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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Timi Kara

Timi Kara.

One of the outstanding personalities of Old Wairoa and the Maori race was James Carroll, later elevated to the dignity of Sir James Carroll, a talented representative of the two races in Parliament, at one time acting-Prime Minister and towards the close of his career a member of the Upper House. He was a son of the late Joseph Carroll, at one time dubbed "the uncrowned king of Wairoa." He was born on the Awatere block on the north side of the river not far from a tall cabbage tree on the bank. Sacred to the memory of James Carroll, better known to the Maoris as "Timi Kara," the old tree still stands on the left bank of the Wairoa so far defying the ravages of time, which has seen many other trees pass out of existence. This tree appears to have been under the protection of some protecting spirit or taniwha, as though the order had gone out:

"Woodman, spare that tree;
Touch not a single bough."

page 137

Under its shade, according to Maori custom, was Timi Kara born on 20th August, 1857, and after a long life of usefulness to both races the giant totara has fallen and the journey of his spirit to the Reinga of Maori fable accomplished. But though the old tree is still tapu and protected by the white man, it cannot live very much longer though the memory of Timi will never die. This is fittingly so, and to mark the sense of gratitude, and respect, it is now proposed to erect a Memorial House to be called "Timi Kara," and part of the work is already in progress. There has been some conflict as to the site—near the Te Uhi pa (and not far from his birthplace) to the south of the Wairoa-Nuhaka road, or at Waihirere, in the domains of the Apatus. It is reported that the latter site has been chosen, which is a great pity as it is away from the main highway, and such a striking memorial should be placed where all visitors could hot fail to see it. It is possible that better counsels may yet prevail. The full particulars of this memorial house are given in the Auckland Star by a correspondent who says:

"Animated by an enthusiasm that completely controverts the Pakeha's conception of a Maori as a taihoa worker, eight Maori carvers in the Maori Arts and Crafts School at Ohinemutu have notable work in hand. This is the production of 250 set pieces required to adorn and embellish the great Maori meeting-house for Wairoa, Hawkes Bay. This house is designed primarily to perpetuate the mana and memory of the late Sir James Carroll, who represented the Gisborne constituency for many years, and, in his capacity as a legislator, was respected alike by Maori page 138and Pakeha. The building will also provide the Ngati Kahungunu, in whose territory it will be erected, with a tribal centre commensurate with its importance. When completed later in the year this meeting-house (to be known as Timi Kara) will have cost about £6,000, which sum has been contributed by patriotic Maoris. The wealth of its carving and its appointments will compare favourably with those of the Waitangi meeting-house, contemplated to memorialize the recent Treaty centenary celebrations. Timi Kara is designed to hold a thousand people. It will be 102 feet long by 45 feet wide, and will be equipped with all modern conveniences including hot water service, to the great auxiliary dining room, planned to be 70 feet long.

"The great conceptions which have inspired the erection of this house will ensure its taking its place as one of the finest Maori structures in the Dominion. Framed in hardwood, and strengthened with steel girders, it will embody the apparently diverse principles of Maori architecture and modern scientific building construction. With these there will be combined the possession of some exceptionally fine specimens of modern Maori carving and interior decoration. From roof-tree to floor-plate every visible piece of timber in the structure is to be lavishly carved. The two barge-boards on the entrance front are 36 feet long and 3 feet wide. On these four-inch boards the great piece de resistance of the job is to be pictures by the skill of the carver. On them is to be chiselled representations of the canoes which brought their Maori ancestors from far-distant Hawaiki—on the right-hand board the Takitimu canoe, on the left-hand the Horouta canoe. From this eminence, carved figures will surmount an array of central pillars (poutoko-manawa), side pillars (poutohus) rafters (heke), and studs (poupou), on each of which will be carved page 139ancestral allegorical figures in conformity with established Maori art. At the present time the carvers in the Ohinemutu school are working on the allegorical figures destined to ornament the interior of the building and its entrance porch. There are forty-six of these semi-statues, each nine feet long and twenty-seven inches wide—cut from solid flitches eight inches thick, hewn from heart of totara felled in the Okataina bush. In each image there are thousands of chisel cuts, each made with skilful precision. Seemingly endless chipped curves are gouged, spiral features are sculptured, figures are carved and attitude suggested with a bold assurance that demonstrates the Maori carvers have not lost the ancient cunning of the craft. All the designs being used are modelled on the carvings in the Maori house in the Dominion Museum in Wellington, an essential difference being that every figure holds a fighting weapon. This is to conform with the general instructions given to the carvers that their work should symbolize wisdom in counsel, strength of purpose, and courage in action—these being the dominant characteristics of the beloved Timi Kara in his dignified representation of the Maori race over a long term of years. As a large number of the completed carved figures now stand round the walls of the school at Ohinemutu they certainly suggest dominance. Carved in bold relief, not a single line falters in suggesting strength and victory; and even to the Pakeha unfamiliar with Maori art, the artistic variety of the well-balanced figures makes a definite appeal. Every grotesque head has an individuality, each lolling tongue suggests some brave saying; every goggling eye is alive with personality, while the stance of each figure and the grip of each attendant weapon suggest the virile warrior, able to hold and guard his own. A survey of the weapons as carved is an education in the variety of ancient Maori armouries. Of these page 140fighting-weapons there were twelve used in the hand-to-hand fighting of old-time combats, and each one is faithfully depicted by the carver's chisel. The whalebone, blackstone and greenstone choppers are there, as are the taiahas, meres, koikois, patus, maripis, pouwhenuas, tewhatewhas, potongatas, and taos. One particularly notable figure bears a noble taiaha, carved in strong relief, and the reproduction of the weapon is evidence of the grace, vigour and effectiveness of this Maori spear. The decoration of the interior of the meeting-house will be distinctively Maori. The carved figures will be flanked by panels of Maori tapestry (tukutuku), each of the twelve conventional designs being reproduced in black, red, walnut, and brown backgrounds. This colour scheme will act as an artistic foil to the carved figures, each of which will have its component parts picked out in colour. The whole conception of the meeting-house is a demonstration of the enduring character of Maori nationality, the virility of modern Maori art, and the versatility of Maori craftsmen. Under the impetus of the idea of doing honour to a great representative Maori there will be compiled a worthy epitome of the historic media of this nation's art. This will stand as a worthy memorial to ancient mana and present aspirations, and on its completion all connected with it may well feel a thrill of pride—the Ngati Kahungunu on their devotion to their famous fellow tribesman; the Maoris as a whole in their generous support of the project; and the School of Maori Arts and Grafts in its practical and successful endeavours to accomplish the renaissance of the unique culture of a noble native race."

It has just been decided that the Memorial House is to be opened in May, 1937, possibly as part of Wairoa's Coronation celebrations. It is hoped that His Excellency the Governor-General page 141may be able to perform this function. It is expected that between 7,000 and 10,000 Natives will be present on that occasion, which may easily eclipse that held recently at Waitara in honour of the memory of the late Sir Maui Pomare. Without drawing any invidious distinctions it is safe to say that the late Sir James Carroll, though Wairoa-born, was an outstanding figure in the national life of Maoriland. One illustration must suffice. When Sir James was acting-Prime Minister, and knighted by his Sovereign, he was entertained at an important function. An English political lady sitting next him at dinner said, "Sir James, would you mind telling me in what university you graduated?" Sir James, with his face wreathed in smiles, said he would be only too happy to oblige. The lady looked happy too in prospect of the answer which, so far, no one else had been able to secure. Said Sir James, "I was educated"—and the lady smiled again—"in the University of Nature!" It took a big man to give that reply to a lady of her standing.