Friday, July 31, 2009

Making an Entrance

Opotiki, Bay of Plenty. May 2009. Ajr
When I visited Opotiki in May, on my way around East Cape, I called in to the local visitor centre to see if they could give me some information on the Maori carvings in the main street. Sadly - and surprisingly - they were unable to give me anything beyond a small mention in their Pacific Coast Highway guide, which I had already found. As if to make up for that, the man in charge talked excitedly about the new carvings at the Opotiki District Council. "They're just next door," he said. "You should have a look. We're very proud of them." And so they should be because they do make a very bold entrance statement. Sadly, he couldn't tell me anything about their derivation either. So I phoned the council myself and discovered they were carved by Heke Collier of Opotiki, who has carved a number of major works in the district including Wairaka, in the town's mainstreet (which I have featured here a few weeks back); and the beautiful carved poupou (poles/totems) at Waiotahi Beach, near Opotiki, which I will be featuring soon.

Living Language

Torere, East Cape. May 2009 Ajr.
One of my favourite discoveries on my East Cape travels was beautiful little Torere School, located at the top of the hill overlooking a sweeping horseshoe bay. Quite apart from its magnificent carved gateway (which I wrote about here some weeks ago; click on Torere School in the label line below), there was a lovely atmosphere about the place. The grounds were immaculate and every surface seemed to be decorated. I wandered into the school grounds (it was a weekend so no one was about), to have a closer look hoping the folks in the nearby cluster of houses wouldn't think me suspicious. I was thrilled to see whole classrooms filled with evidence of thriving bilingualism - more te Reo than English in fact - or so it seemed from my quick peek. Lovely. I'd love to visit again when school is in.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Hill, A River, A Beach, A Marae

Maraenui, East Cape. May 2009. Ajr
Maraenui on East Cape is heartland Te Whanau-a-Apanui territory. I turned off State Highway 35 and drove down the short side road to the stony beach there on my recent travels and found a cute little marae with a wharenui called Te Iwarau and a selection of marvellous carvings – two of which I featured here last week. It’s home to the hapu Te Whanau a Hikarukutai. All I had for company that day, as I stood under the giant pohutukawa in front of the marae, was a screeching magpie and the roar of the ocean. It was a wonderful feeling and I felt as if I had discovered a long-lost treasure.

The sea apparently dips away sharply here making it an excellent fishing spot. The nearby mouth of the Motu River is also known to be a good place to fish for kahawai in season – so no surprise to learn then, that the coastal flats and the hills behind were once home to numerous Maori pa sites. After I had spent some time sitting quietly outside the marae, soaking up the atmosphere, I drove on around the coast road to the lookout on Maraenui Hill and looked back across the sweep of the bay, thinking about the invisible layers of history that occupy our land. Maybe I had been seduced by the isolation and the beauty of the place, but I had no difficulty in imagining the scene complete with a number of working marae as it might have been a hundred years ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A couple of days ago I followed the wonderful trail of whitebait photos from “White Baiters Never Lie,” which I featured here yesterday (below), all along Worcester Boulevard to the very last one outside the Robert McDougall Gallery, Canterbury Museum. Since I was there, it seemed an opportune moment to venture inside and check out another Christchurch Arts Festival exhibition, “Snare/Mahanga.” The show brings together the work of a small group of artists who were allowed ‘behind the scenes’ at Canterbury Museum, to get their inspiration from the museum’s ornithological collection. The resulting works are incredibly diverse but all touch upon the sensitive issues of conservation and extinction and feature already-extinct and rare birds like the kakapo, the beautiful huia and the Haast eagle. I didn’t have time to give the show just attention so I’ll be going back for another visit, but I did love Peter Maddon’s “Waka Huia,” which includes five beautiful taxidermied huia from the museum’s collection, complete with little labels tied around their claws; and Fiona Pardington’s delicious, velvety handprinted photograph, as shown in the image in the photographed catalogue below, is one I’m still thinking about two days later.
The painting shown on the catalogue cover is a detail from Geoff Dixon’s “Black/White (Old World/New World). Co-presented by festival sponsors, Te Runanga a Ngai Tahu, the exhibition also includes beautiful works by Maori artists including delicate silver and feather jewellery by Areta Wilkinson; wood carving by Caine Tauwhare, woven birds by Reihana Parata, painted rocks by Te Mairiki Williams and an exquisitely woven kit by Ranui Ngarimu to name a few.

Te Wiki o te Reo Maori

I’m a few days late in addressing the fact that it’s Maori Language Week in New Zealand but I got here in the end. It’s a time when the focus goes on the fact that despite a huge renaissance, Maori language is still not ‘out of the water.’ The theme this year is Te Reo i te Hapori – Maori language in the community and many events have been planned around the country to encourage people to participate in the language in some way. Census statistics for 2006 showed that less than one quarter of Maori adults were proficient Maori speakers, so despite the fact that there has been an enormous increase in the use of te Reo Maori on television, in schools, on the radio and in everyday signage, the Maori Language Commission is encouraging people to use Maori language in the home to ensure its survival. Anyone visiting this blog regularly will know that I present a series called Maori Place Names. The one shown in the above image was photographed on East Cape. Long names are not uncommon in te Reo Maori – I’ve featured many of them here already – but the king of them all is found in the tiny North Island village of Porangahau, which is 55km south-east of Waipukura in southern Hawke’s Bay. As well as being home to the richly-named Rongomaraeroa Marae, it has the distinction of having a small hill (1,000ft) with the 92-letter name: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which means ‘The hilltop where Tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, travelled over land and sea, played his kaouau (flute) to his beloved.' Not surprisingly, it is one of the longest place names in the world.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taking the Bait

Whitebait and the act of whitebaiting, is one of those iconic New Zealand activities that has been around ‘forever’ – unchanged and still able to capture our hearts, minds and appetites. For Maori, it has always been a popular traditional food source and if you click on either Traditional Foods or Whitebait in the label line below this post, you’ll be able to read other postings I’ve made about whitebait in the Maori context.

‘Whitebaiters Never Lie’ is a fantastic Christchurch Arts Festival exhibition with a difference. It has taken 118 images from the book of the same name (also launched at the festival) by Murray Hedwig and Anita Peters, blown them up to billboard size and displayed them along the entire length of Worcester Boulevard from Cathedral Square to the Canterbury Museum. Hedwig’s photographs are stunning and there’s something surreal and intriguing about seeing them made giant and displayed within a busy cityscape.
It took Hedwig and Peters three years to produce their book – visiting popular whitebaiting sites throughout New Zealand to photograph, interview and document the activities of many of the ‘older characters’ still fishing using tried-and-true methods. I for one am delighted they did so. I’ve interviewed a few old whitebaiters myself and the stories they tell are fascinating. This is one book I’ll be lining up for. In terms of the exhibition itself, I’ve wandered along Worcester Boulevard several times now, always admiring the photographs and always fascinated to see how the public in general interacts with art in public spaces. This is definitely one show that is drawing people in and I’ve watched numerous visitors taking photographs of each other in front of the whitebaiters. It's just a pity it's not whitebaiting season and that there's none selling whitebait fritters from a boulevard stall.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stories in Boxes

Christchurch. July 2009. Ajr
Waharoa is the Maori word for gateway and traditionally a waharoa is an ornately carved feature at the entrance to a marae. At the 2009 Christchurch Arts Festival Winter Garden in Cathedral Square ‘waharoa’ takes on a whole new meaning. The team from Wellington creative design studio, Dnation (Jess Feast and Robert Appierdo), have created “Waharoa: Storybox” celebrating people and place in a unique way. At the north and south ends of the square (on either side of Christchurch Cathedral), they’ve stacked 12 huge shipping containers (two sets, three-high at each end), to form a gateway into the festival’s Winter Garden performance area. Within the two top tiers of each stack, a video ‘documentary’ presents a graphic interpretation that explores layers of history, culture and the inter-connection of themes through time.
Christchurch. July 2009. Ajr
Running for 40 minutes from 6pm each night for the duration of the festival, the story boxes tell two distinct stories: Reflections of the Past and Visions for the Future. The Past story, Mapping Puari, presents a graphic interpretation of Canterbury’s colonisation, weaving together a fascinating, flickering, historical swirl of the people, objects, buildings, plants and animals that have occupied the area over time. The end result is “an interactive whakapapa of events and objects that have grown out of the physical space that was once Puari Pa.” The Future Mo Tatou, features interviews with four Ngai Tahu kaumatua (elders) in their eighties and four Ngai Tahu young people. It’s an intimate presentation sharing their gathered visions for the future. In the base of the storybox stacks, there are presentations from Animation Substation (sourced from the Melbourne Animation Festival) geared towards primary and secondary school children. I love everything about this terrific installation – the unexpected heft of the ‘brutal’ shipping containers placed beside the architectural finery of the cathedral; the visual confetti of Mapping Puari; the ‘visions’ of Mo Tatou. I think it’s brilliantly conceived and it’s just a pity it will only be around until August 9th. To my mind, it would be a far better public art investment (though impractical I’m sure), than many we have been forced to accept.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More From the Kete Files

Woven Kete
Mixed Styles on Display
At Hokonui Marae, Near Gore

Museum Glass

Wellington April 2009 Ajr
Another section of glass etched with traditional Maori designs
at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
If you click on Museum of New Zealand in the label line below this post, you'll be able to see other examples of this beautiful etched glass that marries so perfectly with the architecture.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Song in the Night

Christchurch. July 2009. Ajr
This was a dramatic moment at the opening of the Christchurch Arts Festival Winter Garden in Christchurch's Cathedral Square on Thursday night. With thousands of people gathered below her, Wellington-based singer Toni Huata - raised 15-20 feet in the air and spotlit - sang a hauntingly beautiful Maori wiata (song), that rang out across the Square and silenced the crowd. I took these photos with a telephoto lens, with no flash and unsupported by a tripod, hence the crazy movement in the bottom image. But I kinda like that. For me it speaks of a festive mood. You can read more about Toni in the Meet the People Series on this blog. Click on her name below.

It's a Sign

Fishing to Win
At Maraenui
East Cape
May 2009 Ajr

Friday, July 24, 2009

Festival Opening

Tuahiwi Kapa Haka Group outside Christchurch Cathedral
One of the major sponsors of this year’s Christchurch Arts Festival Winter Garden 2009, is Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu and last night I went along to see the Te Ngai Tuahuriri kapa haka group perform at the opening in Cathedral Square. Thankfully the rain held off and a crowd of several thousand people came along to see a series of mixed performers kick of a terrific calendar of events that runs through until August 9th. There are several Ngai Tahu-initiated shows during the festival and I’ll bring you more about those in the coming days. In the meantime, here are a few moody shots from a night filled with lights and laughter.
Waiting between performances while opening speeches are made
The men perform a rousing haka
A visual compilation from the night

Bay of Plenty Building Designs

Opotiki. May 2009. Ajr
One of the things I loved best about travelling from Rotorua to Opotiki and on, right around East Cape to Gisborne, was the proliferation of Maori pattern and design that you rarely see now anywhere else in country - apart from on marae of course. It's everywhere and Opotiki was especially colourful. Take these traditional patterns that decorate the Whakatohea Health Centre for instance - a small, otherwise insignificant little 1920s stucco building made handsome and distinctive in the town's main street. Te Whakatohea is the main iwi of the Bay of Plenty region and the lands of the six hapu (sub-tribes) stretch from Ohiwa Harbour in the west to Opape in the east and inland to Matawai. I'd love to make a return trip here to explore some of those much-less-travelled inland areas - one day soon I hope.

Maori Place Names - 17

Central North Island
April 2009. Ajr

Thursday, July 23, 2009

East Cape Carving

East Cape. May 2009. Ajr

I photographed these two beautiful carvings at the very pretty Maraenui Marae in Te Whanau-a-Apanui territory on East Cape. I took a side road down to the beach and there it was, tucked under a hill with a magnificent giant pohutukawa tree growing out front. I'll write more about this lovely spot tomorrow. Consider these handsome carvings a little introduction as I rush out the door to a meeting.

Glass Art

Traditional Designs
The Koru & The Hei Matau
In Glass
At Taihape's excellent Maori Gallery
Aotearoa Ake

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Steeped in History

Waitangi, Northland. April 2009. Ajr
I HAD to stop and photograph these magnificent carvings at Te Tii Marae in Waitangi when I was there in April. The marae (often inappropriately referred to as the Lower Waitangi marae - in relation to its proximity to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds), sits beside the Waitangi River and opposite Te Tii Beach and is the focal point of Waitangi Day celebrations on February 6th each year. It is also an important meeting place for the Ngapuhi people.

More From Te Tii Marae

This is the very cute wharenui at Te Tii Marae, build along the lines of the European-style community halls of the 1880s. Opened in 1922 by then Prime Minister, William Massey, it was built by members of the Maori Women’s League (now the Maori Women’s Welfare League), after World War I and the international flu epidemic had had a severe impact on the male members of Northland iwi. It replaces the original building, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which was erected on the same site in 1881 but was destroyed by a gale in 1917.

I also loved the gateway – I have a bit of a thing about entrances to buildings and complexes – and I photographed the plaque which sits on the inside wall of the entrance.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meet the People - 21

Meet the People 21 – Contemporary Maori Doing Ordinary and Extraordinary Things – Linzi Hodge (Ngati Wai, Northland), grew up in Whangarei and then left New Zealand five years ago to explore what lay beyond. She’s been living in Sydney ever since where she now works as a florist. Her ties to New Zealand though, remain strong and she returns every six months to reacquaint herself with her roots. “Living in Sydney has made me realise what a beautiful country New Zealand is and hopefully I’ll move back within the next five years,” she says. Linzi, 26, says her Northland upbringing included learning Maori at school. “When I was young my birth father’s family was very traditional and we spent a lot of time going onto the marae. I didn’t enjoy it then but now I look back and think it was an important part of my upbringing.” More recently she returned home to get married to her Australian partner, Kirk Macdonald.
Linzi completed a floristry course in Sydney and now works as a florist, incorporating traditional Maori harakeke (flax) putiputi (flowers) into her work. “It can be difficult to get flax here so I buy it from a foliage man at the flower markets. I’ve based a lot of my work on putiputi. I enjoy using Maori designs in all of my work and it’s great to show that to people here, who have no idea about Maori, the designs or the meanings behind them. I’ve had a huge response to my woven flowers over here.”

But Linzi doesn’t stop at floristry. She’s inspired by anything creative including acrylic painting and sewing clothes and cushions (made from old, woollen New Zealand blankets). She sells her Kiwiana-inspired cushions on Etsy, the global creative Internet site that presents the creative work of hundreds of thousands of people from over 150 countries. And on top of that, she runs her own blogsite – – where she indulges her passion for photography and all things creative. You can check out more of her work there and read about what she makes of living in Sydney.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Making an Entrance

Ngaruawahia, Waikato. April 2009. Ajr
A week or so ago, I worte a post about the spectacular Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia, near Hamilton in the Waikato. (Click on Turangawaewae in the label line below this post to read a little about the Marae's history). I was SO impressed by the marae gates that I spent some time photographing them. You'll see the main ceremonial gate in my previous post. This is another entrance further along the complex. Every one of them a work of art!

It's All Too Luscious!

A Lime Green Tiki Treat
Earrings by Too Luscious

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Art - Inside and Out

Christchurch. July 2009. Ajr
I was wandering through the Christchurch Arts Centre Market last weekend when I noticed this paint job on the outside of Te Toi Mana Maori Art Gallery, which is where leading Maori carver, Riki Manuel bases himself. In addition to Riki's carving studio, which has a glass wall so you can watch him at work, the gallery also presents a great selection of traditional and contemporary Maori paintings, drawings, crafts and sculptures. I don't remember the building being painted like this on the exterior though. Maybe it's had a facelift in the months I've been out of Christchurch researching and writing Frommers New Zealand? Or maybe some garden greenery has been removed. Not that it matters of course. The good thing is, now you can't miss it!

Maori Place Names - 16

Wahiao Whare Tipuna
(Ancestors' House)
Wakarewarewa Living Thermal Village

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Braving the Wild Seas

People who love eating whitebait will do just about anything to get them - including braving the unpredictable seas at The Box on the South Island's southern east coast near Waimate. I took a whole series of photos of these whitebaiters, when I visited the nearby Waihao Marae to do a kai feature for Ngai Tahu's magazine Te Karaka.

An Important Plant

Waitangi, Northland. April 2009 Ajr
Kawakawa, Macropiper excelsum or more commonly, the pepper tree, is not to be confused with Horopito, Pseudowintera colorata, which is also commonly known as the pepper tree. Horopito has peppery-tasting leaves but Kawakawa is the one that belongs to the true pepper family - the Piperaceae. Kawa in Maori means bitter, hence the tree’s name in reference to its bitter-tasting leaves. I took this photograph of Kawakawa on a walk through the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on a guided tour with leading guide, Wil Napier, who explained that traditionally, Kawakawa was often used by Maori in an infused tea to flush out the kidneys; or as a treatment for colds and coughs. In fact it had a number of uses in rongoa (traditional medicine). The leaves could be chewed to soothe toothache, stomach problems and indigestion; and the yellow summer berries could be eaten as a diuretic. Tossed on a fire its leaves would create an insect repellent; and leaves were placed over boils, bruises and cuts to accelerate healing. The leaves are also strongly associated with Maori tangi (funerals) and were traditionally used as part of the embalming process. The adornment of greenery is a traditional (and still common) way of expressing mourning for Maori and at a tangi you’ll usually see kuia (older women) wearing kawakawa taua (wreaths) on their heads. The tree’s multiple uses now also include inclusion in a number of commercially available tonics, skincare products and healing balms. Two More Facts: The Kawakawa is closely related to the Polynesian kava plant; and its heart-shaped leaves are frequently filled with holes made by the looper caterpillar (Cleora scriptaria).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cultural Graffiti

I’m a big fan of modern graffiti. I photograph it wherever I go and you can see a lot of it on my other blog – Just put graffiti into the search box and you should find heaps if you’re interested. That by way of introduction to this post about Maori-inspired graffiti and a comment I read yesterday on Baruk Feddabonn’s blog, In his piece about Maori influences in New Zealand art (rock art and beyond), he says he has “yet to see any graffiti based on Maori/Pacific/Tribal styles.”

I think it depends on how you define “Maori/Pacific/Tribal style” but I have to say I saw quite a lot of Pacific-inspired graffiti in Auckland (understandably given that it is the largest Polynesian city in the world); and these pieces shown here, are from Eastland – Gisborne specifically -which has a large Maori population and a strong Maori cultural identity. They defnitely speak of Maori culture to me. Perhaps that’s what it comes down to – a strong cultural identity. We may be a bicultural country but for many Maori, speaking their own language and strongly identifying with their own culture in everyday life is a relatively new phenomenon. In more remote places like Eastland though, Maori culture has always been at the forefront of daily life and te Reo is spoken more often than English in many areas. Fluent expression in the arts - and yes, that does include graffiti and street art - requires personal confidence, a belief in self and a surety about who you are and where you come from. I think many young Maori in urban areas do create graffiti, but unless they have strong Maori cultural roots, they are more likely to mimic western and most particularly American graffiti styles. These no doubt are seen as being "cooler."
It seems logical to me that Maori living in ‘strong Maori pockets’ would have more confidence in expressing themselves in modern media like graffiti, with some reference to their own culture. You’re unlikely to find graffiti like this for instance, in places like Christchurch, or Parnell where modern Pakeha/western culture dominates. From my experience, graffiti of any sort is always ‘of its place’ one way or another. That is, it expresses the thoughts and culture of those creating it. Therefore, if you want to see Maori/Pacific/Tribal-inspired graffiti, you put yourself in the places that most strongly support individual cultural expression. Almost all the graffiti, street art and murals I photographed in Eastland were based on traditional Maori design elements - some more strongly than others admittedly -and many came from a unique Maori perspective.


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