A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830-1930


  • Nēpia Mahuika




A DECADE AGO I asked one of our leading Ngāti Porou artists about his views on tradition and modernity. This was his reply: ‘Traditional art and modern art. For me there’s no such thing. It’s about continuum of movement because tomorrow my art will be tradition. I have frequently pondered that statement and its implications, seeking to find its resonances and deeper meaning in the many histories of indigenous negotiations in this country and beyond. For me, A Whakapapa of Tradition provides one of the most recent instalments relevant to this statement, contextualised in a discussion of how Ngāti Porou art and architecture underwent ‘radical’ change in the century from 1830-1930. Focusing on the Iwirakau school of carving based in the Waiapu valley, Ngarino Ellis (Ngāti Porou and Ngā Puhi) argues that during this time Māori art in Ngāti Porou territory underwent a radical transformation, in which the dominant forms of waka taua (war canoes), pātaka (decorated storehouses), and whare rangatira (chief’s houses), were replaced by whare karakia (churches), whare whakairo (meeting houses), and wharekai (dining halls).


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