January 31, 2018


A team effort- Toihoukura students(from left) Sebastian Niethammer-Peni and Jayden Hokianga


Renovating the front of an ageing wharenui (meeting house) has been a living work of art for a group of EIT’s Toihoukura students at Manutuke’s Ohako marae.

Spearheading the project was Toihoukura workshop technician and artist Ayson Lewis, who – having affiliations with the marae – was well placed to understand the many facets involved.

“We first started the project about two years ago,” he said. 

The house, Te Kiko o te Rangi, was built in the 1950s/early ‘60s so it needed some extensive maintenance.  Being the third house built on the site, it did not have the carvings and embellishments of the original and, after much discussion with the whānau, there emerged a desire to beautify as well as refurbish it.

“The key was understanding what was needed.  For example, the mahau (front porch) was in a state of disrepair so it was figuring out our best strategy to address it.”

“There was a fair bit of tono (communication) between the marae, and Toihoukura with me as the conduit to keeping everything associated with the art works on track.

“A large part was collecting the kōrero (stories) of the whānau and some of their whakapapa links with Ngāti Ruapani, Ngāi Tawhiri and Ngāi Te Kete.”

“Although the students were basically part of a refurbishment project, they were able to use their own expression with guidance, and have an input in to the designs.”

The group took their design cues from the old kōwhaiwhai panels. These were made from MDF particle board panels which were starting to disintegrate.

They used relief sculptural techniques to give the replacement panels a depth reminiscent of traditional carving.

The design on the tāhuhu (ridge beam) was continued to the outside as a way to further illustrate a connection with the past.

The new pou (posts) inside the porch are their interpretation of tribal genealogy and the panels between them are vibrant paintings depicting the iwi, their history and connection with the land. 

Their rohe (boundary) stretches from the outskirts of Patutahi to Whakapunake and the images reflect the abundance of what was once their pātaka kai (traditional food sources).

There are also visual references to tribal connections to Waikaremoana and the ocean around Te Kuri a Paoa.

“We looked at how we could depict some of the traditional visuals in a contemporary way,” said Ayson.

For the students the project has been a great opportunity to connect art with the community and its culture while making ancient concepts more accessible.

“Similarly to our involvement with annual regional kapa haka contests and festivals, Ohako has also been a way Toihoukura can connect our community to the arts, and provide ‘real life’ experience for students.”

Restoring the mahau has been stage one of the Ohako marae project. Completion will coincide with the return of old tribal taonga that are currently part of the Ko Rongowhakaata: Ruku i te Pō, Ruku i te Ao – the story of light and shadow exhibition at Te Papa in Wellington.