A Maori arts expert brings plenty of experience to his role, says Keira Stephenson
Dante Bonica is an expert on stone tool technology in New Zealand, but it's not unusual to see him sitting beneath a tree in Parnell, weaving a rain cloak with cabbage tree leaves. A tutor of Maori material arts papers at Auckland University, Mr Bonica prefers to find his tools on site and will use a piece of broken glass with as much skill as an adze. He believes the traditional Maori arts he teaches are part of a resurgence of all things Maori, beginning with te reo. "But what good is language if you can't express yourself artistically?" he asks. Half Italian and half English, Mr Bonica says his fascination with Maoritanga began with a trip to a museum when he was eight. By age 12, he was biking miles up the Napier coast to look at Maori archaeological sites. He worked at Waikato Museum for seven years before moving to Auckland and restoring the Auckland War Memorial Museum's meeting house during a 10-year tenure. Mr Bonica has the distinction of being one of the only Pakehas to have received permission from the late Maori Queen to work on the carving of a war canoe. Auckland University's Te Aho Tahuhu and Te Kete Aronui stage two papers are 70 per cent practical. The first focuses on weaving, while in the other students research a Maori artifact and spend a semester making it with traditional tools and techniques. "Everyone who creates something different in an open workshop increases their learning opportunities and they assimilate a hell of a lot more information," Mr Bonica says. His students say the papers are especially important in Auckland, where this kind of knowledge isn't usually taught. "Dante provides all the knowledge for researching our projects from his years at the museum," says law and philosophy student Kaleena Tangarere, who wants to pass the learning on to her nieces. She says the whanau environment in which students are together for a whole day makes learning easier.