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Ngaio Cowell - Toi Tauira. Photograph by: Naomi Haussmann

Being able to connect multiple aspects of her personality has opened many doors for Ōtautahi raranga tauira, Ngaio Cowell.

Returning to Aotearoa after several years in the UK, Ngaio decided to dip her toes back into toi Māori studying Toi Maruata Level 3 at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, in 2021.

Under the guidance of raranga kaiako, Sue Tipene, Ngaio was able to reconnect with a practice she was involved in as a tamariki.

She was pleasantly surprised to find that raranga was the perfect place for her love of graphic design and taiao to meet.

“I wasn’t expecting to fall back in love with this part of me, to have my passions intersect so perfectly.”

Ngaio has continued her learning journey, completing Kāwai Raupapa Level 4 in 2022 and this year working towards Toi Paematua Level 5.

She describes the experience as overwhelmingly positive, and she is immensely grateful for the strong mana wāhine environment in her classes.

Being able to connect with her māoritanga while harvesting and preparing resources for weaving has grounded her and reminded her of the importance of who she is.

“I love the way you are encouraged to be Māori in your own way. You don’t have to always be on the marae, or speaking reo. You can do it in your own way, in the way that makes sense to you.”

Ngaio has been humbled to see how much her learning with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa has impacted her whānau. 

Delving back into toi Māori has come with unexpected work opportunities. She is passionate about her role as Kaiwhakahaere for the newly opened Te Whare Tapere centre in the The Arts Centre, Ōtautahi.

Ngaio describes it as a place for Māori, by Māori, providing opportunities for change within toi Māori in Aotearoa. It is intended to be a collaborative space, where artists can create and learn from each other.

Ngaio has also been involved in teaching some beginner raranga in this facility, helping with Rekindle, a creative workshop that focusses on resourceful craft, connecting with kura kaupapa and bilingual units, and curating exhibitions of tauira toi mahi.

Ngaio is profoundly grateful for the way her life has been enriched by stepping back into toi Māori. She’d long wanted to connect, and give back to her iwi, and she is now by helping with the cultural design of train stations, a hospital, and park in a newly developing section of south Auckland.

“I’ve always wanted to do something for my iwi, do something in my way, that feels tau for me. Without Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, I wouldn’t be in that position. Now I feel like I can do it justice.”

Find out more about our Toi Māori (Arts) programmes.

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Published On: 31 October 2023

Article By: Gemma Bradly-Jacka

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