Poutini Ngāi Tahu bless giant sculpture of their tīpuna, Tūhuru

The first "hyper-realistic" representation of Poutini Ngāi Tahu chief Tūhuru is on its way to Māwhera after a blessing in Wellington.
16 November 2023

November 11, 2023

Author: James Perry

Descendants of the Poutini Ngāi Tahu chief, Tūhuru, have blessed the first hyper-realistic representation of their ancestor, as part of the eagerly awaited tourism experience, the Pounamu Pathway.

Created by Wētā Workshop in Wellington, the giant figure of the West Coast warrior that stands at a scale of 2.4:1 will be erected at Greymouth’s Māwhera Centre, which is expected to open in December.

The Pounamu Pathway, a groundbreaking tourism venture on Te Tai o Poutini, will consist of four interconnected experience centres — Māwhera (Greymouth), Awarua (Haast), Kawatiri (Westport) and Hokitika — each serving as a gateway to captivating and emotive visitor experiences. Through immersive storytelling and world-first experiences, it offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime journey through the rich traditions and history of Aotearoa and the people of Poutini Ngāi Tahu.

The breathtaking representation of Tūhuru, purported to have been 7ft tall and who helped lead the final defeat of Ngāti Wairangi, has evolved from a unique collaboration between Poutini Ngāi Tahu and Wētā Workshop.

Following the battle with Ngāti Wairangi in the early 19th century, Tūhuru and his party decided to settle on the West Coast, establishing a pā at Māwhera, eventually becoming known as Poutini Ngāi Tahu.

Larger than life

Tūhuru uri have been pivotal in the creation of the intricately detailed sculpture, from designing the tā moko to crafting the accessories, including the pounamu hei tiki, mere and kāpeu.

“What an honour it has been to work with Poutini Ngāi Tahu to uphold the mana of their ancestor and experience the heartfelt emotion today, as his descendants gathered to bless him for his journey home to Māwhera. Our team at Wētā Workshop are extremely proud to be a part of this incredible project,” Wētā design lead Rehua Wilson said.

Master carver Bevan Climo (Ngāti Māhaki) carved the pounamu hei tiki, at the same 2.4:1 scale, showcasing a remarkable blend of artistic talent, technical skill and cultural insight.

The creation of the larger-than-life sculpture’s woven accessories, including the kākahu, maro, and tātua, also demanded the same set of skills and talent.

Dedicated weavers devoted many hours to crafting these items, with the cloak measuring about 2m by 3m. More than 1700 hours of work have been completed in creating the accessories alone.

The tā moko that will adorn Tūhuru has been designed by Fayne Robinson (Ngāti Māhaki), master carver of the Tūhuru wharenui (meeting house) at Arahura Marae, Hokitika, and Te Tauraka Waka a Māui Marae at Makaawhio.

Poignant tribute

“Collaborating with Wētā Workshop has been an amazing experience. The detailed research they have undertaken with Ngāti Waewae and Ngāti Māhaki representatives, together as Poutini Ngāi Tahu, has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on a representation of our tīpuna, Tūhuru,” Robinson said.

Blessing the sculpture presented a unique and poignant moment to pay tribute to Tūhuru, honouring the contributions and sacrifices he made for the prosperity of his people.

The blessing also offers spiritual protection of the sculpture as it embarks on the journey to Te Tai o Poutini, to be positioned at the Māwhera (Greymouth) experience of the Pounamu Pathway, poised to inspire and awe visitors from near and far.

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