Since our ancestors first arrived on New Zealand shores, our history and kōrero (beliefs and stories) were carved and woven into patterns, forms and symbols bound together by whakapapa (relationships) supporting Māori language, values and knowledge.
With colonisation, this knowledge became increasingly threatened, particularly by the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907. This effectively inhibited the activities of our Tohunga (experts, leaders, healers or priests) who were generally the holders of Māori knowledge, with many refusing to pass on their wisdom as a result.
Renowned Māori leader, Sir Apirana Ngata, recognised that Māori material culture, such as carving, was integral to preserving mātauranga-a-iwi (tribal knowledge and identity) particularly through marae, the epicentre of tribal history, society and identity. His dream was to establish centres of learning to maintain, perpetuate and preserve these traditional practices for future generations.
He saw the passing of legislation in Parliament in 1926, bringing his vision to fruition with the first carving school, Te Ao Marama, opened on the shores of Lake Rotorua.