Master carver tells tales
Carvings silently tell the tales of centuries past at Whatapaka Marae.
Master carver and kaumatua Ted Ngataki and his whanau created the works at the Karaka marae to tell the tale of his Tamaoho iwi who have lived around the Manukau Harbour for hundreds of years.
Fittingly, the very first carving above the marae gate shows their arrival in the area – Mr Ngataki’s ancestors carry an upturned waka over land.
After arriving in the Waitemata Harbour the iwi hauled their waka over to the Manukau Harbour where they made their home.
The next two carvings show taniwha the iwi believe inhabit the harbour.
Other carvings, including those at the front of the marae, show honoured ancestors who have made important contributions to the iwi.
The meeting house is also adorned with the fish, birds and other creatures of the area which have sustained the people.
Mr Ngataki, with help from whanau, completed the carvings in just 12 months so they could be unveiled on the first anniversary of the death of a respected kaumatua.
The iwi regards the carvings as taonga, treasures that need to be cared for.
Each carving is unveiled respectfully according to protocol and handled with care and visitors and children are told the iwi’s stories with the aid of the carvings as they are taken around the marae.
Mr Ngataki says every marae has carvings but each is unique and tell their own stories.
The master carver has created works for high profile organisations like Kidz First Children’s Hospital and Auckland airport. His carving at the airport’s international arrivals area is one of the first pieces of Maori art tourist and visitors see when they arrive in the country.
Carving has been a major part of his life for more than 30 years.
He followed in his uncle’s footsteps and started to learn to carve when he was 19. He was taught by several master carvers, many of whom he still keeps in touch with today.
Different iwi have their own styles of carving and carvers develop their own techniques as their skill and experience grows, he says.
"As you get a little bit more clever you develop your own way of bringing out what Mother Nature tells you to."
Mr Ngataki has a workshop at the marae and treats his work with great respect. He handles and removes dust from carvings carefully and forbids smoking and eating in the workshop.
"Everything that we carve has a name, has a reason to be created ... that’s the way we were taught.
"We don’t eat or smoke because we are creating one of our tupuna."
Mr Ngataki can spend hours upon hours carving in the shed. Carvers need to have patience.
"Once you’re in the shed your time is not yours, it belongs to the work.
"Time just goes. Before you know it it can be two o’clock in the morning."
Despite his experience and high-profile carvings Mr Ngataki is humble and says he doesn’t refer to himself as a master carver.
It is a title others give him.
"The kumara, it doesn’t say how sweet it is, you only find out by tasting it."
And he plans to keep carving for the rest of his life.
"It’s just who I am, I think. I’m Maori and nobody else. I need to keep focus on trying to uphold it."