Dedication of Carving
In a short interdenominational service on Sunday 11 August at the Headquarters of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Westbrook House, Willis Street, Wellington, a very special and unusual gift was presented and dedicated.
It was a carved window frame, which fronts a display case containing the priceless collection of early Maori Scriptures and manuscripts in the possession of the Bible Society.
The Rev. A. E. Lonsdale, Area Secretary of the Bible Society, welcomed the guests and introduced Rev. Canon Hohepa Taepa who chaired the rest of the service. Prayers were said by the Rev. T. Tioke of the Presbyterian Church and Lessons were read by the Rev. E. Potaka-Dewes of the Anglican Church and Mr A. N. Button, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Bible Society.
Maori visitors then sang the hymn “Tama Ngakau', Canon Taepa remarking quietly as he pointed to the photograph of the 1952 revisionary committee, ‘This is the hymn that these men would have chosen had they been here today.’
Rev. Te Pura Panapa, who had recently come to Otaki's Rangiatea Pastorate, then interpreted the carving, and the Rev. H. A. Darvill presented the gift on behalf of the Maori Section of the National Council of Churches, of which he is Chairman. Rev. Darvill said the carving had a special significance for him of the true nature and meaning of integration—it was made from native timbers, but with Western tools; was in an ancient form, but placed in a modern 20th century building and was a beautiful example of traditional Maori art, but included modern glass and fittings. He said that ‘true integration requires the preservation of the identities of both cultures.’
The Rev. E. H. Moody, General Secretary of the Bible Society accepted the gift and said that it would add greatly to the beauty and function of the entrance hall. He continued, ‘Inside the display case are historic Scriptures going back to the earliest years of the Christian Mission in New Zealand. They represent the results of dedicated scholarship that made possible the bringing together of the Maori language and Western methods of writing, to express the ancient truths of the Bible. The carving translates these same truths in the graphic form of Maori art, that has for centuries expressed the profound thoughts of this Polynesian people.
‘Much as the Bible Society appreciates the gift which today we dedicate, even more meaningful is the motive that has prompted it. For more than a hundred years, the Bible Society, as the servant of the whole Church of Jesus Christ, has sought to share the Church's most treasured
heritage with the Maori people. During this Centenary year, we have looked back with thankfulness for all that the Bible and its message has meant to the people of New Zealand. We thank God for its unifying influence, for the way in which it has helped to bring two great races together to form a united people, for the understanding and concern it has fostered, and for outstanding Christian leaders whose lives have been enriched by its teaching.’
Following the dedication, the hymn ‘The Church's One Foundation’ was sung, and Canon Taepa pronounced the Benediction. Visitors were then entertained to afternoon tea, and were able look more closely at the carving and the contents of the display case.
It is significant that the man chosen to carve the matapihi is a direct descendent of those who taught the Maori language to the Rev. Robert Maunsell, who worked in the Waikato for so many years translating the Old Testament.
He is Mr Waka Graham of Waikato, one of the first students of the Hamilton Art School at Ohinemutu, set up through the inspiration of Sir Apirana Ngata. Mr Graham was encouraged by Princess Te Puea Herangi and became one of New Zealand's finest Maori carvers. Now that he has retired from farming he devotes his full time to carving.
The matapihi, always placed to the right of the entrance, is a very important part of a meeting-house, as it is the only means whereby light can enter.
This carving is therefore symbolic of the coming of the light of the Christian Gospel into the centre of Maori life.
The Lintel or korupe is always the widest part of the matapihi, and here speaks of the wideness of God's love and mercy, the greatness of His salvation and His overshadowing in the affairs of man.
Carved upon the lintel is the whole story of the Bible. The four double spirals indicate the divisions of history—the creation of heaven and earth, the birth and life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church, and the new heaven and the new earth, when old things shall pass away and man shall dwell with God forever.
The two fish, representing the Old and New Testaments, have both ancient Christian and Maori significance. The five Greek letters forming the word ‘fish’ were the initial letters of five words meaning ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’ and the fish is the earliest Christian symbol. The Maori fish, the sign of Tangaroa and of Marakihau, always has its tail turned under, but in these two fish the tail came uppermost during the carving. This surprised the carver, until he realised that the Maori fish with the Pakeha tail symbolised the true mingling of Maori and Pakeha in the work of the Maori Bible.
The three heads in the centre of the lintel represent the Tri-une God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Side-Posts, or poutaha represent the translation of the Old and New Testaments and also show how the Maori evolved from a one-tongued man into a bi-lingual, bicultural man through the coming of the Pakeha man with a mission from God.
The top figure on each post is cloventongued, a man of two languages, the missionary, who brought the Gospel of peace to a warring people. From these two figures the symbol of birth and continuity shows the new life which came with the Gospel.
The second figure, a one-tongued man, represents the Maori ancestors before the coming of Christianity.
The third figure, still one-tongued, represents the chiefs of the Waikato and Ngapuhi tribes, who taught the missionaries the Maori language, and assisted with translation.
The fourth figure, cloven-tongued, represents the Maori of today, with his bi-lingual, bi-cultural heritage.
On the Sill, or paepae rests the whole structure of the matapihi, and here appears the manaia, the ‘bird-like’ form representative of most of the tribes of New Zealand.
This symbol shows Maoridom embracing Christianity, and how the structure rests on the Maori church of today.
Once more the double spiral symbols of creation and life are used. Jesus said, ‘I am come that they may have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’