“Ehara i a te rākau te whakaaro, kei ā te Tohunga tārai i te rākau te whakaaro – It is a carver, not the wood that has the understanding – If you forget your ancestors, you too are forgotten”
Since the first intake at Te Wānanga Whakairo, many young Māori from iwi (tribes) throughout New Zealand have been taught the Māori practice of wood carving under the expert guidance of master carvers who were once trainees at the school.
In 1967, seven carving apprentices were selected from throughout the country to train under master carver Hone Te Kauru Taiapa – a student of the first Wānanga Whakairo. Part of that 1967 group are present day New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute master carvers, Clive Fugill and James Rickard.
The school has been located in Te Whakarewarewa Valley since 16 January 1967, but it was initially established after legislation was passed in 1926 to preserve Māori arts and crafts, under the auspices of prominent Māori politician and lawyer Sir Apirana Ngata.
Many of the prominent wharenui (meeting houses) throughout New Zealand were carved by the men who were part of the first Wānanga Whakairo intake in 1927. Today’s graduates continue to build and restore wharenui throughout the country.
NZMACI is mandated to train Māori from iwi (tribes) across New Zealand. Applicants for this school must be male, over 18 years of age and of Māori descent.
A maximum of five ākonga (students) are selected each year.
This tohu (qualification) is for three years and is 40 hours per week, 47 weeks of the year.
Through the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute Act 1963 (History) the Institute has the ability to award tohu to any person having special training in Māori arts, crafts or culture. The ability to independently recognise and confer qualifications remains a unique attribute of this organisation to this day.
During their study, the school’s carvers have the opportunity to be involved in major Kaupapa (initiatives) on-site, throughout New Zealand and overseas. The outcome is two-pronged – it fulfills NZMACI’s cultural perpetuation, protection and promotion mandate and exposes students to environments which help them see first-hand how knowledge, history, and ideas are manifested through material culture.
Clive was part of the wood carving school’s first intake in 1967. Arguably one of the most accomplished technical carvers alive, he is still at NZMACI today. “If we lose our arts and crafts, we lose our identity,” explains Clive.
“It’s important that we pass on our art to future generations, to show our unique art form worldwide.”
Clive is optimistic about the future and happy that, thanks to places like NZMACI, “our art and culture will never die out.”
Tommy joined the 36th Intake to NZMACI. He was inspired to join as there was a lack of whakairo (Māori carving) artists in his whānau (family).
Tommy knows he is at the right place. “Here at NZMACI, the carving tutors are recognised as the best in the world,” he says. He hopes his skills will benefit his people – “I’d like to leave behind a legacy for future generations.”
Poai, also known as Alby, graduated with the 8th Intake and was tutored by John Taiapa and Clive Fugill. Alby returned to the National Carving School as Tumu Whakairo in 2019.