Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Matuku • Bittern


  • Medium: kauri, granite base
  • Size: 19 × 8 × 6 inches (incl. base)
  • Reference Code: KC140302

Back in ancient times it was Tāwhaki who brought the Bittern and other types of birds down from the heavens. Although Tāwhaki was not a god he was revered by Māori and Polynesian ancestors and was understood to possess many powers.

After noticing that the tail feathers of certain sacred birds in the heavens were being worn as head plumes by the gods, he decided to ascend to the upper heavens with the desire to obtain some of the lesser birds including the Matuku. He brought them back to this world to produce plumes for his wife and to also announce the arrival of summer.

Later the Bittern was brought to Aotearoa by Turi who was the captain of the Aotea canoe. The Bittern had acted as a guardian for his village back in Eastern Polynesia and so he brought it with him for that same purpose. He settled in South Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island and became renowned as a great gardener in that area. To protect the pā (village) while he and his people worked the land, Turi left the Bittern on guard and if there was any sign of danger the Bittern would call out “Hū, hū, hū” to warn the arrival of any intruders. To enhance the power of his Bittern, Turi would recite certain karakia (incantations) which would compel the Bittern to call continuously making out to the enemy that the pā was occupied and guarded.

The Bittern is a solitary swamp dweller and is found in New Zealand, parts of Australia and New Caledonia. It is a protected species in New Zealand but is now rarely seen due to the drainage and destruction of its habitat along with the effects of introduced predators. When it feels threatened it will keep perfectly still making itself look like a stump of a tree in the typical stance with its head pointing skywards and therefore becomes easy prey. Even though it is a fairly secretive bird its mysterious call is still sometimes heard resounding from the marshland on a calm night.

—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.