Carving is a celebrated expression of both storytelling and art in Māori culture. Whare Toi, the carving studio at Waitangi provides a unique opportunity to meet traditional carvers (kaiwhakairo).
Within the studio, the carvers provide examples of both traditional and modern forms of carving and welcome questions about the significance of the art form to Māori. The Carving Studio offers a unique opportunity to watch live demonstrations, learn more about this ancient art form, and discover the talent which is passed down through generations and practiced right here at Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
The art of wood carving is called whakairo rākau and within Māori tribes the skills and knowledge of carving have been handed down through many generations to ensure this unique art form is understood and acknowledged today. Māori carving carries significant meaning, with the intricate details of each piece representing people, iwi (tribes), places, values, and the stories of the past.
Māori traditionally carved using wood from native New Zealand trees such as kauri and totara, with kauri being particularly precious as it is endemic to New Zealand and can grow to be thousands of years old. Māori also carved in stone, preferably the very hard pounamu (greenstone), or bone. Bone was used for finer items such as fish hooks and needles, while wood was formed into waka (canoe), houses, fencepoles, taiaha (a long-handled weapon) and tools. Particular craftsmanship was applied to elaborate decorative carvings on important objects such as the prow of a waka (canoe), or posts of a wharenui (meeting house). These detailed carvings would tell the story of the object, as well as representing its iwi (tribe), history and purpose.
Traditional Māori carvers train for decades to achieve the highest level of skill and knowledge, requiring patience, diligence, and a true understanding of the stories and meanings of those carvings and carvers that have gone before.