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  • A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830–1930 by Ngarino Ellis
  • Axel Defngin
A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830–1930, by Ngarino Ellis, with new photography by Natalie Robertson. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2016. isbn cloth and e-book, 9781869407377, 328 pages, illustrations. nz$69.99.

In A Whakapapa of Tradition: 100 Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830–1930, Ngāti Porou carving, history, and people are honored through skillfully woven images and stories. Supplementing the discussion with new photography from Natalie Robertson, Ngarino Ellis highlights the roles, works, and genealogies of six key carvers from the Iwirākau School of carving in Waiapu Valley, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and illustrates the school's transformative impact on Māori art forms. In doing so, she brings fresh views on what it means for art to be "traditional" or "contemporary," transporting the reader between fascinating stories and Robertson's wildly expressive photos of landscapes, meeting houses, and chapels and portraits of ancestral members of the Ngāti Porou community.

The book's six chapters progress chronologically from 1830 to 1930 and detail the changes in both Māori carving and Māori social practices over that time. Through this exploration of the past, which covers Māori cosmology, innovative Māori carvers, and the main contemporary sites of Iwirākau carving, Ellis shows readers how different art styles and forms of carving emerged. The community was deeply involved in the construction, blessing, and preservation of Māori architecture, including both traditional meeting houses and churches. By the second half of the book, Ellis's argument is clear: Māori art and tradition provide opportunities for carvers to both innovate and learn from their ancestors, reconnecting past and present as they hone their craft. Robertson's photos complement each chapter, visually demonstrating the changes over time, and each viewing reveals something new to the reader. The book concludes with two supplements: a "Select List of Iwirākau Meeting Houses," which provides the timeline of construction for and present location of each of the major structures featured in the book, and a list of "Occasional Carvers of the Iwirākau School," which documents [End Page 236] the lives and works of fourteen other carvers from the same time period.

Throughout the book, Ellis considers the carvers' work in relation to the historical New Zealand Wars, Christian missions, and the role of Pākehā (New Zealand European [261]) patrons. She navigates these tensions by fairly presenting the Pākehā side of the history of Māori art while carefully assuring the reader that this is a story told on behalf of her community. In particular, she notes that oral history "reveals insights about the nature of Maori art that we would not get from an archaeological perspective" (24). Māori language, chants, poems, and other echoes of history fill the pages as we learn that carvers and patrons (both Māori and Pākehā) alike were "agents of change, driving new directions in art and architecture for the benefit of the people" (98).

Ellis's focus in chapter 2 on chapels and the Pākehā influence on Māori art engages in Pacific Islands studies' ongoing negotiation of what its content and boundaries should be. In her discussion, Ellis skims the boundaries of "traditional" and "contemporary" Māori art, symbols, people, and places, arguing that while the physical structure and design of buildings such as the earliest chapels in the Waiapu Valley (the Whakawhitirā II and Rangitukia II) may have changed over time, the buildings' primary purposes for the community have largely remained the same, making more recent constructions as Māori as any other "traditional" structure (58–59). When discussing new art form ideas articulated by the Waiapu Valley community, Ellis explains that "the encouragement of new forms of decoration reveals the extent to which tradition is a process, characterised by the fact that … there was no model" (59). The chapels themselves, with decorations formerly considered radical, soon became a tradition through repeated use and construction (57–59).

The range of Robertson's photography for the book calls for special...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 236-238
Launched on MUSE
2022-06-18
Open Access
No
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