Incorporating Māori design into the modern world

updated By Mare Haimona-Riki

Young Māori artist and entrepreneur Sam Mangakahia (Ngati Huarere) is making his mark in the artistic world as he pursues his passion in wood carving and artistry under his brand, Hamiora.

You can see his work in the form of beautiful Māori and Polynesian designs decorating various everyday items from guitars to phone cases.

His inspiration for Māori designs stems from his philosophy of incorporating Māori design into the forms of the modern world.

“In this modern age, we aren’t carrying around taiaha or patu on a day-to-day basis, instead we have our phones or accessories that are always with us…. I wanted a way to express a cultural message through modern necessities”, he says.

A personal project Sam worked on in Laie, Hawai'i (Source: Facebook).

His artistic pursuits started when he was just 15-years-old, still a high school student with dreams and ideas constantly filling his mind.  He used these years to hone his craft; expressing himself on any type of surface that was available.

It wasn't until he was 22, when he moved to Hawai'i and started his study at Brigham Young University, when he began to develop the business aspect of his passion.

He started off working with ukulele.  Knowing that music is an integral part of Polynesian culture, he saw this instrument as a medium to begin his artistic and entrepreneurial endeavours.

“I just saw the ukulele as a perfect surface to express my passion….It's also an instrument which tells a story which is what my art work does too.  So it’s like a storyteller within a storyteller," says Mangakahia.

Mangakahia went on to win multiple entrepreneurial competitions with the launch of his Polynesian inspired "Fresh Ukes" brand (Source: Facebook).

Following his success in with ukuklele, Mangakahia integrated other products into his business, including wooden rings and phone cases.

The name of his brand pays homage to his great-great grandfather, Hamiora Mangakahia, a prominent Māori chief and one of the pioneers of the Kotahitanga movement which advocated for an independent Māori parliament in the 1890s.

In addition to his recognition of his ancestors, Mangakahia credits his creative inspiration to his love for God and his culture.

He hopes that when people see his work they are uplifted and inspired- and perhaps are even reminded of who they are and where they come from.

Mangakahia applies similar artistic principles he uses on the ukulele to full-size guitars (Source: Facebook).

Upon his return from his internship, which saw him traveling the world from California to New York, Mangakahia ended his travels back in New Zealand where he worked side-by-side with renowned Māori artist, Rangi Kipa and his brother Glenn.

During the next four months, he absorbed as much wisdom and experience from the Kipa brothers as he could, adding the experience to his kete of knowledge.

"Working with Rangi and Glenn helped me to deepen my understanding of toi Māori and reminded me of the spiritual depth our work has....depth that goes beyond monetary significance".

Mangakahia still has three semesters left of study before he graduates with a degree in Graphic Design and Entrepreneurship in June 2020. 

If you would like to see more of Hamiora. Click here.