In Maori mythology, the creation of carving stretches back to a time when atua (gods) interacted with man and the cosmic elements were yet to embellish strictly mortal human concerns on man. In this world, Ruatepupuke resided and unknown to him, it was he who was to bring the art of carving to this, our world.
Manuruhi, the son of Ruatepupuke, had offended the Tangaroa (God of the Ocean) by not attending to ritual rights when taking fish from the ocean. This angered Tangaroa so much that he decided to exact revenge by taking from him his human form and turning him into a bird. Treated as a trophy, Manuruhi was then placed in front of his house within the domain of Tangaroa.
Time passed and Ruatepupuke grew worried, knowing misfortune had befallen his son. His suspicion proved accurate, as he found his son’s footprints leading towards the breaking waves and beyond. Desperate to find his son, Ruatepupuke entered the domain of Tangaroa and soon found a village hidden within the depths. Entering the strange, yet beautifully carved sacred house of Tangaroa, he soon came across the representation of his son Manuruhi. He then asked why his imprisoned son could not reply to his calls of concern. From inside a carved poupou (carved wall panel) emitted a response. Hearing first-hand of the deeds that led to his son’s demise, Ruatepupuke decided that one bad act should be met with another. He would wait until the occupants were sound asleep when he might exact his revenge. Knowing they had an intense aversion to light, Ruatepupuke hid within the house and as dawn approached, he covered every opening so that everyone would think it was still dark.
As daylight encompassed the house it was time to initiate his plan. Quickly, he uncovered the gaps exposing light into the house. Those inside panicked and in the confusion they all struggled to exit the house to find shelter and safety in the shadows of the ocean. Ruatepupuke stood at the entrance and raised his patu (short club) and dispatched as many of the occupants as he could. Some managed to survive this onslaught and fled to the depths as flying fish, stingray, flounder, sharks, octopus, snapper and other ocean dwellers.
Ruatepupuke then took his son in one arm and in his flight extracted a poupou (carved post) from the porch. Returning to land, he placed the carved panels in his house. Unfortunately, in his haste to escape he had grabbed carvings that stood silent. To this day carvings still are unable to converse with man, yet tell their stories in the adornment of surface design and tribal styles, allowing man to communicate issues of morality, values, sacredness and wisdom.
Ruatepupuke is celebrated by this depiction in human form. The ‘pure form’ of the toki (adze) is placed behind Ruatepupuke, implying the successful attainment of the art of carving and it’s journey into this world. The surface design is unaunahi, representing fish scales, paying reference to the elements of the ocean. The three crescent shaped groupings that adorn the body represent that of whanau (family), hapu (sub-tribe), and iwi (tribe).
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.
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