High school teaches traditional carving



Be like the worm and enter the wood, the tutor of a new course at Tokomairiro High School says.

Ben Whitaker, of Owaka, is teaching Maori woodcarving to pupils while he completes his bachelor of Maori carving degree at Te Wananga O Aotearoa in Auckland.

He said he was approached to work with the pupils because the school wanted to offer their young Maori pupils a way to identify with a national identity through the wood technology classes.

The courses ran through the second, third and fourth terms.

Mr Whitaker believed the secret to whakairo or Maori woodcarving was to ‘‘be like the worm and enter the wood’’.

He said a person could learn about the different patterns created and discover the different meanings imparted through cultural storytelling and then keep those stories alive through te ao Maori.

“It’s discovering the Maori world view, learning about its key concepts and te ao Maori: the acknowledgement of the interconnectedness and interrelationship of all living and non living things.”

‘‘The two classes of students I am working with have taken to it very well.

‘‘The junior group are predominantly Maori boys and they are really getting into some of the key cultural concepts, all while discovering the deeper understandings that lie behind the carvings they are producing.’’

“Both groups are currently working on their individual mallets which they will then use to carve their own stories in wood,” Mr Whitaker said.

The mallets they make contain imagery that depict their whakapapa or the story of their own family.

“By the end of this year the senior group will also have produced wheku or masks which are carved representations of a human face, commonly seen as a koruru, the head of an ancestor, as depicted at the gable of a wharenui or large house.

“The junior class will make a patu, a traditional short hand-to-hand combat weapon,” he said.

Covid-19 restrictions made it hard for Mr Whitaker as he worked towards completing another year on his four› year›long course.

“Covid-19 has made it hard for me to travel from my workshop in Owaka to attend classes in Auckland, but it’s been a great journey so far and I have meet many great mentors along the way,” he said.

“Today with all the media, young Maori students are looking for ways to provide themselves with a national identity, one they can relate to culturally. Here I am offering them a way to to find their identity through woodcarving.

“It is a great way to show them how we are connected to our ancestors, our environment and our culture.”

Mr Whitaker believes it is important to acknowledge that in the youth of today.

‘‘They are awesome, they are open to ways to find their national identity and develop a more refined cultural understanding about what their identity is and how they are connected with it.’’