Toi Whakairo


My Poupou
The third carving of my Carving Level 5 course was a poupou. It was carved from a piece of totara 530mm long by 220mm wide by 50mm deep. The carving surface of the board was first dressed by chisel and the edges were rounded lengthways. My teacher drew half the design on on the left hand side and I completed the drawing on the right. My design was a full frontal view of a male figure, from head to toe.

The carving process followed was much the same as for my earlier wheku. I first blocked out the shape of the figure but a careless error in my drawing, which I only noticed after I had carved one side of the head, meant that I had to spend many additional hours trying to regain its symmetry. You can still see the effect of this in the asymmetrical neck. I then cleaned it up ready for patterning. My teacher drew the pattern on the left and I copied it on the right. Then followed a lengthy process of carving the pattern.

My detailed patterns consisted of a combination raperape (ankles, ears and topknot), pungawerawera (brow, eyes, face, shoulders, arms, hands, legs and feet), and ritorito (nose and mata kupenga). I found the carving difficult at first and struggled to prevent the wood from chipping, particulalrly on the smaller ritorito. However I found that as I progressed I became more skillful and my problems lessened.

After I completed carving the figure, I carved a mata kupenga pattern in the backgound on either side of the head and shaped and inserted the paua shell eyes. I finished it off by using a flat head nail with a pattern cut into the head, held upside down, to make a webbing impression on all the uncarved parts of the background. Finally, after as much clean up as possible, I finished the poupou with a redwood stain.

Following is a description of the patterns carved into my poupou, some of which are also described in previous assignments.

Raperape are interlocking spirals carved mainly with a whao haehae, with pakati and skew chisels used occassionally as required. Raperape spirals have a number of traditional meanings. These include representations of the ripples on a pond, the fern frond, and the coiled ropes of navigators. Raperape also reference the potential of life and evolution after death. The spirals are connected and delineated by haehae, which are elongated, v-shaped grooves. The art of ta moko also uses raperape, particularly in the buttock area.

The pungawerere pattern (also known as waewae pakura) can reference the beak of the pukeko. According to Maori lore, Tawhaki ascended to the heavens and while climbing on a spider web (pungawerewere) met a pukeko coming down in search of water. The pattern can also reference shoots of the harakeke plant, known as ritorito. The rito is the heart of the plant which harvesters know they must leave unpicked otherwise the plant will die. The central shoot represents the parents, or matua, and the shoots on either side protecting it represent the children and are known as awhirito. Ritorito symbolises the strength of the family, extended family, and one’s ancestors.

Mata Kupenga
Mata Kupenga forms the shape of a fishnet mesh. Sometimes it can be found in a regular, symmetrical layout (such as in my poupou) and sometimes the mesh is irregular and random. The mata (meshes) are represented by open crescents, almost like chains. Some can be spirals or elongated S-forms. Mata Kupenga is usually associated with the Taranaki, Hauraki, Tainui, and Tai Tokerau regions.

About Poupou
Poupou are wall slabs. In earlier times they were much smaller, due to the much lower height of the buildings. For example, in the carved house Te Hau Ki Turanga (carved in 1842 and now in Te Papa), they are only 1.2 metres tall. By 1880, however, they were typically up to 2 metres tall, sometimes 3 metres.

Poupou are often separated by tukutuku panels. Although it is usually preferred that they be carved, if people lack resources they can paint them instead. Sometimes they might be painted for a wharenui opening and taken down and carved at a later date. Sometimes uncarved poupou were used. However, if a house is opened with no decorated poupou inside or carvings outside, tradition decrees that it cannot be carved at a later date.

Poupou usually illustrate ancestors or whakapapa, sometimes both. Two hands on the chest is a symbol that an ancestor is portrayed.

Carving a Poupou
These days, poupou are often about 600mm wide by 100mm thick by 2.4 metres tall. The first stage of carving is to adze or chisel the edges. On a large poupou, when an adze is used, the adze is often swung (accurately) between the legs. The next stage is to draw the ancestor figure. Much time and care can be required to determine how to portray the ancestor and what meanings (kaupapa) to convey about him/her. After that the process followed is similar to the one I followed with my poupou. A simple poupou could take a week to carve with more complex ones taking several weeks.

Poupou Styles
In the Ngati Awa style, the figures are relatively flat with sharply defined, unrounded, edges. They can be painted in multiple colours and can have a clearly defined collar bone motif (also a Tuhoe feature). The origin of poupou can often be determined by the style in which the figures are portrayed. For example, in the Ngapuhi style, the top of the head is quite cone-shaped. The Taranaki style has a smaller cone, representing the shape of Mount Taranaki. In both, the bodies are quite sinuous. The Ngati Porou style has a head similar to the one on my poupou.
Ngati Porou

Te Whanau-a-Apanui



Poupou Examples
(Te Tokanganui-a-Noho,
Te Kuiti)

Rautahi Marae

General Example

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