Marae inspires artist to gift carvings

By Peter de Graaf

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A master artist has donated many thousands of dollars' worth of swamp kauri carvings to a Far North marae.

Kerry Strongman, of The Arts Factory in Te Hana, said he was moved to donate the sculptures, which stand up to 3m tall, because he was so impressed by the marae's revitalisation.

During the past week Haititai Marangai Marae has been the centre of a huge community effort as up to 150 volunteers backed by Department of Conservation staff, army trades apprentices, suppliers, sponsors and a Marae DIY TV crew rebuilt what had been a cluster of dilapidated buildings.

People whose whakapapa links them to the marae at Whatuwhiwhi, on the Karikari Peninsula, came from as far away as Australia, Christchurch and Wellington to help.

Mr Strongman said the carvings had taken many months of work but the gift came with no strings attached.

"It has no monetary value to me, it has only aroha," he said.

He said he was filled with admiration for the marae and honoured to be part of its rebirth.

"What's happening here is a miracle with all these young people coming back. This is the first time I've seen the total re-awakening of a marae."

The gifts are three large matau (fish hooks) symbolising abundance, two inlaid with kauri gum and one with three barbs representing body, mind and spirit or any set of three qualities.

A spiral called Awhi represents the circle of love and family, "all the dynamics of life, from the self to the creator and back", while a 3m high pouwhenua (marker post) represents new beginnings.

Mr Strongman was taught to carve as a 4-year-old by his grandfather. After working overseas he came home to carve kauri from buried forests up to 40,000 years old.

"My koro told me swamp kauri comes from a time of tranquillity and peace, before man was here, before colonisation, before raruraru [argument] pulled people apart." 


Mr Strongman's work can be seen around the world, particularly in Holland, the USA and UK. His work for the corporate world allows him to give carvings away and run an informal carving school.

One of his pou stands outside Whangarei Library.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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