By Gavin Reedy, Iwi Development Officer, National Services Te Paerangi, and Awhina Tamarapa, Curator Māori, Te Papa.
The beautiful surroundings of Hongoeka Marae on Moana Road, Plimmerton, Wellington, a Ngati Toa Marae bathed in brilliant sunshine, was the venue for Te Ao Kohatu: a wananga focused on traditional Maori tool and taonga making.
Hongoeka Marae, Plimmerton. Image courtesy of Sally August.
The karanga rang out from Hongoeka Marae, the first heard voice of the kuia, calling, welcoming practitioners, both tohunga (experts) and students alike, from all parts of Aotearoa.
Co-organisers Awhina Tamarapa and Kani Te Manukura said that the intention of the wananga was to gather traditional tool makers at Hongoeka Marae to mahi (work) together, share knowledge, skills and resources. Dante Bonica, renowned stone tool expert and senior practitioner, called this hui a wananga of stone tool technology, and this was evident by the use of pre-European tools and methods to fashion tools and taonga.
Dante Bonica demonstrating flaking flint. Image courtesy of Sally August.
Kani mentioned that one of the main objectives of the workshop was to strengthen connections between tohunga and tauira (student). He added that each bought different kinds of knowledge with varying levels of skill.
The organisers recognised that while there are many exciting projects happening around the country, much of this occurs in isolation, with so few skilled practitioners and tohunga left. It is vital that they come together regularly with the next generation to ensure knowledge is passed on.
Anaru Rondon & Mathew McIntyre-Wilson napping & grinding. Image courtesy of Sally August.
Dante Bonica has dedicated his life to this art form. He says that he would like to see the roopu ‘attract future students and “future strengthen” Māori in recognising the excellence of indigenous art, not only in New Zealand but world wide.’ He says ‘stone technology was the vehicle behind the biggest most important navigation in history. Settlement of this country, a 3000 mile journey over time, was all done through stone tool technology. We are carrying an important kaupapa, one that achieved this through lashings, without rivets, nails, bolts, or screws.’
Some of the projects worked on were: fashioning toki or adze heads by rubbing on sandstone rock, and flaking rock by patiently, repeatedly, striking until the desired blade shapes were formed. Hand fashioning matau or fish hooks from various shell fish bones is not an easy task when you can’t reach for a hacksaw blade or piece of sand paper! Pieces of green stone or pounamu were hand rubbed on sand stone, and fashioned into beautiful pieces of art.
Taonga display, featuring the work of Wiremu Puki, Anaru Rondon & Warren Warbrick. Image courtesy of Sally August.
One of the roopu said it gave them a sense of why Māori valued and treasured so highly their hapu and iwi taonga. Something that took many months or years to make was certainly worth treasuring.
Experienced practitioner Phil Belcher summed it up in this way; ‘This workshop has raised awareness, the way forward comes back to this workshop, the rare opportunity provided for us, this formal bringing together at one time and place of practitioners to wananga, the pinnacle of artists from around Te Ao Māori. It will in future be seen as coming back to this hui, this opportunity, the birth of this concept.’
Dante Bonica & Phil Belcher both using a tuwiri (tradional drill). Image courtesy of Sally August.
Te Ao Kohatu wananga was an intense time of teaching, learning, of sharing skills, rekindling relationships, and planning for the future. Local kaumatua Nelson Solomon and his cousin John Moriarty both agreed, saying they felt absolutely blessed by the inspirational company of everyone around them. Nelson added that he could now do the best with what he had around him.
As local iwi members Kahu Ropata and Moana Parata said as a final word; ‘It is important to Māori to have this kaupapa passed on; it can be used in so many ways, Maori themed education, establishing new schools based on stone tool technology, get it spread through the country. This can be used to strengthen our hapu and iwi in so many ways. We can get it to the stage where it will not die out.’
Mana Island seen from Hongoeka Marae. Image courtesy of Sally August.