Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Weapons

The mere is a traditional Maori weapon – a broad, flat club shaped a little like a paddle. Although made in stone, whalebone and pounamu (greenstone), the term mere should only be used to describe the pounamu weapon. Weapons were treasured by their Maori owners – both in battle and as a statement of status – and were often highly decorated. The pounamu mere was particularly prized for its strength. I photographed this contemporary souvenir mere at Ngai Tahu’s Hui-a-Tau at Colac Bay in Southland in November.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Traditional Designs - 13

Cruise around any New Zealand gift shop these days and it doesn't take long to realise that 'things-Maori' are suddenly trendy. There is good and bad in that. Good that traditional Maori design is being recognised, appreciated and made available; bad in that 90% of it is not even New Zealand-made, but has been produced on the cheap in places like China and Taiwan. However, every so often I come upon a little gem and I particularly like these leather money boxes that pay homage to the traditional tiki.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Place of Learning

School was in session when I drove into the tiny North Island village of Makirikiri not too far from Dannevirke. Noting the signposts, I turned down a little side road and came to this very well kept school, just across the road from the Makirikiri Marae, which I've featured here previously. Throughout my April-May trip around New Zealand, I was always inspired by these little 'language nests' - especially in the Far North and around the Eastland area, where schools were often heavily decorated with carvings and Maori art.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Ngati Whatua Marae

It was pouring with rain the day I arrived in Dargaville in May this year. I was on the road, researching the 6th edition of the international travel guide Frommers New Zealand and always alert to spotting marae as I went. The Far North is well known for its rain and that day I had driven through torrential downpours all the way from Waipoua Forest. When I arrived in Dargaville itself, I hunted out the information centre and they very kindly gave me a list of all marae in the area – 20 of them in total; but all I had time for was this one.
Located just out of town, Te Houhanga Marae looked somewhat forlorn in the murky weather, its carvings covered in lichen, its lawns wet and soggy. The main wharenui (meeting house) is named Rahiri and it was built in 1914, Most of the carvings were completed by members of Ngati Porou on the North Island’s East Coast. There are waka (canoes) above each window – these in recognition of the two original canoes, Mataatua and Matawhaorua – that have a special significance to the local people. There was no chance of me getting inside the wharenui but I have since read that it is the oldest Ngati Whatua carved meeting house in North Auckland and its interior (and the whare kai) features some very good examples of early Maori figurative painting from the time of its construction.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Museum Piece

One Beautiful Kete
Used to Carry Kumara to the Store Pits
With the Aid of Strong Kawe
(Shoulder Straps)
As seen at Auckland Museum
April 2009. Ajr

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Northern Stop.

It was a quiet Saturday morning in May when I happened upon a sunny valley at Oue, on State Highway 12 between Waimamaku and Omapere in the Southern Hokianga in the Far North of the North Island. I was on my way to Herekino when I spied this small marae on the side of the road.
It’s Whakamaharatanga Marae, home to the Ngati Hine, Patu Pinake, Kainga Mataa, Parewhero hapu of the Te Rarawa iwi. I sat on the grassy verge for some time, soaking up the sun and listening to sounds and voices coming from the cluster of little houses that snuggle up beside the marae. I was hoping someone would come out for a chat but in the end, I never saw a soul. That was so often the case on my travels around New Zealand in April and May. I guess I was always on the road too early for most people; but I always enjoyed my stops nonetheless – brief glimpses into little communities that in many cases, seemed forgotten by time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's a Sign!

It's Christmas Day today.
I wonder how many tables the eternally popular kumara will be served on.
I know it's taking pride of place at my Christmas lunch.
I photographed this sign north of Gisborne in May

Thursday, December 24, 2009

From the Kete Files

One Perfectly Woven Kete
Waiting For Contents
Takutai o te Titi Marae
Colac Bay, Southland
November 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sacred Memories

Nga Kuri a Wharei - The Four Dog Jewels. Rua Pick.
Te Kohurau (Kurow), in North Otago in the South Island and its surrounding areas is sacred to the Waitaha people – the tribe believed to be one of the first tribal groups to occupy the South island from around 850 AD. It is fitting then that the exhibition, “Waitaha: Nga Ahi Kaa, Lighting the Fires of the Sacred Memories” is now showing at Kurow Museum.

Uku. Rua Pick

Kokowai. Rua Pick.
It is an exhibition of sacred taonga (treasures) from the Waitaha people and includes both ancient and modern taonga - from old stone taonga toki and whao, mokihi and raranga to modern paintings and sculpture by artists like Rua Pick (Waitaha, Ngati Ruapekapeka), whose works are shown here; and Warren Thompson. I’ve featured Rua previously in Meet the People (8) and you can read more about his work by clicking on Meet the People in the label line below. As these new works show though, he continues to be inspired by the Maori rock drawings of the South Island, many thought to have been created by early Waitaha. The top work – Nga Kuri a Wharei – The Four Dog Jewels is a tribute to the Waitaha nga hoanga tuhituhi (rock drawings and paintings). The exhibition continues at Kurow Museum until March 30, 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Forest of Flax

A Moody Scene at Punakaiki
West Coast, South Island
Walking through Harakeke (flax) and Low Cloud
Harakeke is the main raw material of Maori weaving.

Maori Place Names - 42

Main Highway
Timaru, South Island
May 2009. Ajr

Monday, December 21, 2009

Glass Arts

Merryn Jones. Loss and Acquisition, 2008.
Wall installation, 62 cast lead crystal key tags, each on a stainless steel hook. 2.5 x 1.5m overall.
Photo: Milford Galleries, Queenstown; Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery
When I wrote about a new glass art exhibition on my other blog the other day – “Looking Glass: reflecting ideas” at Wanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery – I asked them if any of the 21 participating artists were Maori. I’ve never come across a Maori glass artist and I thought it would be terrific to feature one here. Great news! There are two Maori artists in this exhibition Merryn Jones (Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Rakaipaaka); and Raewyn Roberts (Ngati Kikopiri o Kapiti, Ngati Kea o Te Arawa, Ngati Whatua o Orakei).
Merryn Jones. Book, Nga Moteatea, lent courtesy Wanganui District Library.
Photo: Merryn Jones. Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery.
I’ve seen Merryn Jones’s Ginkgo leaves before – and loved them. I adore ginkgo trees and have written several short stories based around them and their dried leaves; so I was always going to relate well to her fallen leaves laid out on a book…. in this case, ‘Nga Moteatea,' compiled by Sir Apirana Ngata in 1929, which includes Nga Moteatea 134 (Psalm 134) from the Ngati Porou region. Entitled ‘Journeys: life and loss, her three works reflect her consistent themes of life and loss. “Having nursed for nearly three decades I have seen a lot of life and death,” she says in her artist statement. “The leaves in the installation Tears: He puna wai e utuhia, are an analogy for loss and represent issues of grief, death and decay.”
Merryn Jones. Tears, He puna wai e utuhia, 2009.
Wall installation, appx 100 Ginkgo leaves, cast lead cyrstal, each suspended on spring stainless steel wire. 3 x 2m variable. Photo: Merryn Jones. Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery
Her other work, Loss and Acquisition (top image), examines a life lived through the keys in one’s possession. “Keys reveal all sorts of information about their owners – places one has lived, assets and interests….what one values….they may even disclose unwelcome secrets” she says. While Jones enjoys making larger vessels, she enjoys open casting small units, which can be displayed on walls in multiple groupings, often suspended away from the wall, which encourages an interplay of shadows.

Raewyn Roberts. Synergy, Aspects of Dislocation series, 2004
Gaffer crystal glass, lost wax cast, sandblasted, polished.
2 pieces, each 300 x110 x 120mm. Private Collection.
Photo: Leigh Mitchell-Anyon. Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery.
Raewyn Roberts’s work, ‘Dual Identity in a Changing World: Te Ao Hurihuri,’ is wonderfully bold and vibrant. Roberts believes strongly that art has the potential to be the best mediator between Maori and Pakeha and between the multi-cultural dimensions of contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand society in the 21st century. Of mixed descent (Scots and English as well as Maori), she talks of returning to her grandmother’s marae in 1990 for the nationwide 150th anniversary celebration of the Treaty of Waitangi – “a hostile rather than an embracing experience for me,” she says. “Looking like the ‘other’, the dominant culture, as one no longer visibly Maori, it was apparent to me that a shift in consciousness would be essential for any personal resolution of issues about my dual identity.”
Raewyn Roberts. Reconciliation, 2008-2009. Gaffer crystal glass, lost wax cast, sandblasted, acid-etched, polished. 3 pieces, each appx 220 x 300 x 60mm. Photo Leigh Mitchell-Anyon. Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery.
Raewyn Roberts. Points of Different, Point series, 2007.
Gaffer crystal glass, los wax cast, sandblasted, acid-etched, polished.
5 pieces, each aapx 180 x 100 x 30mm. Photo: Leigh Mitchell-Anyon.
Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery.
Roberts says she has been “developing personally relevant and appropriate ways” within her glass practice, “of portraying these issues working towards a culture of change.” Synergy, 2004 is part of her first series, ‘Aspects of Dislocation’ and uses the symbols of three tines, which traditionally represent birth, life and death “and specifically here, my Maori heritage juxtaposed against the shining, highly polished European piece.” Roberts says her post-graduate studies led her to question the relevance of constructing an identity based on the concept of biculturalism. “We are all of us here and we are not going home. Assimilation has blurred the boundaries in contemporary society: how brown-skinned and culturally-connected does one have to be? Under the white exterior beats many a brown heart,” she concludes. Looking Glass: reflecting ideas continues at Sarjeant Gallery until March 14, 2010.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Day at the Beach

Digging for Cockles
Otakou Marae
Otago Peninsular, Dunedin

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hats and Harakeke

Harakeke Decorations
Fabulous Flax
Attached to a Hat
May 2009 Ajr

Maori Place Names - 41

May 2009 Ajr

Friday, December 18, 2009

Te Reo at Home

I was surprised to learn recently that there are as few as twenty Maori families in the South Island, who are raising their children in a full immersion Maori language environment. There are many more people who speak te Reo of course and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu does have an active Te Reo in the Home programme running to encourage its people to learn the language. These two little guys are members of one Ngai Tahu family that does speak te Reo almost all the time. The words on the fridge are just one way the parents encourage their boys to keep learning new words.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Take, Old Idea

Maori dolls have been around for decades and many of the early ones are now fetching excellent prices in antique and secondhand stores. Many of the new versions - like many Maori items now found in contemporary gift stores - are not even made in New Zealand much less by Maori but these ones (I think) are. I rather like them - especially their little harakeke piupiu (flax skirts) and their taniko bodices. They're made by a company called Aroha but I've yet to find out much about them, or where they're based.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Maumahara - Remember

Yesterday I introduced the stunning cross-cultural works of Pakeha New Zealander, Jo Torr, which are featured in her exhibition ‘Nga Kakahu (The Cloaks),’ currently showing at Tauranga Art Gallery. (See below). Today, it seemed especially fitting that I follow that up with a Maori perspective on cross-cultural expression – ‘Maumahara / Remember’ Cloaks by Rokahurihia Ngarimu-Cameron (Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Whakatohea, Ngati Awa, Tuwharetoa, Ngati Airihi), which is now showing at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. Ngarimu-Cameron weaves Maori and Pakeha together by taking traditional Maori off-loom hand-weaving garments into contemporary art practice via adapted European loom weaving techniques. The show is the result of a 2-year project for her Master of Fine Arts programme with the Textiles Section of the School of Art at Te Kura Matatiniki ki Otago (Otago Polytecthnic).

Rokahurihia Ngarimu-Cameron was born in Opotiki in the late 1940’s and was raised by her grandmother, Rokahurihia, and her mother, Te Oti, in a whare ponga on the at Hāwai in the rohe (district) of Te Whānau-a-Apanui. (I wrote about Hawai on this blog a week or so ago. Click on it in the label line below to see the marae). The whare (house) that she was raised in had an earth floor, no electricity, no running water, a single door-opening and an outside toilet. Her grandmother, Rokahurihia was then in her seventies. “She was “tuturu Māori” – which meant that we lived in the ways of our ancestors. She could not speak English – so all my verbal communication with her was in Māori. She was a survivor of the Tarawera eruption and a staunch member of the Ringatū church. I bear her name (which means tumbling and turning rocks) and dedicate my mahi (work) to her and to my mother,” writes Ngarimu-Cameron in her degree text.

When you enter into the darkened hall of Canterbury Museum where the exhibition is staged, you can almost feel that sense of history. Ngarimu-Cameron comes from a long line of traditional Maori weavers – four generations of them in fact – and weaving was an integral part of her life growing up at Hawai – not only as an artistic medium but as an essential practical skill that provided everyday essentials like kete (baskets) for food gathering. For her Fine Arts project though, she wanted to experiment and push the boundaries of harakeke (flax) fibre using European technology. To that end, she had to develop a new technique that would enable her to use short lengths of harakeke fibre on a traditional loom – the loom that stood in the corridor outside her Polytech studio space.

“The idea began to take shape that I could make use of the loom in my work for my
Master’s degree. I thought of my tūpuna and the difficulties they had faced and
overcome, and through karakia I consolidated my determination to succeed. I became excited by the possibility of finding ways of retaining my Māori identity by adapting
my treasured Māori methods and resources – in particular whītau (flax fibre) – to use on the
loom. Holding on to my whītau was of prime importance. There were problems to be
solved here. Most workers at the looms used yarn wound on a shuttle which can be
thrown backwards and forwards. The length of strands of whītau is limited by length
of the flax-blade, and a shuttle is impractical. Perhaps for this reason, no-one, as far
as I know, had looked to the loom as a tool for weaving Māori cloaks using whītau,” write Ngarimu-Cameron.

Throughout her art practice, Ngarimu-Cameron has always worked towards reinstating and strengthening traditional tecniques and the use of traditional resources and their preparation. For this body of work she used traditional off-loom
technology and the many techniques involved with this, for example the tāniko technique on the kaitaka; hide preparation; traditional dyeing; and preparation of feathers and fibres. She has a passion for the current renaissance in Māori weaving which she says “preserves and honours the ancient ways of making the artifacts of our material culture.”
It is through such practices that we remain connected to our traditions. However, it was also important for me to connect with European culture in Aotearoa and also to honour and respect the European components of my own heritage. This found its way into my practice via the use of plaids for tartan patterning,” she writes. For Ngarimu-Cameron, the whole project was very much about bridging the gap between Māori and European culture in Aotearoa / New Zealand. In my view she succeeds beyond expectations. Her cloaks are masterpieces – an intricate interweaving of fibres, threads, feathers, knots and twirls – much of it dyed traditionally using tanekaha (celery pine bark) and paru (black mud) – that left me speechless. And that doesn’t happen often!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nga Kakahu - The Cloaks

'Ngore' Image Courtesy Jo Torr.
Give Wellington-based artist Jo Torr a needle and thread and she creates small miracles – sculptural gowns of exquisite detail that explore cross-cultural design traditions and the beautiful, inventive surprises that come with material ‘appropriation’ and adaptation. For her latest exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery, Nga Kakahu (The Cloaks), Torr has created three garments based on 19th century dresses and elements of Maori cloaks. She focuses on the relationship between Maori cloaks and European blankets- a shift from her previous focus on Pacific Island cultures – and she has drawn inspiration from a number of sources including the photographic works of Alfred Burton (1885), showing Maori wearing an array of costumes ranging from woollen blankets, fine cloaks and fashionable European dress – dresses that on closer inspection reveal added adornments such as a muka necklace, a tiki or a huia feather.
'Korowai' Image Courtesy Jo Torr.
“The central theme that runs through my work is that of mutual cultural exchange between Polynesian and European peoples….and each sculpture takes the form of a garment that incorporates an aspect of Polynesian and/or European cloth and an aesthetic sensibility associated with either culture. In this exhibition, the works draw attention to the way both Maori and Pakeha have benefitted from the exchange,” says Torr. She has used white blankets (a metaphor for dressed muka), salvaged from opportunity shops to construct the garments, leaving the existing stains and marks in place as markers of the blankets’ own history.
'Kaitaka' Image Courtesy Jo Torr.
The garments in Nga Kakahu are named for three types of cloak held in high regard in Maori society – Kaitaka, Korowai and Ngore. Torr has adorned each with her own beautiful craftsmanship, adding taniko (woven) borders, pompoms made with muka (dressed flax) and hukahuka (fringe/tassels). Torr’s works “make no pretence to historical accuracy: they are not museum specimens but artworks, an inventive and imaginative response to a moment in our history,” writes Jill Trevelyan in the catalogue essay. Her work is “celebratory in its impulse. Indeed her latest work can be seen as an homage – a Pakeha artist’s homage to the art of Maori weaving and the fine cloak in particular.” Jo Torr works at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and her work is represented in public museums and private collections. Nga Kakahu will show at Tauranga Art Gallery until February 21, 2010.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Small Book Collection

I recently began collecting old books on New Zealand Maori – mostly small books (since I have a thing about small books in general); and odd little pamphlet-style booklets. It all began with a book I found called “The Maori Builds” by Alan Taylor and W.A Taylor. It’s a small volume that considers ‘Life Art and Architecture from Moahunter Days” and was published in 1966. I loved its black and white illustrations of early architecture and I knew I had to have it. Since then I’ve combed second-hand book shops, always on the lookout for early books and especially those from the 1950s and 1960s, and have acquired fifteen great little titles – everything from “Te Maori,” to illustrated guides on Maori art, guides to protocol and customs, assorted Maori dictionaries and leaflets on the Ngai Tahu Treaty Settlement. The three pictured above are my latest acquisitions – the tiny little “Korero Maori,” an early book on te Reo and “easy Maori conversations,” produced in Wanganui (no date); “Kuma is a Maori Girl,” a very quirky 1961 children’s book that provides a terrific glimpse into early sixties life in New Zealand; and a good old Weet-Bix card album called “The Maori Way of Life,” complete with all the collectible cards that came in boxes of our favourite breakfast cereal. That in itself is such a statement of the times and it reminds me of my own childhood and fighting with my brothers over who would get the cards (or the plastic figures) out of the next new box of cereal. It was always a challenge to get enough cards to fill the booklets they were designed for – perhaps that’s why I was so excited about finding this booklet in its entirety.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Carved Welcome

Wakatu Marae
Entrance Carving

Pounamu in a Bowl

Pounamu Chips
In a Wooden Bowl
Hui-a-Tau, Colac Bay
Southland. November 2009.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Making an Entrance

The Front Gate
Hawai, East Cape
North Island
May 2009. Ajr

Maori Place Names - 40

Lake Rotoiti
Rotorua District
North Island
May 2009 Ajr

Friday, December 11, 2009

Traditional Designs - 12

Fabric Design
White on Brown
A Row of Tiki
Southland. November 2009 Ajr

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Titi Territory

When I was at Takutai o te Titi Marae in Colac Bay in Southland a few weeks ago for the Ngai Tahu Hui-a-Tau, I was reminded again of what this pretty place is famous for – Titi, also known as muttonbird. I had visited before a couple of years earlier, with Ngai Tahu chef, Jason Dell and photographer Phil Tumataroa in the course of preparing another of the Te Karaka magazine kai features and despite Jason’s best culinary efforts, I wasn’t won over to the taste of titi. Those who are however, seem to love it with a passion and kaumatua from the Oraka-Aparima Runaka were happy to share their memories of titi gathering, or, as it is known in these circles, birding.
Titi, muttonbird, sooty shearwater, Puffinus griseus – they’re all the same – is a migratory seabird and the young birds caught by Maori as an annual delicacy on the Muttonbird Islands, southwest of Stewart Island, are fat with the oils of the fish eaten and regurgitated by their parents. The parent birds come home every night, having eaten pilchards, shrimps, sprats and small squid and the young birds gobble down their oily dinner and grow very, very fat. It’s no wonder they smell on cooking. Kaumatua, Robin Thomson leaned back in her chair and drew in the kitchen aromas. She remembered her 1940s childhood and the excitement of travelling down to Murderers Cove on Taukihepa Island on the old ferry, Wairua.
“In those days our family had a round, thatched wharerau on the island, with a pit fire in the floor and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out. We’d put ferns on the floor and our kapok mattresses on top for sleeping.”
Arrival on the Muttonbird Islands was always two weeks prior to the official start of titi hunting on April 1st. It was a time used by each family to tidy up their house, chop wood and make repairs. They would have gathered kelp from the beaches back home, dried it and taken it with them to the islands where it was made into pouches to preserve the titi (see above). When April 1st dawned, everyone would be up early, walking through the bush to their own area, their manu. “We’d get down on our stomachs and reach into the nest holes. In my grandfather’s day, he used a strip of fern and he’d turn it in the nest and entangle it in the young bird’s feathers to tug it out,’ says Robin.
“As kids it was our job to cart all the birds and do the plucking with mum. On an average day we’d get about 100 birds so that was a lot of plucking. In those days we bagged up the feathers and they were sold as down for mattresses, but they don’t do that now.”
A favourite method of preserving the birds is to tahu them – “that’s how they were done in the pre-European days before salt. The katu, or balls of fat inside the birds were removed and rendered down and the birds were cooked and preserved in that. (See second image from top). They’ll last a year preserved that way and locals say they taste very different-greasier and not salty and definitely delicious. Most say the whole titi tradition was and still is, important to family. It’s special. It’s spiritual they say. That day, Jason Dell has worked his culinary miracles and served up twice-cooked titi in a hearty winter boil-up, confit of titi, little titi pies and salad of titi confit. It all looked a picture but seemed a world away from the freshly cooked tahu titi, potato chips and fried bread that Robin Thomson used to enjoy with her family on the wilds of Taukihepa Island.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Under Construction

The Ngai Tahu banner is flying high on the construction site of the new Christchurch City Council chambers. Formerly home to the New Zealand Post Office, the building is owned by Ngai Tahu and is currently undergoing a massive $113-million overhaul to make it ready for the council. The Joint Venture Project is on budget and on time and it’s going to look quite spectacular when it’s finished, with grand entrances on both the south and north sides of the building.
And like the new Ngai Tahu-owned Post Office Precinct in Queenstown, the Christchurch building will benefit from Ngai Tahu Property’s new Pouwhenua Project – the placing of designed-based markers (made by Ngai Tahu artists) on Ngai Tahu-owned properties, so that iwi members can visit iwi sites and see an obvious connection with their own heritage. It’s going to be quite exciting to see what happens here in Christchurch on this prime location.


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