Matt Wepa, carver, author and husband of Rotorua district councillor Janet Wepa, has died, aged 63, after a long battle with cancer.

Mr Wepa spent more than 25 years as a bone, greenstone and wood carver and sculptor, and until about 10 years ago worked at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Centre.

"He was a storyteller and people used to ask about his bone carving and the meaning behind it. He was the first to produce little cards with information on them," said Mrs Wepa.

From that, just under 10 years ago, he self-published Symbols of the Maori World.


Originally aimed at tourists, more than 15,000 copies were sold. He also wrote Mysteries of the Maori World examining Maori origins and links with other cultures. Mr Wepa recently finished a third book, Greenstone, about the secrets of jade carving.

Mr Wepa was a source of strength for his wife.

"He has always been an incredible support for me. He did practical things like putting up my billboards - he thought his were always the best because they never blew over - he networked and encouraged and was pleased with the work I did on council and he was very proud of me. I was really fortunate to have him.

"He was a very, very strong man who loved being alive and loved doing things and really loved his family."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick paid tribute to the contribution of both Mr and Mrs Wepa to community development and advocacy, a legacy she said Mrs Wepa would continue.

"She will miss the wise advice and counsel of Matthew. He kept himself incredibly well informed and was a good sounding board for her ... he was clearly a quiet and wise supporter and fiercely proud of Janet's role on council and her determination to keep going."

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Mr Wepa was born and raised in Rotorua but was of Ngati Kahungunu descent, his parents moving from Hawke's Bay before he was born.