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  • Writer's pictureChica Jo

The Aratoi Museum Focuses on the Freshwater Eye of the Fish.

It was a busy last day with Hammi Te Whaiti, his daughter, Wawaro, and all at the Aratoi Museum of Art and History.  Not only did they allow Velvet’s Travelling Tuna Tapestry to virtually take over their main hallway space, but they were super helpful and professional while lending a hand to assist every aspect of the public coming in to be part of the tapestry.  I would have been lost amid Maori language and custom without Wawaro to guide me.  Also, the Travelling Tuna Tapestry received a very generous donation that will help get Velvet (the story and project) to many other places around New Zealand.  Their koha goes to show just how dedicated the Aratoi is to promoting and showcasing regional art… especially when that art reflects the culture and history of the area.  They clearly understand that art and artists have a vital role to play in being active guardians of a special land and it’s waters!

It is surely worth a trip to the Aratoi in Masterton.   Especially recommended is their current exhibit:  “Wairarapa Moana:  Stories about the lake and it’s people” which runs through May 7th.

Wairarapa Moana, North Shore

Hinake at the Aratoi

Not only can you see live eels, an old and beautifully woven hinake, and the short film: “Longfin”, but you can learn about the changes that have taken place in and around the Wairarapa Moana in the last centuries.  Here is their website:

Many people see the North Island of New Zealand as a giant fish that the demi-god Maui pulled out of the sea from his waka (sea canoe) that is the South Island.

Beautifully carved waka at the Aratoi

The finger of land at the Top of the North Island is known as the Tail of the Fish.  I recently learned from the welcoming community at Papawai marae that the saltwater eye of the fish is Wellington harbor, and the freshwater eye of the fish is Wairarapa Moana (lake).  I like this concept, as it seems to echo one of many versions of an old story in which Maui was later jealous of Tuna-roa (eel god) when he returned home to find Tuna in the bed of his sleeping wife, Hina.  In his anger, Maui chopped Tuna in half, with the tail end becoming all the saltwater eels of the world, and the head end becoming all the freshwater eels of the world.

Tail detail of one of Sam Ludden's ceramic eels

Head detail of a Sam Ludden's sculpted eel

If you don’t like that, then how about seeing the North Island as like a flounder, with two eyes on one flat side.  Cool, either way.

Kia ora, Aratoi!

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