Saturday, February 28, 2009

Te Reo Maori - Language

Every year, a week is set aside to celebrate Maori Language - Maori Language Week – something that has occurred in New Zealand every year since 1975. In 2008 Maori language (te Reo Maori) was recognised throughout the country and celebrations followed the theme, te Reo i te kainga – Maori language in the home. When I was in the Ngai Tahu offices here in Christchurch during that time, I was lucky enough to see parts of a video that was been prepared as part of the Ngai Tahu language initiatives. I also picked up the above brochure (image), prepared as part of Ngai Tahu’s Generation Reo campaign, Kotahi Mano Kaika, Kotahi Mano Wawata (One thousand homes, one thousand aspirations), which was established to raise awareness of and an appreciation for Maori language among Ngai Tahu people. There has been a huge resurgence in te Reo Maori, especially since New Zealand officially became a bilingual nation in 1987. Generation Reo is all about encouraging families to speak Maori at home and it’s about a whole lot more than just giving the next generation a second language; it’s also about strengthening identity and saving another of the world’s languages from extinction. As someone who is passionate about language fullstop, I find it very gratifying to see Ngai Tahu, as just one iwi (tribe) on a mission to restore te Reo Maori within homes. As their promotional material points out, “it takes one generation to lose a language and three generations to revive it.”

Friday, February 27, 2009

One Small Kete

Small Kete
Te Tauraka Waka a Maui Marae
Bruce Bay, South Westland

A Living Thermal Village

Image courtesy of Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Rotorua
Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Village is located right in the middle of thermal activity. Geysers hiss, scalding mud bubbles in oozing pools and thermal springs send clouds of steam around the houses. It sounds inhospitable but the Ngati Wahiao people have lived in and around Whakarewarewa for more than 200 years. More correctly known as Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao (you can see why they’ve abbreviated it), the village opened its doors to tourism with small tours in 1998. Since then the operation has grown and visitors can now enjoy a traditional hangi meal, kapa haka performances, tours and the chance to learn about tradition Maori arts and crafts. As shown in the image above, they can make their own taonga (treasure) from harakeke (flax), or prepare their own hangi taster meal.

The Business of Busking

Christchurch Arts Centre. Jan. 2009. Ajr
One Maori Singer/Guitarist
Busking For Business
Christchurch Arts Centre

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Maori Place Names - 2

Kamahi Road,
Steward Island, South New Zealand

Contemporary Maori Sculpture

Sculpture, Havelock North. 2008. Ajr
It was a cold wet day when I came upon this fountain sculpture by one of New Zealand’s leading senior Maori artists, Para Matchitt (b.1933). It sits in a small square in the Hawke’s Bay town of Havelock North and was commissioned as part of the town’s redevelopment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Contemporary Maori Tattoo

There was a time not so many years ago when, if you saw a kapa haka group performing, most of the traditional tattoos you saw on the performers were drawn on for the occasion. Not so now. There’s been a huge resurgence in traditional Maori tattoo - though few women actually tattoo their lips (kauae) and chins – chin moko are still largely drawn on, as with the performers shown above.

All images Mareikura Kapa Haka performers, Waitangi Day, Christchurch Feb 2009. Ajr
However, increasing numbers of both men and women are getting real tattoos to their body - like the two above. Some of them are very beautiful too. I snapped these photographs at the Waitangi Day kapa haka performance in Christchurch a week or so ago. I came away almost tempted to get a tattoo of my own. It’s just a pity I’m a total coward.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meet the People - 3

At Hokonui Marae, Feb 2009. Ajr
Meet the People – Contemporary Maori Doing Ordinary and Extraordinary Things – Margaret Bragg of Bluff is 75 years old and in all of those years, she has never once missed an annual titi (mutton bird) harvest. Margaret was just eight months old when she was first taken to Big Island, which is one of the mutton bird islands to the south-west of Stewart Island; and in the one year she missed visiting the island, she was actually ‘birding’ on another of the Titi Islands. Titi - also called muttonbird, sooty shearwater, Puffinus griseus – 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. For Rakiura Maori (the only people permitted to hunt muttonbird on the islands), arrival there was always two weeks prior to the official start of titi hunting on April 1st. It was a time used by each family to chop wood, tidy up and make repairs to their little houses. And traditionally, 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 in. Like most ‘birders,’ Maureen eagerly awaits the titi season – she’s already booked her helicopter flight to the islands in fact; and she’s taken an active part on the Titi Committee. She has also worked as a Department of Conservation volunteer in the Saddleback Recovery Programme and takes great pride in the fact that the 29 saddlebacks released on Big Island back in 1964 have flourished and the programme has since re-distributed nearly 800 birds around the South Island.

Fashion Trends

Plastic tiki, Rotorua 2007 Ajr
I'm reluctant to label biculturalism trendy but it must be said that, in some quarters, there has been a sudden embracing of Maori cultural items as what I like to call 'contemporary design currency.' The traditional hei tiki for instance, is suddenly de rigeur in modern New Zealand homes as some sort of interior design statement. Naturally many people do this with good intentions; others as a result of some frenzied, rather manic rush to establish New Zealand's identity (as they see it) - as if we didn't have one already! Warning warning...soap box soap box! I suppose it's a good thing that people have become more aware and, dare I say it, more comfortable with traditional Maori design and motifs, but we should err on the side of caution so as not to undermine them as significant items of cultural and historical importance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Auckland Marae Scene

Orakei Marae
Image Supplied by Tourism Auckland

Woven Flowers

Woven in Harakeke (flax)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Te Puia Carvings

Te Puia, Rotorua. 2007. Ajr
These are four carvings I photographed at Te Puia in Rotorua during my last Frommers trip in 2007. One of New Zealand’s major attractions, Te Puia had then recently opened its revamped facility. One of its most striking features there is the magnificent sculpture Te Heketanga a Rangi, which forms the entrance to the complex. It features twelve beams reaching skyward, each decorated with an intricate carving. These represent the realm of the Supreme Being from which all things spiritual and physical originated. You can get a better view of the main entrance by checking Te Puia's website -

A Cultural Experience

Image courtesy Tamaki Maori Village 2007.
Maori Carving
Tamaki Maori Village

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Traditional Designs -1

Feb. 2009 Ajr
One Cup
Using Traditional
Maori Design Motifs

Scarecrow, Scarecrow!

I love the sense of humour
Of the people down at Waihao Marae
They made themselves a Maori scarecrow
To keep the birds off their big marae garden

Friday, February 20, 2009

Paua - The Treasure

Kaka Point, South Otago. Jan 2009. Ajr
Meet Haliotis iris, the Blackfoot paua (abalone). I saw this great little mailbox when I travelled south of Dunedin to write about the new Puna Wai Toriki mataitai (customary fisheries legislation) at Kaka Point recently. It’s a magnificent coastline – unspoiled and rugged – and paua are one of the main kaimoana (seafood) harvested in the area. A mataitai of course, restricts commercial harvest of any designated species (for Maori and Pakeha alike) to help create a sustainable resource; and as there has long been ‘over-fishing’ and an extensive global black market in the collection and export of abalone meat (with illegal paua poaching just as rife in New Zealand), it is hoped the new legislation will help return the dwindling paua resource in the area to former healthy levels. But that’s another whole complex subject……which you can read about in the four-part series on Mataitai legislation in Ngai Tahu’s TE KARAKA magazine…… for now let’s focus on the paua itself – a taonga (treasure) to Maori for both its value as food and as a source of shell for both traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.

Arts Centre Market, Christchurch 2007. Ajr

In its raw state fresh from the sea, the paua shell is ‘nothing to write home about.’ It’s usually a dull, crusty grey and it’s not until it has been cleaned and polished that its iridescent beauty comes to light. Both inside and out, the paua shell presents a swirling kaleidoscope of blue, green, pink, black and purple. Paua shell was – and still is – frequently used to form the eyes in Maori carvings and to decorate kete. It is now synonymous with the New Zealand tourism industry – you see paua in some form in almost every souvenir shop in the country; and it has a recognised place as a valid material in contemporary Maori and Pakeha jewellery and sculpture.

Hello Dolly.

Maori dolls, Rotorua. 2007 Ajr
When I was a kid you saw Maori dolls everywhere. They're not so common now - thanks to the great (and often unnecessary) whitewash of political correctness. To prove my point - that these cute dolls are not half as offensive as some would have us believe - these were actually photographed in a Maori home in Rotorua.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taonga Species

Kakapo. DOC Visitor Centre, Stewart Island. Feb 2009. Ajr
I’ve just spent a very ‘birdy’ three days working down on Stewart Island and the little pest-free bird sanctuary of Ulva Island, which the Department of Conservation recognises as the ‘Showcase Project’ for its Southern Conservancy. I would have loved to have made it to Cod Fish Island to find out more about one of our rarest birds and the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, which the Maori consider one of their taonga (treasured) species, but time ran out for getting necessary permits. I did however, catch up with this fellow – a taxidermy example – on display at the Stewart Island DOC visitor centre. Hundreds of years ago kakapo were common; now there are only 91 known kakapo left and these are all restricted to pest-free offshore island bird sanctuaries and they are closely monitored by DOC and teams of willing volunteers. When the DOC established the National Kakapo Team in 1995 there were just 51 birds left but thanks to their careful monitoring and breeding programme, the population has increased by 78%. For Maori, the kakapo has strong cultural, spiritual and traditional associations and DOC works closely with the major South Island iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu in their protection and management. Today the birds are also appreciated for their quirky personalities and their odd characteristics – their strange booming noise, the fact that they are known to live to an old age (possibly up to 90 years) and the fact that they are flightless, nocturnal and live in burrows and only in New Zealand. You can find out much more about this intriguing bird and the Kakapo Recovery Programme by clicking on, where you can meet some of the named adult birds personally.

Weaving Words

Green flax weaving at Te Tauraka Waka a Maui Marae, Makaawhio, South Westland
Putiputi = flowers
Specifically woven flowers
And dry flax weaving
Hokonui Marae

A Time For Tattoo

Image Supplied by Rotorua Tourism
Rotorua’s Henriata Nicholas is a renowned Ta Moko (tattoo) artist, who works with both locals and visitors. Moko, or tattoo is a visual language that connects the wearer to their whakapapa (genealogy) and all tattooed symbols have a meaning – usually a tribal link that tells the background and stories of the wearer. Henriata, a passionate painter and sculptor who has exhibited nationally and internationally, achieved her dream of becoming a Ta Moko artist in 2002, when she spent three months in Hawaii working with traditional tattoo practitioners of Kakau – tapping ink into the skin with traditional tools. That experience broadened her horizons and kick-started her confidence to practise Uhi Ta Moko fully and she’s been creatively inspired ever since. Henriata says her clients bring a vision with them and that inspires her designs for their tattoo. “We spend time talking about who they are, what makes them unique and special and where they’re from. I do the same. I share myself with them so they know they can have control over what we create. This can go on for a couple of weeks, or months – sometimes years – before they have reached a time in their life when they want to complete it by putting the pattern on their skin,” she says.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Going Bush

Top: Ngahuia Tahau (Ngati Kahungunu,Tuwharetoa) from PureORA Walks teaches a Japanese tourist how to hongi on the Rotopounamu Track in Tongariro National Park. Bottom; Ngahuia demonstrates a tasting of horopito, the pepper tree. Images supplied by pureORAwalks.
Pureora Forest Park, Tongariro National Park and Whirinaki Forest Park – all in the central North Island – are alive with a diverse ecology, ancient trees and flourishing birdlife. Now, in the company of knowledgeable Maori guides from pureORAwalks, visitors can taste, touch, hear and smell these magnificent, untouched, natural environments that have retained the unique beauty and spirit that comes from thousands of years of growth. PureORA is the only guiding company with rights to guide the entire length of the visually spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing and when you join them on the 19.4km trek that takes you up the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro and then over Mt Tongariro, you’re treated to a memorable nature and cultural interaction. And on their Nature-Culture walks you’ll learn about the hongi (greeting), weaving, poi making, basic carving in volcanic pumice and the poi dance; and you’ll get to taste some of the plants that played a key role in the lives of the guides’ ancestors. The Tongariro Crossing is rated one of the best one-day walks in New Zealand and by interweaving the experience with legends and Maori lore, pureORAwalks have created a special experience.

Encouraging the Next Generation

Murihiku Marae,Invercargill 2008 Ajr
Murihiku Marae sits on a rise on the outskirts of Invercargill city, overlooking a spread of yellow-green fields. It's a large complex complete with kitchens, meeting house (wharenui), offices, social rooms and, next door, the kohanga reo (maori language pre-school). Like most marae it is rich in carving (whakaairo). And in an inspired move, drawings from the tiny tots of the kohanga reo decorate the marae interior with almost as much importance as the wooden equivalents carved by master carvers. It's a lovely juxtaposition and it's good to know the next generation of Maori artists are being encouraged.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meet the People - 2

Waitangi Day Celebrations, Christchurch Art gallery, Feb 2009. Ajr
Another in the Series Meet the People – Contemporary Maori Doing Ordinary and Extraordinary Things – Lyttelton-based Ben Brown introduced himself as “the barefoot Maori poet” when he performed at the Waitangi Day ceremony at Christchurch Art Gallery on February 6th but he’s more than that. In addition to his moving poems that often draw on Maori history, Ben is the author of a number of children’s books includingA Booming in the Night” which won Best Picture Book in the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2006 plus “The Thief of Colours, Eel Dreaming and The Rainmakers and more. He has also published his own memoir, " A Fish in the Swim of the World." Born in Motueka, near Nelson he worked a number of jobs before turning his hand to publishing and writing in 1992 - most often in collaboration with his wife, well known illustrator, Helen Taylor. He regularly recites his poetry at festivals and public events.

Haka History

Mareikura Kapa Haka, Waitangi Day, Christchurch
The All Blacks have given the Maori haka – or at least one version of it – an international profile. Commonly considered a war dance, haka are in fact performed on other occasions too – as a welcome to distinguished guests for instance, or to acknowledge great achievements and special occasions – as these members of Christchurch’s Mareikura kapa haka group did on Waitangi Day on February 6th. Most people remember the haka for its power and emotional impact - its facial contortions, the showing of the whites of eyes, feet stamping, body slapping and the poking out of tongues.
Left: Photographed tourism poster; Right One son, Kapa Haka Group, Alice Springs, Australia.
The traditional war haka were called peruperu and were performed before battles to discourage and frighten the enemy. Weapons (especially spears and or mere as above) were waved about and fierce facial expressions and cries were characteristic. The most common haka performed is still ‘Ka Mate,’ a ceremonial haka that stems back to the 1820s and Ngati Toa chief, Te Rauparaha. And contrary to popular belief, the performance of haka is not exclusive to men. There are some haka which are performed exclusively by women, although most commonly, women provide a background of singing to a male performance.
Now, in Rotorua, visitors wanting to learn the haka can do so at Rotorua’s longest-running backpackers, Kiwi Paka. The 90-minute lessons, taken by local man Tiki Edwards of Haka World, are for men and women and will provide visitors with helpful background to the history and meaning of the haka. Tiki came up with the idea when he was living playing rugby in England. He was repeatedly asked to perform the haka during his time living there and he found people from all cultures were curious about the dance.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Maori Place Names - 1

Bruce Bay
South Westland
The sign to Te Tauraka Waka a Maui Marae

Marae Interior

Waihao Marae, Waimate, South Island. Nov. 2008. Ajr
The Waihao Marae sits in a field on a quiet gravel road south of Waimate. It's just two kilometres from a dramatic shoreline, where locals gather the sea's rich bounty. It doubles as the local community War Memorial Hall for both Maori and Pakeha. This is the rear interior wall, where old photographs of wartime soldiers from the local community are displayed along with two traditional piupiu (skirts). It was a lovely space - restful, with a lovely welcoming feel to it.

The Big Picture

"Pulse" Darryn George, 2008. Ajr
The classic white cube of the Sutton Gallery at Christchurch Art Gallery was transformed last year when Christchurch-based contemporary Maori artist, Darryn George installed his mammoth, attention-grabbing work PULSE. I leaned against the entrance when I first visited - transfixed - and I listened to passers-by. Their first reaction was invariably astonishment. A team of painters had spent two and a half weeks transferring George’s elaborate design - inspired by the colours and patterns of Maori art and the architectural detail of traditional Maori meeting houses - onto the four walls of the gallery - approximately 300sqm floor-to-ceiling. The large rear wall was in fact a giant ‘wordscape’ created from the Maori word waru, which means eight – George’s reference to “a spiritual time and space beyond the seven days of the week.” The once-simple Sutton Gallery was tansformed into a powerful, almost reverential space. I always felt it a shame the gallery couldn't have stayed that way.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Paper Cloak

Te Tauraka Waka a Maui Marae, Makaawhio Runanga, South Westland. Feb 2009. Ajr
Our whirlwind trip from Christchurch took us to Hokonui Marae in Gore and then on to Haast and the very beautiful new Te Tauraka Waka a Maui Marae, which opened at Bruce Bay for the Makaawhio Runanga in 2005. I loved this paper korowai (cloak) displayed on the wall - which was made by local tamariki (children) at Jacob's River School as a koha (gift) for the marae when it opened. I'll be featuring a lot more from Makaawhio as soon as I have my photos sorted.

Mellow Yellow

Kowhai. 2007. Ajr
Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow. It thus gives its name to the yellow-flowered Kowhai tree – New Zealand’s national flower. Sophora Microphyllais is the most common of the 8 species of NZ Kowhai and the tree - especially the bark and seeds - are poisonous. The tree flowers in a halo of yellow every spring and its flowers attract the kereru (wood pigeon) and the tui, which fly for miles to savour its nectar. According to Maori lore, the spring flowering marks the time for planting kumera (sweet potato); and in early times Maori used the hard durable wood for paddles and adzes; the bark for poultices to dress wounds and tumours; bark infusions for internal pains, bruises and broken limbs; and the wood ash to treat ringworm.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Enduring Symbol

The Koru
Based on an unfurling fern frond
Is a common design element in modern New Zealand
And usually symbolises growth and renewal
Kaikoura. 2007. Ajr

Weaving a Pattern

Weaving 2007 Ajr
Harakeke (flax) weaving
One Pattern

Southern Arts - A Fleeting Glimpse

Whataroa, South Westland. Feb 2009 Ajr
We flashed through the tiny South Westland town of Whataroa, 35 kilometres north of Franz Josef quicker than the blink of an eye on Thursday afternoon - on the long journey from Haast to Christchurch (six hours). But that was time enough for me to poke my camera out the car window and snap this fleeting image of Kotuku Maori Fine Art Gallery, which has obviously been named after the kotuku (white heron) colony at nearby Okarito Lagoon.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hokonui Carving

Hokonui Marae, Gore, Southland. Feb 2009. Ajr
I spied this wonderful carving at Hokonui Marae in Gore on Wednesday. We drove down there early to spend the day preparing another kai feature and in between interviews and food preparations, I was able to photograph lots of interesting marae details - and there were plenty to choose from. This was one of them; there are more to come.


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