Original Maori artisan refreshes PCC carvings

Maori_carvings11-30-13 [Published in the December 2013 issue of IMUA Polenisia
the Polynesian Cultural Center newsletter:
Story and photos by Mike Foley]

Before sunrise on November 30, in accordance with New Zealand Maori custom, carvers, service missionaries, island representatives, other Maori from the community and special guests waited at the Maori Village gate for a special kawanga ceremony to mark the reopening of the PCC’s Maori Village following an extensive renovation and replacing many of the original carvings.

More than 150 people participated in the ceremony that included Seamus Fitzgerald, PCC Director of Cultural Islands and Maori Village manager, and his team inviting the guests onto the marae with chants, followed by the entire group slowly inspecting the newly renovated features and carvings in a procession.

Speeches and songs in Maori followed, Fitzgerald orating on behalf of the PCC and Maori master carver Takaputai “Taka” Mete Walker, QSM, 79, of Havelock North (near Hastings), New Zealand, responding.

Following the speeches, everyone shared a hongi — the traditional Maori pressing of noses. Then Fitzgerald presented koha or gifts to several of the carvers and senior missionaries who played key roles on the project: A toki or adze head pendant created from the same piece of Maori greenstone in Hokitika, New Zealand.

seamus_maoris11-30-13

Seamus Fitzgerald (left) and Maori Villagers at the Polynesian Cultural Center

“All of you who received this are connected through your work here,” Fitzgerald said in bestowing the special gifts. He also noted that volunteer labor missionaries built the PCC’s original Maori Village 50 years ago, “and it’s significant that they helped again on this project.”

Following that, each of the island representatives presented Walker with a cultural gift. In his remarks, PCC President and CEO Alfred Grace, who is also a New Zealand Maori, said the Center is “very grateful to Uncle Taka” for helping embody Elder Matthew Cowley’s vision of a carved house in Laie. [Elder Cowley was a member of the Latter-day Saints Church’s Quorum of the Twelve and a former missionary and mission president in New Zealand.]

“We’re also grateful for those who have gone on before us, and we’re grateful for a new day here,” he continued, prasing former PCC President Von D. Orgill, “who recognized the importance of making sure that we remain true to who we are” in regards to the renewal of the Maori Village.

“As requested by Seamus, we agreed to do this properly and have Uncle Taka come back,” Grace said. “The first time around we were a little rushed, so he made sure everything was done spot-on this time. Thank you, Uncle. Thank you, Seamus. You make all the Maori people here proud.”

Maori_taka_walker11-30-13To the Maori gathered that morning, Grace also said, “I hope this is an experience you’ll always remember. You’ll go back to your own marae and your own hapu [Maori clans or descent groups], but you’ll always belong to this one, too.”

Finally, at the end, everyone enjoyed a kai, a typical New Zealand breakfast.

Much of the credit for the new carvings goes to Walker [pictured at left]. Fifty years ago he was the youngest — and today the only surviving member — of the eight-man crew from New Zealand who created and installed the original carvings at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

In addition to Walker’s own crew in Havelock North, New Zealand, PCC carver Doug Christy — whose father, the late Epanaia “Uncle Barney” Christy, was also one of the original carvers — went to New Zealand twice to participate in the project. “It was a fabulous experience,” Christy said.

Walker explained the new carvings are patterned after those designed by original master carver, Hone (John) Taiapa, but include more detail. “There just wasn’t time before the Center originally opened to include all of them,” he said.

He also noted there wasn’t enough time in 1963 to hold a kawanga ceremony, “so this is very special to me and a historical moment for this marae.”

Maori_group11-30-13

Almost all those who participated in the kawanga ceremony for the renewed carvings at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

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