Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Spirit of the Boar


The pig was introduced to Aotearoa by Captain James Cook and other early explorers in the late 1700s. Captain Cook is said to have gifted pigs to local Māori as at that time there were no other land mammals apart from birds. Occasionally these pigs would escape which eventually formed the wild pig populations that there are today. They have a distinctive shape with large shoulders, smaller hind quarters and a long snout and as a result are often referred to as Captain Cookers.

The only real form of controlling the pig numbers today is by pig hunters. This has become a recreational sport for many New Zealanders and more importantly a great food source with wild pork being a delicacy especially to Māori. Generations of hunters have been born through the introduction of pigs to New Zealand and this was definitely the case for me growing up in the small country town of Wairoa.

My father has been a hunter all his life and he started taking my brother and me pig hunting from when we were about four years old. We have had lots of exciting times out in the bush with our dad and his pig dogs and we often sit and retell the many stories of back when we were younger.

I can remember vividly even from such an early age the cold winter mornings waiting on a ridge while the dogs were down in the gully on the scent of a boar. Then in the distance we hear a single dog bark. Dad would slightly turn his head toward the sound, point to us and say “listen.” We could hear the dogs chasing the boar across on the sunny face with the odd high pitched bark resounding as they closed in on him. The sound starts to become faint as they fade over the ridge and down into the next gully. For a short while it goes quiet until suddenly they reach the bottom and the dogs finally catch him in the creek. A huge fight erupts and dad says “they got him”! He would take off down through the scrub, occasionally glancing over his shoulder telling us to keep up. Once we got close to all the action he would say to my brother and I “get up the tree” to ensure that we were well out of harms way. Clinging to the branches of an old kānuka we’d watch dad sneak up and grab the boar by the back leg. The boar’s tusks become lethal weapons as he fights the dogs and they struggle to hold him there in the creek. It takes all Dad’s strength to flip the big pig over to then kill it quickly with his knife and in an instant the sounding battle that echoed through the valley suddenly turns to silence. The dogs lie down exhausted in the cool water and Dad turns to look up in our direction.

A minute or two later he would call out to us “it’s alright now you can come down” and we would clamber down and race over to have a look at the pig. After checking over the dogs for any injuries and a short rest he would then say “ok, now the work starts.” He always liked to singe the pig in the bush and it was our job to get the wood ready for the fire. He’d get the mānuka fire blazing and we’d watch him singe the pig till the skin was a beautiful smoky golden. The dogs sat licking their wounds and waited for the pig’s heart as a reward for their good work. Then Dad would carry the pig all the way back to the car which usually took hours and sometimes he’d have to tow us up the hill as we got tired and hung onto his belt.

For me and my brother as young boys growing up, our father was that big strong figure who in our eyes could do anything and would always make us feel safe. Now it’s our turn to do all the hard work and although we have outgrown him in size, I’m still in awe of his determination and that “grit your teeth” mentality that he represented to us. For that I dedicate this carving to him as a symbol of his strength, tenacity and perseverance. All qualities he unknowingly passed on to me that surpass just the physical and transcend into all facets of life. Now hobbling on sore knees my Dad still to this day goes out pig hunting with his dogs that he calls the “lovely boys.” Now he takes his grandchildren out on the “brigade” with him and I guess will continue to do so for many years to come.

—Todd Couper

Todd Couper

Todd Couper


Ngāti Kahungunu

(1974- )

Todd attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay from 1987 to 1991 and quickly excelled in art. In 1995, he completed the Diploma of Art, Craft and Māori Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua; he majored in woodcarving/sculpture and graduated with honours. It was during this time that he met Roi Toia, who was teaching there. Roi, impressed with his talent, invited Todd to apprentice with him. They continue to work together, but Todd has forged his own style and direction in carving, with commissioned pieces residing in collections in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. He participated in Kiwa: Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada.