In the foyer of Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki is a Wairua Bowl, a cast glass bowl containing water. Since we have been open many people have asked about the significance of this.  The bowl was cast by Jimi and Lisa Walsh of Waverley. Ironsand from Waverley beach is incorporated into the fabric of the bowl.


Māori regard water as a cleanser of the soul, a soothing and healing agent and a symbol of blessing. Wairua is the spirit or essence of a being that exists from the moment the eyes are formed in the foetus to beyond death; wairua is immortal. Once a person has passed from this life their wairua becomes tapu or sacred.


There is another cast glass piece in the foyer – this is a collaboration between two artists, Philip Nuku and Emma Camden, that was facilitated by the South Taranaki District Museum Trust.  The piece is called Aotea Utanganui and embodies the spirit of the museum and it’s name. This cast glass work is the prow of a waka taua (war canoe). The two manaia (beaked figures) represent Turi and his wife Rongorongo. The designs on the centre piece are te aka kūmara (sweet potato vine) separated by pakiti haehae (the passing of knowledge). Pakiti haehae represents the tātua (belt) where Rongorongo carried the kumara.  The piece can also be seen as a ship with a decorated sail signifying the many people who have journeyed to these shores.

Philip Nuku developed the design and carved the wax; Emma Camden cast the glass.
These two works are indicative of the spirit of the museum, of the way we seek to honour our ancestors and celebrate the stories of South Taranaki.


An Explanation of the Carvings (Whakairo) and Tukutuku Panels


The tukutuku panels depict many traditional patterns. The lattice framework is made from toetoe stems and modern half-rounds, although in  traditional times, supplejack and fern stems were used. There are two main materials in weaving, Kiekie and Pingao. The patterns can be marked out on the panels or traditionalists may prefer to retain patterns in the mind and work from there. The women work from both sides of the lattice, weaving in and out of the holes to tighten and tie the kiekie and pingao to form the patterns. The kiekie and pingao are dampened just before working with them to make them supple and for easy manipulation.

The Whakairo (Carvings) are wooden pou (posts) representing significant ancestors in the story of the whakapapa (family tree) of the Aotea waka and its chief, Turi.



The chief of the Aotea waka, Turi is seen holding the sacred toki (adze) “Te Awhio-rangi”. The carving is elaborate with fine haehae and pakati work to show the appreciation and respect the carvers have for Turi. The centre figure represents the main protective god of Turi. “Ngā Atua Kaitiaki o Turi” translates to “The Gods of Turi” who were important to Turi and his people. Invocations and prayers were made for protection and assistance in all aspects of life. The lower carving depicts Turi’s first wife, Hineraurenga. Her presence indicates although Turi was highly    regarded as a chief and priest, he was also an ordinary man who was subject to the temptations of the world.


Rongorongo was the second wife of Turi, who travelled with Turi in the    Aotea waka. She carries the sacred kete “Ao ao ki te Rangi” in which she stored the nine sacred kumara seeds brought from Rangiatea. Rongorongo and Turi lived at Rangitaawhi until Turi’s old age, when he heard of the death of his son Turanga-i-mua. The loss saddened him deeply. He left the pā and was never heard from again. It is believed that his spirit crossed the sea and returned to Rangiatea in Hawaiki. The figure at the base of this pou represents Rongorongo’s kaitiaki (personal slave). The protruding tongue denotes defiance and strength. This also indicates that for Rongorongo, her slave would move mountains to serve and please her.


Turi’s eldest son was young when Turi’s people settled in Pātea. He grew up to gain a respected position in the tribe. It is believed that a family quarrel between Taneroroa and Turanga-i-mua over the eating of two sacred dogs divided the family. Taneroroa moved north, and Turanga-i-mua moved south to the areas now known as Waverley, Waitotara and Kai-Iwi. Turanga-i-mua is regarded as the founder of the Ngā Rauru Iwi. Turanga-i-mua was killed whilst on expedition, during a battle against an East Coast tribe. It is said that his bones were returned to Pātea and buried. The figure at the base of this pou is his kaitiaki. There are also many atua (gods), and manaia-like figures.


One of the many tohunga on the Aotea waka, Rakeiora held an important position. He had great powers, being responsible for karakia, incantations, and many religious ceremonies. The people had great faith in him to remove evil, also to the extent of moving mountains and lakes, and performing other miraculous feats. Rakeiora had his atua, shown by the small manaia-like carved figures. He also had his slave Kai Tonotono perform many duties for him.


Tutawa Whanau Moana was born during the voyage. He is distinguished by the head shape and kōruru (owl-like eyes) typical of Te Arawa carvings and left here by Reverend Napi Waaka of the Te Arawa Iwi. The figure also has child-like features. Tutawa is depicted with his kaitiaki and atua around him.




This was the first carving completed by the carvers under the tuition of Reverend Napi Waaka of the Te Arawa tribe. The top figure shows the features of the old Maori; flat nose, big eyes, and tongue protruding to show defiance. The middle figure, showing the face only, depicts the changes Māori has undergone to show the facial features of the Māori today. The lower figure depicts Taneroroa, the eldest daughter of Turi and Rongorongo. She married Uhenga Puanake, brother of Tamatea, the chief of the Takitimu waka. She and Uhenga moved to a fishing village north of Rangitaawhi, called Whitikau. There, she bore a son whom she called Ruanui. Her womanhood is depicted by her hands covering the genitalia. This is common of carvings depicting women.


The husband of Taneroroa and youngest brother of Tamatea Ariki-nui, the chief of the Takitimu waka. His pounamu mere shows the important rank he held in the Ngāti Kahungungu Iwi from the Takitimu waka, which was now united to the Ngāti Ruanui Iwi.


The first son of Taneroroa and Uhenga Puanake. He is the founder of the Ngāti Ruanui Iwi. This Iwi covers the area north of the Whenuakura River to Oeo, and inland to Stratford. The pointed forehead and claw-like fingers are characteristics of the Taranaki carving style.


Te Kahui represent all of the families descended from Ruanui, Taneroroa, Uhenga Puanake, Tutawa, Rakeiora and Rongorongo of the Aotea waka, of whom remain in the area. The lizard represents evil and death, which in turn shows that despite the many disasters, deaths, wars, trials and tribulations experienced by the descendants of Turi and Rongorongo, these families have endured and survive to this day.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s