Unveiling a ‘Cultural Doorway’

Te Matatini Society and the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute in Rotorua have joined together to create what may be the biggest carving made in Aotearoa when it is completed. 

For the past few months, carvers at the NZMACI have been working on a mahau or porch front which is to be unveiled at the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka competition in Rotorua. Te Matatini 2013 is a biennial event and is to be held at the Rotorua International Stadium from 20 – 24 February 2013. With a 30m span, standing over 13m tall and weighing approximately 26 tonnes, the mahau will frame the Te Matatini stage with carvings that represent iwi from throughout the motu (islands) and uniting all aspects of the arts. The timbers that have been used for the mahau are all natives, and include a huge kauri carbon-dated at 4,500 years old.

Once completed, the mahau will bring its own challenges in transportation and having it erected. Engineers from a Rotorua company have been assisting with the logistics to ensure the structure will be secure once it has been put up.

“Te Matatini is proud to bring this project together with the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute,” the Executive Director of Te Matatini Society, Darrin Apanui, says. “Our aim is to create a structure that will frame the performing arts during Te Matatini 2013, but which has value in the future as a ‘cultural doorway’ through which all things Kiwi can be showcased.”

The front of the mahau – the paepae – is 30m long and illustrates the various regional styles of Māori wood carving. It provides a standing place for all Māori, says the director of the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, Karl Johnstone. “This is an ambitious project for our institute. We have utilised every inch of space that we have at the carving school and more, with some of the carving taking place in the carpark.”

Te Matatini is best translated as the ‘many faces’, referring to not only the performers but also their supporters, and the role that kapa haka plays in sustaining Māori culture and te reo Māori. Mr Johnstone says the carving styles are rohe (regionally) specific and unique languages in their own right, bringing together all faces of Te Matatini and concurrently acknowledging their distinctiveness. He adds that “while the quality of the carving speaks for itself, the korero that it conveys is what’s most important. 

The stories represented by the mahau tie all our art practices to their origins.”āori culture because it makes up the facade of every wharenui in every marae throughout the country. This is a gift to the nation and it will have a use at major events that showcase both Māori and Kiwi culture,” he said.

Te Matatini Society and NZMACI are discussing the use of the mahau with a number of New Zealand organisations which are interested in using it for their events, which also attract global audiences.Te Matatini promotes Māori performing arts through valuable assistance from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Te Puni Kokiri. For the upcoming festival, major sponsors and strategic partners include Waikato University, New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, Kiwibank-NZ Post and Te Wananga o Aotearoa.