Push for funds to restore ancient epa

Mahau Waru and Brian Irvine talk about a Nagati Rahiri Taonga being restored in Auckland.
Mahau Waru and Brian Irvine talk about a Nagati Rahiri Taonga being restored in Auckland.

While digging a drain near Motunui in 1960, Scotty Kilpatrick came across an historical Taranaki carving.

The carved panel, known as an epa, will soon be on display at Puke Ariki if the required funds can be raised to finish its restoration work.

Carved during the 1750-1820 period, the epa is thought to be part of a pataka (storehouse) and associated with the Motunui Panels found in 1972.

The panels were sold for about $6000 in 1973 to English art dealer Lance Entwistle, who then smuggled them out of New Zealand and sold them to Bolivian millionaire George Ortiz for US$65,000.

Puke Ariki taonga curator Glen Skipper said the Ngati Rahiri carving looked and felt similar to the Motunui Panels.

"This one is similar in terms of the carving depth and head shapes – the proportions are the same.

He said it was one of the most easily recognised carving styles in the country. However, the person responsible for it was unknown.

"We have a very significant carving style in our region and this is a beautiful example of that," he said.

Mr Skipper said it would be fantastic to have the epa displayed publicly as it would add another element of depth and history to Puke Ariki.

Mahau Waru, kaumatua of Ngati Rahiri hapu, grew up just 300 metres away from where the ancient epa was found at Motunui.

"It's got a good story and that's what we want to share," he said.

Mr Waru believes it's important this epa is restored so young carvers of today can know this taonga, can see its different style and see how tall it stands.

He has been humbled by working with the Friends of Puke Ariki on the restoration project, which he said is about co-operation and a fine example of what the three feathers of Parihaka represent.

Auckland conservator Rose Evans, who is completing the restoration work, said the carving had been through preservation methods from two different time periods.

"When it was found they decided to immerse it in linseed oil thinking that would stop a lot of the cellular breakdown, and to a degree it did, but it's a material that's almost impossible to reverse," she said.

"Later on they had another way of thinking where they put a PVA on the back."

Ms Evans said it was impossible to reverse those treatments as they had been applied in such large quantities.

"It's now about creating a preventive treatment. We have a different way of thinking these days as conservators," she said.

The project is estimated to cost about $23,000, which is being fundraised by the Friends of Puke Ariki.

President Brian Irvine said it was one of the bigger projects they had funded. About $16,000 had been raised so far, and a fundraising talk would be held at Puke Ariki on May 31.

Taranaki Daily News