Every Thursday Tiare Turetahi starts his whakairo class with ancient karakia as he and his tauira prepare for the day ahead.
His tauira are currently chipping away at blocks of totara, kauri and rimu in a workshop at the Auckland City Mission with their just-sharpened chisels.
The nine tauira are not your everyday types that you would find in a classroom, however.
The majority of them are among Auckland’s homeless or battling alcohol and drug addictions – or both.
Earlier this year, Auckland Council released research into the city's homeless population, which has more than doubled in the city centre in the space of a year.
Fairfax Media said a count last October found 142 people sleeping rough within three kilometres of the Sky Tower, up from just 68 in 2013.
The men Tiare works with come to the mission each week where they find something to eat, a place to keep warm and dry and a place where they learn the ancient art of whakairo.
Tiare says it’s his role to introduce his tauira, most of whom are Māori, to whakairo and to reassociate them with their culture.
He also works with the Waipareira Trust and offers similar classes for homeless men in Waitākere.
“The things that I teach are things that have been around for thousands of years – the only thing that has changed is the medium,” says Tiare, of Ngāti Kahungunu descent.
Tiare, who was taught the craft by former tauira of the late master carver Pine Taiapa more than 20 years ago, said he was teaching his tauira the very basics of the art form.
“We just go back to the start, I look at the patterns they can draw, how to work with grains in the wood and things like how to sharpen their chisels.”
“Some of these guys don’t actually realise that they’re carvers.”
He’s hoping his introductory course will potentially lead to tertiary study for his tauira with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“These guys isolate themselves for 20 hours a day and keep to themselves but when they come here it is four hours that they really shine.
“I’m hopeful that it will give them confidence for their own journey in life, I’m not here to turn them into master carvers but I would love to see them go on to further education with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.”
“I would love to see some of these guys graduate with their tohu in whakairo.”
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