Te Kawa a Māui - School of Māori Studies, 2017
He Waharoa (gateway) was carved by Dr Takirirangi Smith, a master carver and celebrated scholar. Smith also carved the wharenui (meeting house) at Te Herenga Waka Marae at Victoria University of Wellington.
Taurima (marae manager) Te Ripowai Higgins said Smith has connected, both visually and symbolically, all carvings on the marae. They all carry the common theme of Māui (the demigod responsible for fishing up Aotearoa from the sea)
He Waharoa was unveiled on 6 December 2011, marking the 25th anniversary of Te Herenga Waka Marae, prior to Smith receiving his Honorary Doctorate in Literature in the same year.
He Waharoa is a large carved structure which stands over seven metres tall. It is made from totara, which was traditionally one of the preferred woods used for carving.
Totara also holds significant spiritual value as it is said that Tāne Mahuta, god of the forests, turned his legs into a totara tree and used them to separate his parents (the earth and the sky) and let light into the world.
From a spiritual perspective, the figures carved into He Waharoa are representative of ancestors who have come before us and continue to stand guard to protect their descendants.
While Te Herenga Waka is not an ancestral marae dedicated to any one particular bloodline, the figures depicted, such as Māui who stands guard to protect the house, also protect those who use and connect to it.
He Waharoa marks the entrance to the marae ātea (courtyard) of the house (which you will be able to see if you pass through and look to your left) and is where pōwhiri, or rituals of encounter begin.
Traditionally, waharoa were far shallower than the entranceway that you see before you, meaning that visitors would need to duck down in order to pass through.
While this may seem to be a somewhat strange idea, it had a very practical purpose.
Pā sites were much like army garrisons, built with the purpose of allowing the chief and his people to survey the land for resources and watch for intruders.
Pōwhiri were a way of understanding a visiting group’s intentions, and to the rangatira (chief) of the tribe, protecting his people was of the utmost importance, as for all he knew, they could be poised to attack.
Having a low entranceway, therefore, meant that it was really easy to tell if their distinguished guests were concealing weaponry – think of it like a low-tech version of an airport security gate.
To this day, He Waharoa stands as a fantastic example of creativity and mātauranga Māori here at Victoria. Together with the wharenui, Te Tumu Herenga Waka, it stands as a strong statement of the Māori voice on campus.