Te Wānanga o Raukawa…the story behind Ngāti Kapu carvings

Recently Te Wānanga o Raukawa opened a building called Te Ara a Tāwhaki.

In this building is a central Lecture Theatre called ‘Te Kete Uruuru Rangi.’ It is surrounded by carvings.

As part of those carvings, there are sets of ‘pou’ (carved wall features or poles) which express the ancestral links each hapū has.

One of these sets speak of the early men and women of Ngāti Kapu, the hapū which has a covenant agreement with the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington to care for (be ‘kaitiaki’) of the land embracing the Pukekaraka area of the Marae o Hine Nui o te Ao Katoa and St Mary’s at Ōtaki.

In the picture, you can see Debbie McAsey, née Taratoa, who is the grand-daughter of one of the people in the carving, Meremaihi.

She is holding a patu representing the strength of the person she was.

Known affectionately as ‘Aunty Pepe’, she was a force to be reckoned with! She balanced care and generosity with strength and fearlessness.

Meremaihi portrays the strength of the women of her clan; she fought for the rights of her people and literally stood firm on the Tainui pā land through thick and thin.

The man in the carving at the bottom (Debbie has her hand on him) is Meremaihi’s father, Arekatera Te Rawaraki.

He was a master of assembling and fitting masts on sailing sea-ships. He is holding a long rafter pole (called a ‘tahuhu’) with both hands above his head.

He was called on to assist in the building of Rangiatea Church and setting the rafter pole in place.

He is holding Rosary Beads in his hands. They are real beads blessed by Cardinal John Dew and given to the carvers by Oriwia Raureti.

When the Catholics of Ngāti Kapu helped their relations build Rangiatea Church (Anglican or Mihinare), they left rosary beads in the rafters and behind the tukutuku, symbolising their unity in faith and family.

Another person in the right-hand carving is holding rosary beads. They, like the ones Te Rawaraki holds, mark out the Catholic Faith which to this day is a central focus and strength of the iwi.

They mark with pride the relationship Ngāti Kapu has with Rome. Various ‘taonga’ were exchanged with the Pope. To this day the Papal flag flies over Pukekaraka.

The lady with the white shawl is Kui Taruru, who helped bring up the late Makuini Johnson, both proven stalwarts and guides of Faith.

Kui Taruru was one of those kuia, elder ladies, who accompanied the early missionaries on their journeys. The rosary she holds is carved.

Below Kui Taruru is Tira Putu. He was an orator for the people. He is carrying a tokotoko which represents his skill in language.

He taught the late Pā Hemi Durning SM te reo Māori. Pā Hemi is one of the priests and sisters buried on Pukekaraka.

These carvings were done by local carvers, Chris Gerretzen, Brian Climie and Bill Doyle.

Mā te rarangi whakahī o ēnei tūpuna, tō tātou mana, tō tātou mauriora me tō tātou whakapono e pūmau.

May our mana, our well-being and our faith be held firm as we recognise the proud link we have with our ancestors.

Read the unabridged text


  • Photo used with permission
  • Oriwia Raureti, Debbie McAsey, Huia Winiata and the carvers
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News category: New Zealand, Top Story.

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