Monday, October 12, 2009

The Tene Waitere Legacy

Maori art is generally considered to be ‘a frontal art’ – that is, the traditional works were designed to be viewed from the front; whereas the less common three-dimensional pieces like these, could be viewed from all angles. That said, even they feature the most detailed artistic expression in the front view. I photographed these fabulous figures at the gates to the Rotorua Museum grounds. It’s a carving style I love and I’m always drawn to the intricate spiral patterns used to depict shoulders and buttocks. I keep meaning to make a concentrated photographic study of these spiral patterns – they come in a wide variety of designs – but I keep forgetting. So much to do, so little time!
These figures stand at the Hinemoa and Arawa Street entrances to the Rotorua museum grounds and I copied the text from a plaque nearby, which I assumed was referring to these carvings. I hope so because here it is: “These carvings were presented by the people of Ngati Whakaue to commemorate their original gift of land in 1880. Hei oranga mo nga iwi katoa a tea o – for the benefit of the people of the world. They were carved by master carver Tene Waitere and they depict tribal ancestors.” I’ve just spent a fascinating hour reading about Tene Waitere (Ngati Tarawhai), who was born near Kaitaia in Northland in 1854 and died in Rotorua in 1931.

He was regarded as one of New Zealand’s most prolific and innovative Maori carvers and his wide range of work – from canoes and meetings houses to walking sticks, tobacco pipes and replicas of traditional artefacts for the growing tourism market - and for royal visitors -in the early 1900s – lives on as some of the finest carving from the time. Many of his carvings were created for and are still at Whakarewarewa Maori Village, where he lived after surviving the Tarawera eruption that descecrated his village of Te Wairoa. His grand-daughter in fact, was the great Rangitiaria, or Guide Rangi as she became known – perhaps the earliest trailblazer for Maori tourism for her work guiding tourists through the famous Pink and White Terraces, which were destroyed by the Tarawera eruption. Waitere's story is an intriguing one and thankfully is well documented. I intend to look out one or two excellent books that detail his life and work.

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