Carving Out Our Future – Preserving Maori Art and Culture

Carving Out Our Future – Preserving Maori Art and Culture
  • Written by
  • Erin Harrison

At the heart of Te Puia in Rotorua is the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute | Ngā Kete Tuku Iho, home of the national schools of carving and weaving.

The Wānanga Whakairo | National Wood Carving school had its first intake in 1927, moving to its current site in Te Whakarewarewa Valley in 1967. In 1969 the first weaving school was established (now known as Te Rito), and in 2009, NZMACI opened Te Takapū o Rotowhio to teach carving pounamu, bone and stone. Today students come here to practice and help preserve the traditional arts and crafts of Māori culture.

Te Atu Rangi – second year tauira (student) in Whakairo Wānanga

Raised around carvings, Te Atu Rangi was always fascinated by the process of their creation. His Ngāti Tarāwhai lineage also had an influence on his decision to carve and follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.

Preserving Māori art and “As a student with NZMACI, I consider myself to be fortunate because I have been granted this great opportunity to gain knowledge and to learn the art form of my tupuna.”

Te Atu believes that more New Zealanders should understand and appreciate the beauty of Māori art and crafts, to help educate our people and the next generation about the history of the land.

“We are each challenged with the need to preserve and promote Te Ao Maori, inclusive of all art forms and Te Reo.”

Looking to the future, Te Atu is excited to continue improving his standard and skills and would like to branch out into other forms of art too. He also hopes this is alongside a growing awareness of the importance and significance of whakairo (carving).

Rick Peters – Pouako Te Takapū-o-Rotowhio (tutor at The National Stone and Bone Carving School)

A graduate of Te Takapū-o-Rotowhio, Rick is now a tutor at NZMACI and is passionate about pushing technical boundaries to create tribal-style pendants. He also enjoys changing between the bone and stone mediums and has seen a growth in the interest of his work. His design ability allows him to create custom taonga that are personalised to the individual.

With art his passion and greatest strength, Rick saw an opportunity to pursue a career – creating art through his culture, and now he wants more New Zealanders to know about the successful career pathways that can be achieved through Maori arts and crafts.

Rick likes to design innovative and contemporary concepts, while remaining in sync with his traditional whakairo inspiration.

“I’ve loved learning art forms and using materials I didn’t know our people carved before studying here – for example there’s onewa stone in abundance where I grew up in the tribal region of the East Coast – now I do a lot of pieces in that stone and whenever I go there, I pick up supplies to bring back and carve.”


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