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Countdown to unveiling of Tohu Maumahara ki Rangiriri

The finishing touches are being made to Tohu Maumaharaki Rangiriri – a memorial to all those who fell in the battle of Rangiriri in 1863.

The carved gateway, made from salvaged Totara, will be unveiled at a dawn ceremony on November 20 at the Rangiriri Battle site, where one of the first battles in Waikato took place. The site is now cared for by the NZ Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taaonga.

“The Tohu Maumahara represents over five years partnership between Ngaa Muka Development Trust and Waikato Tainui together with the NZ Historic Places Trust, and it is exciting to see it come to fruition after years of discussion and planning,” says the NZHPT’s Kaihautu, Te Kenehi Teira.

“The idea came from an old gateway that was present back in the 1970s, and the tohu – which incorporates symbols and designs using Māori iconology – tells the story of Rangiriri, including Kiingitanga and the Crown. The tohu is a set of work in preparation for commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle next year 2013.”

In March 2011 a hui was held to discuss the placement of the gateway and it was then that Ngaa Muka Development Trust gave it the name Te Tohu Maumahara – ‘Symbol of Remembrance’.

The gateway, which incorporates a carved front entrance and rear, is Stage One of the Waikato War Interpretation and Education project currently being collaboratively developed by the NZHPT and Ngaa Muka. The site will also feature signage with appropriate whakatauki [proverbs] close to the gateway.

Ngaruawahia-based carver Warren McGrath was nominated by Ngaa Muka as the preferred carver for the gateway, and his concept designs were adopted in December 2011.

“The physical work of carving the gateway has been going on for about five months,” says Warren.

Tohu Maumahara ki Rangiriri has occupied a lot of Warren’s time and focus in recent months and, as the day of the unveiling draws nearer, he anticipates the long days will only increase.

“There’s a lot to do, but we are certainly on track for the unveiling,” he says.

Warren’s training in Whakairo Raakau is not typical.

“Most carvers today come through institutions like Te Puia in Rotorua whereas I had a more ‘old school’ approach to training,” he says.

“I trained in Te Ranga Waananga Whakairo, with craftsman who worked under the mantle of the Kiingitanga.”

Warren started his carving training by spending time in a large shed watching the older craftsmen working on different carvings.

“I progressed from there, gradually being given increasingly challenging tasks,” he says.

“It was almost more like an induction into the art of whakairo raakau, than a training course as such – though with the carvers I worked with, I picked up a wealth of knowledge and skills during this time as you would imagine.”

And like all carvers, Warren is constantly honing his craft.

“Every carving project teaches you something – whether it’s about the physical carving aspect like chisel skills, or interactions with people and capturing the stories.”

A highlight for Warren was carving two waka taua to mark the 150th anniversary of the Kiingitanga movement in 2008, as well as the artworks adorning Te Koopuu Maania o Kirikiriroa Marae at the Hamilton Wintech Campus which opened at the end of February.

Warren’s journey from being – as he describes it – “hole digger”, to being the man in charge has been an exciting one.

“I’ve been able to grow into the role over the years, and have been able to step up when needed – which is very satisfying,” he says.

Members of the NZHPT’s Tira [Māori Heritage team] have also been directly involved in the Tohu Maumahara project – including Dean Whiting who designed the structure that the gateway will be installed onto. He and colleague Jim Schuster have also been involved in finishing the interior lining of the gateway.

Updated on 23rd July 2015