Rongomau – The Art of Gareth Barlow


Te Ngākau Atawhai (The Tender Hearted)

When I was asked to carve a taonga for a friend’s sister, there were two things she said to me that made the korero easy to come by. Firstly, she said that her sister loved pukekos. Secondly, her great, great, grandmother came out from UK on one of first 4 ships, clambered over the Port Hills, settled in Kaiapoi and started looking after Maori women in childbirth. They called her Granny even though she was younger than them. Mortality rate went down so they loved her.

Straight away, I knew what I was doing. Firstly, there is a symbol in Maori art called Pungawerewere, and it represents the beak of the pukeko in relationship to the legend of Tawhaki. The symbol also has another meaning, and is referred to as ritorito. The term rito refers to the heart of the harakeke flax bush were the outer leaves protect, or nurture the younger shoots until they are ready to flourish.

I am blessed to know members of the Hetet family in Waiwhetu who have adopted the ritorito as their family symbol. I have been privileged to experience their nurturing first hand.

So this piece represents the pukeko which has a contemporary ritorito symbol on each side of the beak. Nurturing of our young promote strength and harmony within the family unit. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help that family flourish. These are the sorts of people, people like my friend’s great, great, great grandmother, who are worth remembering.