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Nga Hau Ngakau

(Breath of mine)

Robin Slow - Brian Flintoff - Bob Bickerton

This display features paintings by Robin Slow and carvings by Brian Flintoff as presented in the Ngā Hau Ngākau exhibition as well as a feature video and music by Bob Bickerton. Stories and layers behind the imagery and music are eloquently explored and insights are revealed into  an ancient world which is still relevant today.



Allow one’s spirit to exercise its potential, to guide us in our work as well as in our pursuit of ancestral traditions. Take hold and preserve it. Ensure that it is never lost, hold fast,  secure it, draw together, affirm

Nga Hau Ngakau Whakarongo! Ki te tangi a te manu e karanga nei “Tui, tui, tuituia!” Tuia i runga, tuia i raro, tuia i roto Tuia i waho, tuia i te here tangata. Whakarongo!

To the voices of the manu and the patterns they create,  the strands of past and present they weave. Whakarongo! To the many creatures including human calling,  drumming, singing to the beat of Papatuanuku.

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Kupu Whakatauki

We that are bound together, we all, everything, whakapapa back to Te Po, into the night that the gods sang the world into existence.
From the world of light into the world of music the whakapapa takes us through layer upon layer.
From the narratives, sounds and marks of the past that are fragmented at times we are bound and woven into the present, marks left on stone walls, hoe (paddles), heke (rafters and boards in a whare) and in the wharenui; stone, bone, wood and other (new) materials, carved, etched and constructed showing the spiralling nature and adaptation of innovative actions and ideas to reflect where we are at the present.

Our kaupapa has been to work together, using painting... carving... music... to bind narratives that celebrate the forms and histories of the whenua.

These narratives can be expressed by a spiral, kowhaiwhai, a bird’s song, a carved form, a woven kete - any symbol that may reflect the understandings and/or links with the land of the receiver/viewer/listener.As in kowhaiwhai, we repeat the continuous form at times inverting, at times reflecting... moving forwards or back depending on where the story takes us through ear and touch and eye into mind and heart. Onetahua Marae, with its wharenui Te Ao Marama, is a small marae in the heart of Mohua. Its Iwi affiliations are Ngati Tama, Te Ati Awa (Taranaki), Ngati Rarua (Tainui), Maata Waka (everyone else). People from the local community worked for many years to create this place where the Maori voice could be heard and narratives expressed within the rohe of Mohua. It is from the creating and designing of the wharenui, Te Ao Marama, that this spiral of works, this collaborative  exhibition, has expanded.

The Music

The purpose of the music is to support, to act as an accompaniment to the visual images of the exhibition. In doing so, it leads the listener inside the paintings and carvings, alluding to stories of old, revealing new layers of experience.

The music moves between the visual dimensions, touching on stories from the paintings and carvings and inferring new connections and layers to be explored. All imagery in the video is of the carvings and paintings in the exhibition and all sounds are made by taonga puoro or voice.


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We start with Te Kore, silence and nothingness. It was the atua who sang the world into existence with the koauau and so it is with this music. The opening phrases are played on a toroa (albatross) ororuarangi, an instrument closely related to the koauau. With it, emerge the sound of Ranginui represented by air blown through a putorino and Papatuānuku represented by the grinding of stones. Ariana sings Io Whakatata, a waiata which refers to moving through different layers, coming closer, as in the creation myth. The emergence of Tane comes with the sound of the great tumutumu Te Waewae Tapu o Hinewaipupu, following which we hear Waraki, a dawn chorus, of manu which feature edge tones of putorino, karanga weka, karanga manu, karanga ruru, and hue puruhau. A second, whispered waiata by Ariana again speaks to the creation myth and is followed by a third waiata Te Haeata (the Dawn) with kupu by John Stirling. The original rangi to this waiata can be discerned amongst the cacophony of birdsong. A seascape of Tangaroa speaks to the great Waka Huruhuru as it sails to find (if there is) a way through the horizon. The rangi is played on a toroa (albatross) ororuarangi. But the discovery that lands exist beyond the horizon was not known by Māori alone. The next short section explores the first contact with pakeha in 1642 where a misunderstanding of the intentions played on instruments resulted in death. The pukaea and pupakapaka vie for ascendance and this is followed by a short rangi of the side blown putaratara.  A disquieting stone-scape resonates with the taniwha Ngararahuarau, whose bones are strewn across the top of the Takaka Hill. The porotu Na Te Po Ki Te Ao brings peace again and maintains a sentry over the Mohua (Golden Bay).  Ngā Hau E Wha (the four winds) features four purerehua accompanying Hirini’s waiata Purerehua sung by Holly. Hine Pū Te Hue, daughter of Tānemahuta and Hinerauā, brought peace to the fighting between the atua which resulted from the separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. She became the mother of the gourd family and here we hear a selection of gourd instruments including two poi āwhiowhio, hue puruhau and hue puruwai.

Ariana then whispers Hirini’s waiata Toroa. The pūmotomoto was an instrument used to impart knowledge to newborn babies through their fontenelle. Tumutumu were used as a vehicle for learning in the South Island. Here the tumutumu Te Waewae Tapu o Hinewaipupu, is heard again to represent Tane passing through the different levels of the heavens to return with the sacred knowledge from Rehua. This story is retold in the beautiful carving on Brian’s pūmotomoto. Hine Raukatauri is the goddess of flute music. She loved her flute so much that she went to live inside it and was transformed into the cocoon of the casemoth.  The kokako gains the beautiful voice of Raukatauri by eating the casemoth caterpillar. Here a section explores the story of Hine Raukatauri and the pūtorino, which is an instrument unique to Māori. It has three principal voices, the child, male and female.   This section starts with the child’s voice sounding not dissimilar to a dawn chorus. Male voices summon attention before a handled raupo poi (representing the restless Hine Raukatauri inside her cocoon) creates an uncomfortable accompaniment to a whispered version of Hirini’s Kokako by Holly and then a spoken version of Taku Pūtorino by Solomon. There follows a rangi played with the female voice of the instrument. Haumanu is the name given to the group of practioners who revived the traditonal Māori instrument tradition in the 1960s. We are indebted to Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and master carver Brian Flintoff for their mahi in saving taonga pūoro. The calling of the putorino replicates the effect heard by Haumanu when Hirini first played  at Ōhaka Tapu. A pākuru is used as a transition to Tangimokemoke a Raureka, a rangi which was often played by Richard and here played on Brian’s Nguru Iho Maire. There follows a whispered version of Hirini’s Whakarongo mai, tūī by Ariana. This precedes a sung version using Hirini’s original rangi and a reflective rangi on the kōauau. Finally Ranginui returns as Holly sings Hirini’s Waka Kapua.

- Bob Bickerton

The Paintings

Many of the forms we use are manu, because they reflect back at us. Like the demi-god, Maui, who transformed himself into various manu forms in order to complete particular tasks, we too can adopt manu to symbolise aspects of events and people in our histories. Through their actions we can relate to success or failure, understanding consequences from the reward or punishment they receive. Like us, manu have iwi, clans; they karakia in the morning and in the evening... waiata during the day or night in some cases, and by flying they connect us between realms. They are kaitiaki, with special roles and responsibilities, as we also are: and through this reciprocal relationship we are bound to one another.

These relationships have emerged from the dynamic era of forested land, noisy and interactive. What, then, do we make of their ever-increasing silences?  Not the comfortable silence, like the space between heart beats... like breathing in and breathing out; like the space between one sound and another, that space which allows the moment of creative action. No. It is the other, the uncomfortable silence; where there is simply an end and only the memory of the past, where those voices can no longer be heard; where just the mark in bone and paint are left to remind us of loss, and to challenge us to question our priorities, and to support every effort at providing landscapes in which all that remains of that forest world might better survive.

As Adrienne Meria wrote:

Where ever we go they were before us. Where ever we go we have damaged their place. If the wellness of birds is the wellness of the planet, What dare we make of their silence.

Regarding the works themselves, though each painting and carving can be seen as separate, they also connect to each other within the visual narrative. Just as in a wharenui, their connections and relationships expand. The taonga puoro, in turn, enhance the stories by relating to the sounds suggested in the visual narratives.

- Robin Slow

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Two manu (profiles) come together to form Tane. The eggs were formed from clay by Punaweko and Hurumanu, and breathed on by Tane who then spoke …’me whakaira tangata’ – give it life. Punaweko is kaitiaki of the land birds and Hurumanu  of the sea birds.

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These two manu are the sacred manu of Tane.

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The people lived on a great landmass. On moving from this area, they came across the sea for the first time. They saw the sea and the sky and wondered if there was a way through the horizon, so they built a waka from feathers and sent it adrift. Many days passed until it finally returned, battered about by a great storm in the ocean. From this the people surmised that there was a passage through between the horizon and the sky. This waka was said to be the Huruhuru and the pattern for the Uruao.


Mohua is the old name of Golden Bay, the area that spirals out into Onetahua (Farewell Spit). It is also the name of the yellow-headed manu that was seen as a spiritual connector and as a guide. The putatara references the connection between the area and the visit by Abel Tasman in 1642. The event that happened at this time was said to be caused by the differences in understanding between the two parties of the meaning of the sounds created by each side. In the kowhaiwhai below is Taiehu who moved his waka from Patu-nuio-aio – the land from the visible horizon.


Brought the three taniwha to Aotea, Pouaki, Kopuwai and Ngararahuarau. He was seen at Wainui for many years as a white manu protecting the people from the excesses of Ngararahuarau. Above him are the three stars that reference both the bringing of the Maero, said to have brought many of the taonga puoro and sounds with them on that same waka, and  Maui’s brothers - represented in the three holes of the wind instruments.



The bird changer. Maui had the ability to change his form and often these forms were manu. He was a white kereru when finding his mother and a kahu when battling Mahuika – the goddess of fire. In his many adventures, he often rewarded other manu with special features by giving them different colours, better voices or, for instance, stretching their legs.



Tuku manu, ka turua atu nei, He kapiripiri, he kaeaea; Turu taku manu,Hoka taku manu, Ki tua te haha-wai, Koia Atu tahi, koia Rehua. Whakahoro tau tara ki te kapua, koia E! My bird, by power of charm, ascending. In the glance of an eye, like the sparrow hawk, by this charm shall my bird arise. My bird bestrides the heavens, beyond the swirling waters like the stars Atuahi and Rehua and there spreads out thy wings to the clouds.


(Butterfly/moth) Bull roarer. Kahukura (personified as the red admiral butterfly), known in the north as Uenuku (rainbow), but also by some as an ancestor from Hawaiki. Uenuku had a famous feather cloak, Te kaka o Uenuku.

PARIHAKA (Triptic)


RURU Whero o te Rangi – the kaitiaki of all small manu. Ruru of a hundred eyes sits on the fence post with the cut strands of wire.
The maunga/whare is behind her and on the maihi are the two manu forms standing for Te Whiti and Tohu. The apex of the maihi forms what is known as 'the dog’s leg', telling the story of how the dog stopped one of the canons firing on the people of Parihaka. The poi and the waiata held the story of Parihaka close. Behind are the cicada , they who create the song of Tane, representing the children in the narrative

TOROA “The tearful cry, the tears shed of the  Albatross that adorn the chambers of my broken heart.” The sparrow, representing the colonisers and the attack on Parihaka. The checkerboard plus button pieces referencing the checker games Te Whiti and Tohu liked to play, at the same time referring to the action that has taken place.

KAKA Brings the mana of the world of Hawaiki to Aotearoa

The Carvings

My attitude to carving is inspired by that of traditional artists, who strove for excellence in order to please the spirit world. Their understanding that harmony is the balance of Spirit and Physical elements has enriched my life and is the basis of my carving. The saying ‘plait the rope that binds the past to the future’ guides my desire to take inspiration from old art and present it in forms that retain their philosophy and essence and honour their ancestry, to enrich our living. Support and guidance from Maori has been the greatest influence and inspiration for my carving and I am proud to have many pieces ‘at home’ on Marae throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand. I have been given ‘Elected Artist’ status by the NZAFA and honoured with a QSM for my work. Some works are present in museums, private collections and musicians’ repertoire both here and abroad. Working and making instruments with Te Haumanu, a group dedicated to the revival of taonga puoro, under the leadership of Dr Hirini Melbourne, has brought me recognition as one of the leading makers of these.

I am delighted to be working with my friend Robin Slow who also finds that illustrating mythical stories, sayings and concepts helps people understand basic concepts of the Maori world. Several birds in my carvings on taonga puoro in this exhibition have taken inspiration from this timeless and treasured ancient taoka from Te Pataka o Rakaihautu which is now under the guardianship of Te Runaka o Koukourarata. My versions pay respect to its creators and owners and seek to honour the magic it conveys to enrich our world. On this ancient carving, notched profile face stylisations along the sides probably represented ancestors as I depict in my reconstruction of this treasure. In some carvings, the faces use the manaia, a form which is derived from the profile, half of a stylised human figure or often just its face. The concept is that all creation is composed of two complementary opposites, Ira Atua and Ira Takata, or Spirit Life Force and Physical Life Force and our stylised profiles thus represent our two halves.

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As all of creation can be personified and shares the same spirit, the stylised human derived profile or manaia can represent the spirit of anything in creation. In their various physical appearances, manaia therefore have unlimited possible uses and have developed to represent both spirit and physical aspects. Some birds have their wings depicted as hands with fingers to convey their recognition as ‘bird people’, just as we are ‘human people’. Similarly some of the whale flippers are shown as ‘hands’. Art works are also personified and given personal names. In the carved bone kaitiaki, which are worn by birds they represent on some of Robin’s paintings, the manaia faces carved on the wings acknowledge the gift of flight bestowed on their ‘hands’. In these carvings the bone is the physical aspect and the cut outs are the spirit aspects, so that when worn others see through these cut-out areas to the wearer, who becomes an integral part of the spirit of the design.

The pleasing shapes of the cut outs are therefore a vital part of the design. The balance of plain and textured surfaces also convey this concept. As in Robin’s paintings these traditional concepts are often combined with more naturalistic stylisations. Ancient rock art inspired beings are also featured on several pieces, sometimes hidden in kowhaiwhai style surface carving. The rock art shows aspects that seem to be the genesis of the above concepts. Bone has always been a special medium for Maori artists. In today’s world we usually have to use substitute animal ones for moa or human ones but with this collection I have been privileged to use koiwi paraoa, or sperm whale bones, for the small carvings and three items use niho paraoa, sperm whale teeth. These have come from the iwi of Mohua where the whales stranded. Such strandings are seen as gifts from the Sea God, Takaroa, and carving them is a wonderful way of honouring that gift.

Taonga Puoro

Maori musical instruments are seen as families of the atua who brought them into being. The primal parents are Rangi, the Sky Father and Papa, the Earth Mother. Music is made with rhythm and tunes and her heartbeats are the essence of rhythm while the rangi or tunes ascend to Rangi after being played. The most significant atua of taonga puoro are these children of Rangi and Papa; Hine Raukatauri the mother of the flute family; Hine pu te Hue, the mother of hue, or gourds, who brought us the peaceful sounding group of gourd instruments; and Tawhirimatea whose children have no body and therefore have mystical spirit voices. Songs add the words of human experiences to music, and taonga puoro are a kinaki or embellishment to the songs

and sometimes one can hear the words which a skilful player can breathe through their flute.Most of my wooden instruments are made from recycled matai which is a straight-grained, resonant timber.  Many of the instruments have the face of that instrument carved around the blown end and a similar face on the other end. The meaning I apply to this is, that to play the flute the player must hongi with it and thus the breaths of instrument and player are shared. This shared breath creates the music, which is depicted on the other end as a face with two noses. The music itself can be ‘seen’ making pleasing shapes in the silence by the design on the body of many of the instruments.  

- Brian Flintoff

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Me he waka te kapua e rere nei
Hei kawe ahau ki te rangi
Ki te whai i te marama toriwha
Kia ruku ki nga waiora a Tane
Kia marangahou mai ano

Me he waka te kapua e rere nei
Hei kawe ahau ki nga maunga
Ki te whai i te tapuwai tawhito
Kia purea e nga hau o Tawhiri
Kia maranga hou mai ano

If that cloud was a canoe it would carry me into the sky
To follow the waning moon. 
To plunge into the life-giving waters of Tane, and be renewed.

If that cloud was a canoe it would carry me to the mountains.
To follow those gone before, to be caressed by the winds of Tawhiri, and rise

Paintings - Robin Slow. Carvings - Brian Flintoff. Taonga Pūoro - Bob Bickerton. Vocals - Ariana Tikao, Holly Tikao-Weir & Solomon Rahui. Book, audio and video production - Bob Bickerton

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