Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Hōkioi: Te Taupuhi o Ngā Rangitūhāhā • The Legend of the Sky


“The world of Whakairo encompasses ancient traditions, storytelling, creative interpretations and spiritual empowerment. It is these narratives through which my eyes filter the world today. Whakairo is my source, my access point, my teacher, my inspiration.”

Māori translated the world around them with a unique indigenous vocabulary which seamlessly links me to these ancestral times and bloodlines. A sequence of traditional applications are rendered and compressed into a visual expression known as Whakairo (the ancient carved arts). This “visual expression” comes to life in a number of unique tribal styles which relate to the world around in an abstract language rather than a figurative translation perhaps more likely experienced within western societies.

Few spoken accounts of this giant eagle were retained in the stories of man however the Hōkioi (Harpagornis moorei, Haast’s eagle) was a majestic and powerful creature which commanded the sky by its pure size and predatory prowess. Armed with a lethal beak and enlarged talons, its main source of sustenance was the equally impressive flightless plant-eating bird, the Moa (Dinornis robustus) known to grow to four meters in height. Māori acknowledge birdlife as messengers, able to transcend the spirit world. In reverence forwarded to the Hōkioi, not only was its physical attributes celebrated but indeed the added honour was bestowed as conveyors of knowledge from Io Mātua (the supreme being). Needless to say, the Hōkioi was an apex predator which reigned master over its domain in many tangible and celestial ways.

Coming from a traditional background in the carved arts, one must always balance creativity with cultural concerns and intimacies that may not be pronounced or obvious. This interpretation of the Hōkioi is filtered by these “traditional” parameters culminating in an abstract form. The subjects physical appearance is not only considered but also elements of the animals Māuri (life essence) is respected as well, the characteristics that the Hōkioi may have exhibited and the presence it displayed also plays a role in this assemblage of ideas… this is a cornerstone methodology of “Whakairo.” By utilizing other senses and applying them to a visual narrative I have endeavoured to approach this piece with traditional imperatives in mind, then layering them with more contemporary overtones.

Unlike the ultimate demise and extinction of the Hōkioi, I entrust these values to immortalize this “Legend of the Sky.”

—Roi Toia

Roi Toia

Roi Toia


Ngā Puhi

(1966- )

Roi was born and raised in Southland province in the South Island of New Zealand, although his whakapapa (genealogy) is the Te Mahurehure hapu (sub-tribe) from the Hokianga in Northland on the North Island. In 1983, he received a three-year apprenticeship to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua, where he learned to carve with the adze and chisel and graduated with honours. He has carved on four whare whakairo (carved houses), which fuelled his passion for perfecting the technical aspects of his art and led him to learn about the ideology and spiritual aspects of carving.