Ngāti Te Whiti has presented HMNZS Endeavour with a new Symbol of Command at an emotional ceremony in New Plymouth today.
The Te Ātiawa hapū handed over a white-pine pou, or staff, to the ship's Commanding Officer Sandra Walker at a powhiri at Port Taranaki.
Every ship in the navy has a Symbol of Command which is handed over from one commander to the next.
Ms Walker said previously the Endeavour had used a Nuiean spear, which had been given to the ship as a gift.
About 18 months ago, and with her time in charge of the fleet oil supply vessel coming to an end, she began the process of commissioning something more appropriate for a New Zealand ship.
"As every other ship in the New Zealand Navy has a Māori symbol, we wanted to come to Endeavour's home port of Taranaki, establish a relationship with the iwi and create a Symbol of Command that would endure beyond this ship's life."
Ms Walker hands Endeavour over to Commander Martin Doolan next week and she said reaffirming its bond with Ngāti Te Whiti through the pou before relinquishing command had been personally very important to her.
"To leave my office having established this new relationship with Ngāti Te Whiti means more than anything. Endeavour has one of the strongest relationships with its home port and this just strengthens it further."
The pou was carved by the Ngāti Te Whiti artist Darcy Nicholas and the hapu's spokesperson, Shaun Keenan, said it was full of powerful symbolism.
"A lot of the symbolism links back to the sea and back to Taranaki. So we have at the top the moon, stars and the planets represented, which were historically our navigational symbols, and it tracks through the history of Te Ātiawa and New Zealand itself. On the bottom we have a symbol representing the tōhunga from Tokomaru which was the waka of Ngāti Te Whiti."
Mr Keenan said he was proud that the Endeavour would have the pou from Ngāti Te Whiti looking out for it on its travels and that the ship would now be more closely bound to the hapū.
"It's a real honour for the hapu to be involved in this and we take some satisfaction and comfort in the fact that on the HMNZS Endeavour is a Symbol of Command that has been produced by the hapu specifically for that purpose."