Te Mahau – A partnership initiative between NZMACI and Te Matatini

September 15, 2020 | The National Wood Carving School

Te Mahau: Ko Te Matatini

In late 2012 and early 2013, NZMACI carvers created a 30 metre wide mahau (stage front) for Te Matatini 2013 – a biennial national kapa haka (Māori performing arts) festival where teams from around New Zealand and Australia compete for the title of national champion.

With a height of more than 13 metres, the mahau was unveiled in Rotorua where it framed the festival stage. The carving is now symbolic of Te Matatini, becoming a permanent stage fixture at future festivals and will also be used at other high profile New Zealand events into the furture.

Concept & Development

Te Matatini Society Inc. and NZMACI joined together to create the concept of the mahau – a ‘cultural framework’ and taonga (treasure) for the nation through which all things Aotearoa | New Zealand can be showcased. Both organisations acknowledge the strength of diversity among iwi (tribes), hapū (subtribes) and whānau (family) and both have a responsibility to perpetuate and promote prestigious Māori art forms in modern New Zealand.

The mahau, named Te Matatini, is best translated as the ‘many faces’, referring not only to the performers but also their supporters, and the role that kapa haka plays in sustaining Māori culture and te reo Māori. Over six months, about 20 carvers, including students and tutors – were involved in creating the mahau on-site at NZMACI. The entire structure was carved using native timbers, including a large kauri carbon-dated at 4,500 years old. The largest series of Māori carvings in New Zealand, the sheer size of the mahau meant its creation and transportation was a major logistical exercise.

NZMACI worked with engineers to prepare the pieces of the mahau for travel, with cranes used to manoeuvre the works on to several large trucks for transportation to Te Matatini. The procession was accompanied by a group of Māori toa (warriors) before engineers erected the structure on the festival stage.

Project Update

As storing, transporting, and erecting the mahau is a complex logistical exercise, a team from NZMACI travelled to Christchurch in March to install for Te Matatini 2015. It has now returned to storage before the next Matatini in Hawkes Bay 2017, although it may be used for other special events or showcases in between festivals.

Kōrero (narrative)

The kōrero (narratives) on the mahau represent iwi (tribes) from throughout New Zealand, honouring Māori traditions and uniting all aspects of Māori arts. The mahau is a reminder that every whakairo (carving) is a prompt for kōrero, and that every hapū (sub-tribe) has its own kōrero. It is a wero (challenge) that invites Māori to embrace their uniqueness and to take responsibility for the maintenance of their tikanga (customs).


At the top of the mahau is the tekoteko (carved figure),Tangaroa (ocean deity), the connecting element for all people of the Pacific, our pathways and our spiritual essence.


Beneath Tangaroa is the ūpoko (head), Ruatepupuke, designed to resemble the head of a taiaha (Māori weapon) – issuing a wero (challenge) to performers, judges and spectators alike. Ruatepupuke symbolises creative processes, esoteric knowledge (te kauae runga) and the intangible realm.


The maihi (bargeboards) represent Māori stories of migration. High on each maihi an uncarved panel, the epiha (shaped in the form of a waka hull) is a place for the unanswerable to go, creating a place for all kōrero to take place. The maihi feature representations of nature – tohorā (whales), and painted pitau-a-manaia reinforcing the stage front’s whakapapa (connectivity) message.


The amo (upright supports) represent the male and female elements and the kōrero associated with the whare tapere (house of entertainment). The female side depicts (among others) Hine-te-iwa-iwa (deity of childbirth and the woven arts), Hine-rau-kata-uri (deity of music) and Hine-rau-kata-mea (deity of entertainment); the male side depicts Kae (tohunga – priest), Tinirau (son of Tangaroa, guardian of fish) and Tuhuruhuru (Tinirau’s son).

The whare tapere were traditional places where stories, knowledge and entertainment were exchanged both in Māori tribal society and throughout the Pacific. The framework of these whare revolves around the kōrero of the key characters as represented on the amo.


The front of the stage is underpinned by a 30 metre long paepae (threshold) that illustrates the various styles of Māori wood carving and provides a standing place for all Māori. The white eyes that emerge from the black stained carvings literally represent Te Matatini, the many faces.

Project Facts

  • 30 metres span
  • 13 metres high
  • 26 tonnes of native wood
  • 5 tonnes of steel (support frame)
  • 20 NZMACI Carvers
  • 36 tonnes of concrete (counterweight)
  • 15,000 hours in the making
  • Largest Māori carved structure



Te Matatini Society Inc. is the national organisation for kapa haka (Māori performing arts). NZMACI has been a strategic partner of Te Matatini for a number of years, supporting its biennial kapa haka festival and competition, the world’s largest celebration of Māori performing arts.

  • Haami Te Aho (Ngāti Kahungungu)
  • Renata Manning (Ngapuhi)
  • Rongomai Parata-Taiapa (Ngai Tahu)
  • Kawana Waititi (Te Whanau a Apanui)
  • Ben Rikiti (Te Arawa)
  • Tommy Herbert (Te Arawa)
  • Karaitiana Rurehe (Ngai Tuhoe)
  • Heremia Nicholls (Tamatera)
  • Grant Marunui (Te Arawa)
  • Mihaka Mulligan (Ngati Porou)
  • Cori Marsters (Te Arawa)
  • Te Reinga Te Tai (Te Rarawa)
  • Tristian Marler (Te Rarawa)
  • Jeffrey Ruha (Te Whanau a Apanui)
  • Aoterangi Cotter (Ngati Kahungungu)
  • James Rickard (Tumu Whakairo) (Ngati Koata)
  • Clive Fugil (Tumu Whakarae) (Ngati Ranginui)
  • Albert Te Pou (Pou Whakairo) (Ngai Tuhoe)
  • Tony Thompson (Pouako) (Te Arawa)
  • Karl Johnstone (NZMACI Director) (Rongowhakaata)
  • Lance Ngata (NZMACI Developer) (Te Aitanga a Hauiti)