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BOP Carver shapes landmark pouwhenua

Kereama Hohua carefully shapes the new Toi Kai Rakau pouwhenua to be placed at Kohi Point. The pouwhenua is made of native kauri. TROY BAKER / WHAKATANE BEACON.

The hands of Kereama Hohua with Danny McRoberts shaped the first pouwhenua placed on one of New Zealand’s oldest pa sites in modern times.

Now, 20 years on, Kereama is etching the carved replacement of Toi Kai Rakau, which will stand on Kapu-te-rangi pa site at Kohi Point.

Kereama is one of the few living kai whakairo (carving) artists in the Mataatua rohe and has been working on Toi Kai Rakau from his home in Ruatoki for the past month.

“I float in and out of the contemporary space, but I try to remain grounded with intergenerational practice that has been handed down to me, when it’s directly related to our tipuna.

“I have always valued my position in the community because it reminds me where I come from and whom we connect to.”

Kereama has been fortunate to learn the craft of whakairo in the Mataatua rohe from prominent educators - Maaka Te Moana, the late Te Kuiti Stuart and Te Hau o Te Rangi Tutua (Ching Tutua).

He says koro Ching guided him and Mr McRoberts through the previous installation of Toi Kai Rakau.

Kereama says koro Ching had an aroha for this particular pouwhenua saying the milestones of this tipuna Toi Kai Rakau were symbolic of the Mataatua relationship between local iwi and native rakau (wood) in the rohe.

“My inspiration is drawn from people and place, I try to tell that story through my mahi.

“Kai whakairo artists have been mapping the story of social change through rakau for generations in this community and Toi Kai Rakau stands at the helm of that practice.”

Kereama says there are a number of examples of whakairo that encompass change in this rohe.

These include the Ngati Awa Mataatua whare, which is a catalyst for the perseverance of the Mataatua people and which adorns the seaboard of Wairaka.

Te Kupenga o Taramainuku in Te Teko at the gateway of Mataatua, marks an historical pa that hosted social, political and economic talks resourced by the Rangitaiki River. Te Kura Whare is also an introduced rakau technology led by kai whakairo anthropologist Tamati Kruger that archives the vision of the Tuhoe people pre- and post-settlement.

Kereama says the new pouwhenua will be similar to the last with a few differences. For example, this pouwhenua’s ta moko curves around the ears, something he says is unusual to see but he finds aesthetically pleasing.

Kereama says it's ironic that the Kohi Maori seat at the Bay of Plenty Regional Council is filled by a councillor also by the name of Toi Kai Rakau.

“I hope the community gives him the opportunity to truly represent.

“During the pandemic, we have seen an immense shift globally and it would be good to see the Whakatane District Council, Te Runanga o Ngati Awa and the surrounding iwi lead in courageous conversation regarding our community.

“It’s important for the Whakatane region to come together and talk about the current social environment after the effects of the community being locked down in their homes during COVID-19."

Kereama and Danny are responsible for several other works around the district including the restoration of the Mataatua whare where Toi Kai Rakau also stands sheltered alongside other tipuna, the Warren Cole walkway and the RSA memorial gateway.

He says the memorial gateway was a particularly intimate piece of work for him due to his family’s involvement in the 28th Maori Battalion during the Second World War.

In the 1940s, the Hohua whanau from Ruatoki had nine brothers go to battle. The whanau were fortunate to have eight brothers return home.

Te Runanga o Ngati Awa will hold a karakia for the burial of the previous Toi Kai Rakau. The date for the unveiling of its replacement is yet to be set.

Kereama Hohua first began to learn the art of Kai Whakairo when he was 19 and is one of the few living artists around today. TROY BAKER / WHAKATANE BEACON.

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