Image: Mystix Studios
Just in time for Waitangi, two large toi whakairo (carvings) have been unveiled on Russell Wharf in a move that local Kororareka Marae Chairperson Deb Rewiri says ‘restores a Māori presence to this most historic and culturally important part of the country.’
‘We are at long last restoring the balance, after the visible presence of our culture was overlaid and pretty much extinguished by the colonialist narrative. Until now a casual visitor to Kororāreka would never know our people had ever lived here, let alone had a thriving culture for centuries. With these whakairo we firmly and proudly put that right; and we do it in the most beautiful and appropriate way possible,’ Rawiri says.
At nearly four-and-a-half-metres at its highest point, the waharoa sits on the whenua just off Russell wharf, welcoming visitors to the popular tourist destination.
The artwork contains both Māori and Pākehā carved symbols, referencing the peoples who lived and whose descendants still live here. And the sailors, whalers and traders who came later and made Kororāreka their home.
A taki, the local word for a wero, stands on a column fixed to the seabed a few metres off the front of the wharf. The two-and-a-half-metre high taiaha wielding toa/warrior will be easily visible from a distance. It serves two purposes says Kaiwhakairo, Tony Makiha of Mystix Studios, ‘To welcome people to the town in a culturally appropriate manner but to also say this is our whenua, please respect it.’ The taiaha gives the challenge and the patu he holds behind his back the warning he will defend Kororāreka if called on to do so.
‘They are both stunning pieces of public art,’ says Deb Rewiri, ‘something the whole community can be proud of. And, of course, you can see their massive potential for our very important tourism industry as artistic and cultural ambassadors.’
The project was the result of hours of volunteer work and donations. The Marae along with the Russell Wharf Trust and Far North Holdings collectively raised the funds needed from a variety of public grants, with Far North Holdings contributing more than half the cost.
‘We’ve been so very lucky in the number of talented and enthusiastic locals who shared this moemoeā, that we can call on for help, says Deb.