Monday, February 15, 2010

Te Wananga Whakairo

Last year's trip around New Zealand researching my travel guide manuscript (Frommers New Zealand), provided me with a bounty of photographic opportunities for both my blogs. My visit (one of many) and tour of Rotorua's Te Puia was especially fruitful - this despite the grim, wet weather on the day. A core part of Te Puia is the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, which features both weaving and carving schools.

Te Wananga Whakairo (The Carving School) was established in 1966. The school's first Tohunga (Master), Hone Te Kauru Taiapa was appointed when the school opened and remained its head until he passed away in 1979. He was succeeded later that year by the now-late Master Carver, Tuti Tukaokao. Heads and carving tutors have since been appointed from the ranks of successful, experienced graduates of the carving school.
If you visit Te Puia, you can enter both the weaving and the carving schools and watch the craftsmen and women, as they work on their weaving and carving projects. In the carving studio, the smell of timber and wood chips is pleasantly strong and visitors come and go, taking photographs and chatting with carvers, who have a little time on their hands. The key lesson at Te Wananga Whakairo is "learning the art to pass it on to younger generations."
"Ehara i a te rakau te whakaaro, kei a te Tohunga tarai i te rakau te whakaaro"
"It is the carver, not the wood that has the understanding."
'If you forget your ancestors, you too are forgotten."
I found it a fascinating place to spend time in and my camera was kept busy as I photographed close-up carving details and the intent expressions of carvers at work. They're used to the attention, though some obviously relish it more than others. Fulltime students spend three years at the carving school under the guidance of master carvers, many of whom were once students at the school themselves. In the forty or more years it has been operating, the Carving School has (partly or fully) carved over 30 wharenui (meeting houses) throughout New Zealand, plus "countless gifts for official guests and dignataries visiting new Zealand.

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