Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Kaitiaki Wakahuia Bowl (Guardian Treasure Box)


  • Medium: tōtara, tōtara
  • Size: 5 × 17 × 8 inches
  • Reference Code: K40601

This vessel form is based on the Wakahuia (treasure box). Traditionally, these vessels were to hold the treasures of the chief. A chief’ head was very Tapu (sacred), therefore anything he wore on his head was also Tapu and could harm other people who were not of the same rank. Such things as feathers, combs, ear pendants, and Hei Tiki were placed in a Wakahuia and then suspended from the rafters in the chief’s house. It was out of reach of people, especially children and was not to be touched by anyone but the chief himself. These Wakahuia had carved heads at either end, which they were hung by, and because they were suspended, the bottom of the vessel was visable, and so were often highly decorated.

The surface pattern on the lid of this work is in the form of two opposing whale heads. Whales, to the Māori, act as Kaitiaki (guardians). The crescent-shaped pattern is called Unaunahi, which describes the fish scales, and the blue colour also references the sea.

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.