The willingness  to embrace an innovative digital solution has seen the development of the Whakaraupō Carving Centre’s introductory online whakairo course  Whatu Kura Toi. It is designed to accommodate people from all ages and backgrounds who want to develop their understanding of Te Ao Māori.

With the help of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu Wave Funding, the programme provides mātauranga that informs creative practice. Course developer and kura manager, Melbourne-based Noah Mackie (Ngāti Kura, Ngāpuhi), says the initial 30-page course was enthusiastically received in 2022 and through the subsequent development process, the next 90-page course is due to begin in June 2023.

“Listening to student feedback, we have developed the 10-week foundation course to incorporate pūrākau, karakia, critical theory and mātauranga. We’ve paired a myth with each learning module, which encourages tauira to reflect on themselves. Myths often get relegated to being children’s stories, but they’re windows into the human condition allowing us to make sense of it on a spiritual level,” Noah says.

“This helps tauira to understand the language of whakairo and its unique relationship between the human body and the social body – namely through our architecture. Ultimately, it’s about knowing what you are doing and why.”

Noah, who is the son of Whakaraupō’s Kaiwhakairo, Damian Mackie (Ngāti Kura), holds a degree in English Literature and Cultural Anthropology from Massey University and currently works as a writer, educator and researcher in Melbourne.

He is keen to promote the idea that education is a lifelong journey and that the process of earning a degree should be enjoyable rather than “just being a ticket that you receive at the end.”

He is enthusiastic about the potential of the digital learning space and through a process of experimentation, trial and error, has worked hard to mitigate any drawbacks.

“The digital space can be isolating for some, but its biggest advantage is that it is accessible, affordable and flexible,” he says.

“We hold weekly Zoom wānanga so tauira can mihi, build confidence and share ideas, and by the end of those, we see our students are much more relaxed and comfortable. We also have a live stream from the Lyttelton carving centre that our tauira can tune into, to see actual carving happening.”

Thanks to Wave funding, Whakaraupō has also been able to take over Lyttleton’s Rei Gallery, which is to be used as a platform for people who have come through Whatu Kura Toi – a place for established and emerging artists to exhibit their work.

Noah says Te Pūtahitanga support has been critical to making that, and the Whakaraupō team’s digital education idea, a reality.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people are disconnected from their cultural backgrounds and that can be a scary and confronting place to be. I want to be a conduit – I’m passionate about education and being able to connect people with their culture in a way that is enjoyable, and fun is enlightening.  Te Pūtahitanga is helping us make that happen.”