Master carver concerned the art form of whakairo will be lost

By Dion Hosking

A master carver is concerned the traditional Māori art form is being lost because a lack of young people who are learning the craft. 

Vern Rosieur (Ngāti Manuhiri), who was exhibiting his mahi during the recent World Masters Games in Auckland, told Māori Television that he’s the last expert carver of his iwi and he’s concerned the sacred knowledge will be lost forever.

 “Well I am in my 60's and there isn’t anybody.  So for Ngāti Manuhiri, for my own people, if I fall over tomorrow, those things that I hold in the way of art [will be] gone”.

Rosieur says that carving is the oldest written form of Māori language and stresses how important it is to retain and reinvigorate the artform.

“Before there was the written word, we as mahi whakairo (carvers) would get that information from Rangatira.  We would then turn it back into stories by way of carving.”

Rosieur knows of a tohunga in his 80's who sold his tools at the markets because he couldn’t find work for 26 years.  Rosieur says that when the Tohunga was asked why he hadn’t passed his knowledge onto his sons or his mokopuna, he replied, “Am I passing on a taonga or am I passing on a burden?  Nobody values us anymore.”

Rosieur says the story highlights the importance of valuing people who maintain the carving tradition and other Māori art forms.

“It’s controversial for our people, as Māori, to let somebody like that...disappear.”

Rosieur says despite the efforts of educational institutions in teaching carving, he’s concerned there isn’t an established career path for graduates.

“It’s one thing to take them through the school and get them signed off and paid for through the education system, but how does that sustain them going forward, making it viable so that they can feed their whanau.”

Rosieur is concerned the younger generation aren’t stepping up to take the place from expert carvers who retire or pass on.

“I remember when kōhanga first started there was a bit of a push back. But I think we have got to make it more accessible. It doesn’t matter what dialect you learn as long as you are learning it, Carving is no different."