Indigenous | Japan

Ceremonial kūwaha renewed in time for Prime Minister’s visit to Tokyo

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon with carver Lenny Boonen (left) and Eraia Kiel in front of Te Haeata Whero. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand embassy - Tokyo

This article first appeared on RNZ.

The kūwaha has been blessed and has found a permanent home at the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo.

Te Haeata Whero, carved in 2019, is a magnificent kūwaha (ceremonial doorway) representing the red dawn.

It was created by the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) and journeyed from Rotorua to Tokyo, Japan - as part of the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Carver Lenny Boonen (left) and Eraia Kiel at the blessing for the kūwaha Te Haeata Whero. Photo: New Zealand Embassy - Tokyo

NZMACI general manager Eraia Kiel said the embassy will make a fitting home for Te Haeata Whero.

The doorway and Te Kōpū Whānui, a mauri stone gifted by Ngāti Hikairo of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, were part of a whakatō mauri (blessing) conducted by Kiel and Lenny Boonen, one of the original carvers.

The kūwaha will be “a doorway to creating relationships” and connections with the people of Japan, something Kiel hoped would endure long into the future.

“The narrative was about the connection between our maunga (mountains), te kāhui maunga and also Mt Fujiyama, [and] I guess that subterranean connection from the Pacific ring of fire; some things we share in common from our geothermal connection.”

Having cultural pieces like Te Haeata Whero gave New Zealanders around the world something tangible to remind them of home, he said.

Visitors examine the carvings on a new ceremonial doorway at the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo. Photo: New Zealand Embassy - Tokyo

Visitors examine the carvings on a new ceremonial doorway at the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo. Photo: New Zealand Embassy - Tokyo

The timing of the renewal just happened to coincide perfectly with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s visit to Japan, Kiel said.

Luxon had the chance to see the kūwaha alongside members of his delegation and dignitaries from Japan.

“Lenny was talking to the Minister of Defence for Japan and they couldn’t stop asking about the different designs and what they mean, so it was really educational last night for everyone that was there and they couldn’t stop raving about the kūwaha.

“It really means a lot to us to build these international relationships. I always say that our Māori culture transcends boundaries and brings people together ahakoa te kaupapa it seems to cut through.”

After the formalities kapa haka group Te Iti Kahurangi - who are accompanying the prime minister in Japan - performed waiata, mihi and karakia in front of the kūwaha.

“You don’t often get to see our beautiful culture like this standing up around the world, so [it] was a very special occasion, very special night and [we’re] grateful to be a part of it,” Kiel said.