For decades people have travelled across the world to see what Māori culture has to offer, now Rotorua performers are taking their culture to the world stage through the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute.

For restoration carver and tā moko artist Jacob Tautari it has been "an honour and privilege" to showcase Māori art forms to the world.

The national institute, which celebrated its 50th birthday last year, has spent the past five years touring its Tuku Iho | Living Legacy exhibition across Asia, South America and North America.

After beginning studies in physical education Tautari somehow found himself studying at the institute, but he never anticipated the opportunities that would give him.

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Tā moko artist Jacob Tautari works on a tattoo in the Te Puia tā moko studio. Photo/Ben Fraser
Tā moko artist Jacob Tautari works on a tattoo in the Te Puia tā moko studio. Photo/Ben Fraser

His first Tuku Iho trip was to Santiago, Chile in 2015.

"It was a pretty cool experience, being someone from the deep south, going to places like that was never thought of when we were growing up."

Since then Tautari has been with Tuku Iho to the Cook Islands, Brazil and most recently both Washington and Los Angeles.

"It was an eye opener, to be in that realm, to see the difference in their culture to ours.

"That made me think that our country is probably one of the best in the world to live in."

For Tautiri the greatest joy in his work is seeing his customers' faces.

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"Watching them walk out with a big smile on their face, that's probably my favourite thing.

"It's putting things into place and then watching people's reaction to it, all the emotions that come through them, that's probably my kick out of the job."

Sharing that with people from all over the world is something he definitely thinks he's lucky to be doing.

"I love it, I like showing them what our culture is capable of, I like how they look up to us and see us thriving with our culture and hopefully it influences them into being the same.

"I didn't think our culture could be put into tourism until I came here and started at the school, at NZMACI."

Te Puia NZMACI chairman Harry Burkhardt said as an organisation it had always seen the "fresh space was outside New Zealand" and its ability to share Māori culture with other people.

"Indigenous tourism is a reflection of a unique part of New Zealand's culture and our ability to shine that reflection as part of us and share that with other people is very, very important.

"Even though these are intimate parts of us, we are able to create empathy with other cultures and there's this connectedness with other people."

Burkhardt said it was "quite a powerful space" to be working in.

"Maori culture is the only thing that separates New Zealand from everywhere else in the world and the ability to again amplify that is one of those sweet spots we need to keep thinking about."

Visitors from all over the world come to Te Puia in Rotorua. Photo/Jaden McLeod
Visitors from all over the world come to Te Puia in Rotorua. Photo/Jaden McLeod

The Tuku Iho | Living Legacy exhibition is currently on display at Te Puia until November 9, its inaugural outing in New Zealand.

"Every one of these taonga in [the exhibition] is us in some way shape or form, it's also our tupuna and what our aspirations are going forward," Burkhardt said.

"So the ability to use those emblems are really a very critical component around allowing us to take ourselves into the future."

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