Māori whakairo to be carved in Antarctica

By Talisa Kupenga

Poutama Hetaraka (File).

A pair of Māori carvers are off to Antarctica for two weeks to complete two whakawae (door frames) and a pare (lintel) they carved for Scott Base.

Poutama Hetaraka (Ngāti Wai, Ngāi Tahu ki Wairewa) and James York (Ngāi Tahu ki Ōraka Aparima, Ngā Puhi) leave for the ‘big ice’ on February 6 as part of the Antarctica New Zealand Community Engagement Programme.  They will complete and install the carvings next month.

Hetaraka says his partner Chloe pushed him to do the programme.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing a completely different environment [and] seeing mātauranga Māori become more embedded in conversations about environmental management.”

James York (File).

York, who lives in Colac Bay, says he witnesses the impacts of climate change first-hand with rising sea levels and coastal erosion on his doorstep.

He is interested in understanding the link between what is happening in Antarctica and how it affects the rest of the world.

“That’s what we want to question and talk about with our whakairo. It’s a wero really- what are we actually doing about this problem of climate change?  What is each and every one of us doing?”

Part of a five-year monitoring programme led by NIWA, the project includes a mātauranga Māori perspective on scientific research being conducted in the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, one of the world’s largest protected sea zones.

Scott Base, Antarctica (File).

Hetaraka and York have been working under the guidance of master carvers Fayne Robinson (Ngāi Tahu) and Te Warihi Hetaraka- who is also Hetaraka’s father- on the project.

“Toi whakairo was a form for recording and transferring knowledge and history down through the generations [before the written word],” Te Warihi says.

“We are using whakairo to have a conversation in and about the wellness of Antarctica.  The well-being of Papatuanuku starts with Antarctica.  It’s an indicator, a litmus test for the rest of the world.”

The monitoring programme is being lead by NIWA scientist Dr Matt Pinkerton with Manaaki Whenua-Lancare research ecologist Priscilla Wehi leading the Mātauranga Māori component.

A pou was erected in 2013 at Scott Base, but this will be one of the first examples of traditional Māori carving to take place on the continent.

The new pou will be unveiled before the carvers return to New Zealand.