Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remembering the old, moving into the new...

The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, Te Puia; words synonymous with iconic Māori tourism, but look a little closer and you’ll find a wealth of knowledge associated with our past.

Thousands of foreign visitors each day pass through the waharoa at Te Puia snapping shots of huge carved guardians and marvelling at the impressive infrastructure. With cultural performances scheduled throughout the day, resident Kiwi, a guaranteed showing of the world famous Pohutu Geyser, and hangi available for lunch and dinner, it’s a tourist paradise.

The commercial aspects of Te Puia and its mandated responsibility to maintain, develop and promote Māori arts, crafts and culture are intimately linked. Te Puia is totally self-funding and is one, if not the only self-sustaining cultural centre in the world. Every dollar that is earned through the operation is channelled directly back into the business, the operation of the schools and for kaupapa throughout the country.

Te Puia Chief Executive, Te Taru White says the tourism arm enables authentic Māori culture to be recognised globally, “Te Puia is a vessel that articulates our living legacy, our history, stories, genealogy – our culture to the many people that visit us over time. So we’re storytellers; we’re presenters of our history and culture.”

Rebranded as Te Puia in 2005, the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute is the result of a vision held by the late Sir Apirana Ngata. Ngata identified art and craft with the supporting knowledge and disciplines as the pillars of Māori tribal culture. His dream was to establish centres of learning to maintain and perpetuate these customs under Māori tuition, and for Māori to retain their customary practices. Ngata understood that the key to preserving tribal knowledge and identity was through the maintenance of material culture, and in particular marae, the epicentre of tribal history, society and identity.

The first Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Act was passed in 1926, but it would be another 40 years before the institute would take residence in the Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley and be established as a national organisation. Māori guides had been operating in the Whakarewarewa valley prior to the Tarawera eruption in 1886, and were the main draw to Rotorua alongside the geothermal activity.

In 1967 Te Wānanga Whakairo Rākau (the National Carving School) was established and Hone Taiapa was appointed the inaugural Head of School. Hone and his brother Pine had trained alongside Te Arawa and Waikato carvers at the original carving school located at Ohinemutu. First intake carver and the current Head of School James Rickard says Te Puia’s role within the Māori community is crucial, “this school is a necessary part of the survival of our culture, if you continually change bits and pieces of your culture you’re going to end up with nothing. The legacy of Te Puia is to maintain what we have”.

One of many unique aspects of Te Puia is its legislated mandate to confer its own qualifications. Māori principles and values, quality standards, and teaching practices of the past continue to be the operating framework for the Institute today. Te Puia General Manager Visitor Experience Karl Johnstone says, “This framework centres its efforts on the direct development of cultural capital for hapū and iwi throughout the country. Students of the Institute are cultural conduits for their iwi. The objectives of our training programmes are to develop highly skilled artists that can return to their hau kainga and pass on their teachings”.

Amongst many contributions to the Nation, the Carving School has built and restored over 40 whare whakairo since its establishment and has just completed carvings for the new Ngāti Pāoa whare, Pāoa Whanaunga in Kaiaua. While that statistic is impressive in its own right, it does not include the legacy of houses built since its inception in 1926 or the whare that graduates of the Institute have gone on to complete after leaving Te Puia.

In 1969 Te Rito, the National Weaving School was set up at the Institute and has produced many skilled weavers from all over the country since that time. Initially led by Tōhunga Rāranga Emily Schuster, the role was inherited by her daughter Edna Pahewa who says a renaissance of the artform has strengthened its existence. Like the Carving School, Te Rito has been involved in countless community based programmes and continues to run day and night classes to teach our woven time honoured traditions.

In October of this year the Pounamu Training and Development Unit, led by Lewis Gardiner was launched and coincided with the launch of Te Puia’s independent official quality mark. The mark has been specifically implemented for works produced within the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute but has the potential to grow incrementally. The mark is as an independent quality measure, guaranteeing the standard of workmanship and the materials across all tāonga produced by the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute.

Karl Johnstone says the traditional Poito image used on the Mark of Authenticity is part of the legacy of Te Puia, “the concept of this design was developed by Hone Taiapa to symbolise its legislated role to keep the arts and crafts traditions of Māori afloat.”

By Marire Kuka (featured in Dec/Jan Mana Magazine)


  1. Is this the face of the carving school now.once upone a time students coudl carve once they left the school.It would apear that this is not so any more.I mean guys go and have a look for your selvs.You might see student there carving some sort of mess but dont bother asking them ,they will just repeat the same revised slerp that has been taught in the last ten or so years.I must say though those boys shure look pretty standing by that gift to china.Im a little worried though? why are we sending a wakamaumahara there i mean who died? or is this a vision of whats to become of the carving school under its aparent mastery level Kaiako!As for the mark of offical quality are you kidding.What self respecting carver would go to this place and have there work approved by a group of guys who contuinuosly been out for there own intrests.Who assess them.some to think about.

  2. Well guys.check this out!To get the mark of authenticty you dont have to be a carver or even do traditional work.Go to the Te puiaz shop and have a look.The school dosent even stand by its own product.I belive the school is comeing to an end so long as old men are running it.All they do is run down other people all day and each other.they infect the school with their issues with each other.The head of the school truly belives that the quality of work that is being created under his guidence is of Institute standard,lol. some to think about.

  3. Another concern are the smoke signals being sent from the waikato.what the hell happend over here?people are saying that the job is poor
    and that they have been riped off!someone need to cut the rot out of that man is undoing 40 years of hard work.

  4. As far as the Poito is concerned it was a symbol that was given to the carvers to mark there acheivement.Mr Johnstone is just another manager here to day and gone tomoro!It would appear that you dont even have to be a carver in the traditional arts any more,to receive the Poito.Yea those guys at at Te Puia sure like Tradition when it suits them! Those students are still useing the same broken benches and vices that were being used by the Fisst intake in 1967.If OHAS walked in there and saw the things that go on there it would get closed down?Think about that before you start voicing your opinion on matters you dont know Mana Magerzine!