Rapturous applause for mahau

One of the largest Māori carvings in Aotearoa, erected to frame the stage at the 2013 Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Championships, has received rapturous applause from festival-goers, performers and politicians attending the event.

Over the course of six months, carvers at the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute in Rotorua created the mahau or porch front, which has had its inaugural unveiling at this year’s national championships. The imposing mahau is a joint project between Te Matatini Society and NZMACI and spans over 30 metres, is over 13 metres high and weighs approximately 26 tonnes.

The Director of the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, Karl Johnstone, said the effusiveness from the crowd and their enthusiasm for the mahau has been overwhelming. “I’m really pleased that the mahau has been so well accepted by everyone, including other carvers, artists and the public generally. At the end of the day, this is a taonga for the nation; it’s fundamental our people support and connect to it – it will hopefully endure as a statement about the beauty of Māori art and culture.”

While the actual size of the mahau is a little imposing, he said, it is also inspiring and represents both a physical and metaphorical framework that the performers are working within - performing within the korero of their ancestors. It provides a standing place for all things Māori.

The Executive Director of Te Matatini Society, Darrin Apanui, said the mahau as a finished product has exceeded Te Matatini’s expectations of creating a ‘cultural doorway’ through which all things Kiwi can be showcased. “We’re grateful for the way that this beautifully carved structure has been accepted by the wider Māori community, as well as dignitaries who have visited the festival, including Prime Minister John Key, and it reinforces our view that this carving has a global use in the future as something through which we can showcase our unique culture.”

Te Matatini Society and NZMACI are discussing the use of the mahau with a number of New Zealand organisations that are interested in using it for their events.

Mahau Facts

The mahau carvings represent iwi from throughout the motu (islands) and unite all aspects of the arts. 

The timbers that have been used for the mahau are all natives, and include a huge kauri carbondated at 4,500 years old. 

The front of the mahau – the paepae – is 30m long and illustrates the various regional styles of Māori wood carving. 

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. 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. e Matatini promotes Māori performing arts through valuable assistance from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Te Puni Kokiri. Strategic partners include Waikato University, New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, Kiwibank, New Zealand Post and Te Wananga o Aotearoa.