Shaun Taylor is continuing the legacy of a long line of kai whakairo (carvers) whose ancient knowledge becomes art through his chisels.

Whakatāne-raised but with a Ngāti Paoa and Ngāti Toa Rangatira whakapapa, Taylor sees it as a responsibility to preserve the tradition taught to him by his forebears.

"Being able to be a part of the whakapapa of whakairo is a huge privilege.

"To be taught by my kaiako, who was taught by his kaiako, who was taught by their kaiako, who was taught by their kaiako," he says.


"If you can understand that you'll see that it's an honour to be taught this and to do this mahi."

Taylor balances his Toi Paematua (Diploma in Māori Art) study at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa with his role as a corporal in the New Zealand Army.

He hopes to one day complete his degree in Māori art and pass the knowledge onto others.

He also plans to start his own carving school which would emphasise the use of te reo rangatira me ōna tikanga and provide an introduction to te ao Māori and a pathway for students to learn more about themselves.

"I consider Whakatāne my home and I plan to go back there and carve there and teach carving there one day - that's the long-term goal.

"I'd really like to do that. I know there are a lot of young men there who have huge potential art wise, but they don't have that many opportunities to express themselves through whakairo or arts in general, so I think it'd be a huge thing."

While Taylor's mastery of his craft is evolving, it almost never began until his te reo Māori kaiako suggested he take a look at a toi Māori (Māori art) exhibition in 2017.

"I had always been tutū [mischievous] since I was a little boy, drawing on everything and I had always had an interest in Māori design.


"My kaiako knew I was passionate about toi Māori so I went to an exhibition here in 2017. I saw whakairo [carving] and I was absolutely sold on it there and then.

"I signed up for the whakairo class on the spot.

"There was a wairua (feeling) there that attracted me and I wanted to be a part of and I thought there and then 'this is me'.

"Now I'm carving every day, it's a big part of my life. Studying or not studying I'll be carving."

Taylor's carving skill and passion for whakairo was recognised when he was awarded the Mike Watson Memorial Award from the Aotearoa Scholarship Trust.

The trust has paid more than $600,000 to scholarship recipients, all of whom are Te Wānanga o Aotearoa students, who have demonstrated a commitment to educational success - and a desire to give back to their communities.

"It (the scholarship) helped me hugely as it took a lot of pressure off me in having to find that pūtea [money]."

"I would have done it regardless but it was a huge pressure and worry lifted off my shoulders and that of my whānau, not having to scramble to find pūtea to do it.

"Even though we would have found a way we were very grateful to have received this."