My earliest memories of whakairo go back to childhood times attending tangihanga at the local marae. As kids, we weren’t expected to tend to the formalities of the occasion and would promptly disappear. But there were times when inside the wharenui that I would ponder the rationale surrounding these massive ‘ancient’ forms standing erect around the interior walls of the house. I recall thinking that the carvings looked from another world and it was around this time that the idea of learning to carve came to mind.
As a people with a history of passing on information from generation to generation, with the advent of recording systems early Māori were wary of recording their knowledge in any manner other than through memory. Fortunately for us, there were a number of renown scholars who recorded whatever information they could recall, giving artists and enthusiasts an insight into the minds and skills of the master carver.
From those earliest recollections to 10 years ago there was always something creative that I was chipping away at. Not full time, but definitely constant. I had always enjoyed relief wood prints, etching, sculpting, textile work, but I had never contemplated committing to learning a new skill. That was until the late Oho Brown instigated a carving class at the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa base here in Gisborne.
I feel in awe of our tīpuna who carved these incredible art pieces with little more than a few crude tools and a never ending supply of wood. To be able to do this type of art form today and teach it as well, is a privilege.