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Māori carvers head to Antarctica

Two Māori carvers head to Antarctica next week to complete and install a traditional carving at Scott Base, New Zealand’s headquarters on the ice.

The work to be unveiled is one of the first examples of traditional Māori carving taking place on the continent and has been made possible under the Antarctica New Zealand Community Engagement Programme.

It has been carved by Poutama Hetaraka from Whāngarei (Ngāti Wai, Ngāi Tahu) and James York from Colac Bay (Ngāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi).

The kaupapa (project) is part of a five-year programme led by NIWA, and offers a mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) perspective to the scientific monitoring research being conducted in the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, established just over a year ago.

The monitoring programme is directed by NIWA principal scientist Dr Matt Pinkerton with Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research ecologist Priscilla Wehi leading the Mātauranga Māori component.

“Antarctica ecosystems are key indicators of climate change. That’s why monitoring them, and protecting them, is critical,” Ms Wehi says.

“In the Mātauranga programme, we observe what’s happening with two eyes – one eye using the strength of indigenous knowledge and worldviews, and the other eye with the acute sight of scientific research. The challenge is for us to use both ways of seeing to overcome the critical environmental challenges we face.”

A pou (carved pole) was erected in 2013 at Scott Base, carved by Ngāi Tahu master carver Fayne Robinson who is now advising on this project, along with Ngāti Wai tohunga whakairo (master carver) and kaumatua Te Warihi Hetaraka.



“Toi whakairo was our form of recording and transferring knowledge and history down through the generations, long before we used a written language,” Mr Hetaraka says.

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

Mr Hetaraka, the father of carver Poutama Hetaraka, has been an invaluable source of oral history which formed the basis of the concepts for the carving, and will come to life as a door lintel. The side frames of the doorway are called whakawae, and have been carved at the Hihiaua Cultural Centre in Whangārei.

The piece that crosses the top of the doorway is called a pare, which is being carved by Mr York in Southland.

Poutama Hetaraka says he is not only looking forward to experiencing a completely different environment but also to” seeing mātauranga Māori become more and more embedded in conversations about environmental management of the Earth and Antarctica in particular”.

James York, also a member of the local Ōraka Aparima Rūnaka, lives on Colac Foreshore Road in Southland and is daily witness to the impact climate change is having in his small corner of the world. Rising sea levels and increasing king tides have caused coastal erosion to the road, leading to a section being closed off.

“I was brought up around here and lived here on and off all my life. All this time in the natural world makes it easy to see the changes that are happening in our environment,” James says.

“That’s what I’m most interested in getting more familiar with while we’re down there. How is what’s happening in Antarctica affecting the sea and therefore, the rest of the world?

“And that’s what we want to question and talk about with our whakairo. It’s a wero (challenge) really - what are we actually doing about this problem of climate change?”

The pair leave for Antarctica on February 6.

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