Ngāti Porou whakairo book recognised at Ockham NZ Book Awards

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Two Ngāti Porou women have been recognised at the Ockham NZ Book Awards, the country's premier literary honours for works written by New Zealanders. Authored by Ngarino Ellis and photographed by Natalie Robertson, their book A Whakapapa of Tradition focuses on carved meeting houses within Ngāti Porou and was awarded a Judith Binney Best First Book Award for best-illustrated non-fiction.

Ngarino Ellis and Natalie Robertson were honoured for their book, A Whakapapa of Tradition that focuses on carved meeting houses within Ngāti Porou.

Author Ngarino Ellis says, “Ngāti Porou are so much into education into knowledge into literature and so it's really about our intellectual whakapapa that we would write a book, and to have it with really good images, a little bit of text I'll say and to have it as a book that people would treasure is really important for us.”

Photographer Natalie Robertson says a carved meeting house is a source of knowledge, “For me, it's really affirming for our rangatahi to be able to see how precious their whare whakairo are. To see the histories within them and to see that the knowledge contained within a whare is as rich as any library if we take the time to learn the stories.”

The book focuses on the students of Iwirākau, the ancestor who reinvigorated carving on the East Coast. Ngarino Ellis believes that Māori should be the ones to tell their stories. She says, “One of the goals of the book is to encourage other hapū and iwi to write their own art histories of carving and I think it's really critical that we as hapu and iwi own that knowledge.”

Although the carvers are male, many of the carved houses of the Waiapu river are women, embodying the saying "Waiapu of many mothers".

Natalie Roberston, “So for me, the women are really important, the meeting houses are named for women, but it was also Te Ao Kairau who dreamed those houses into being, the houses are named for her granddaughters and in some instances grandsons, she's a granddaughter of Pōhatu and Pōkai from Tikapa.”

Ngarino Ellis isn't stopping there and has her sights set on another project that will look at the legacies of Ngāti Porou master carvers Hone and Pine Taiapa.