ambassadorial role they might play for indigenous people who are otherwise not represented in the Netherlands. The waka project exemplifies how diasporas, and Maori strategies specifically, might engage with their cultural objects abroad in commenting on, and negotiating the world they inhabit. The waka project is also particularly suited to address issues of gender as the ceremonial waka is off limits to women.