Aotearoa Chapel, Waiapu Cathedral, Napier New Zealand

Māori Aotearoa Chapel at Waiapu Cathedral in Napier, New Zealand

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The Māori Chapel/Aotearoa Chapel is a jewel in the Waiapu Cathedral and symbolises the partnership between Māori and Pākehā, especially those who live in East Coast, Hawkes Bay area and in the Bay of Plenty.

The Bishop's chair with beautifully carved "Last Supper" at the top
The Bishop’s chair with beautifully carved “Last Supper” at the top

This chapel occupies the east end of the main space of the Waiapu Cathedral, left empty after the high altar was brought forward from the east wall to its central place in 1974. The chapel was dedicated on 30th April 1977.

Many will not know the debt of gratitude that the Diocese of Waiapu owes Cliff Whiting, who was the kaiwhakahaere (overseer/advisor)for the project to set up the Aotearoa/Māori Chapel.

Prior to that, there had been a Māori chapel in a separate space at the end of the building, the area that became for a time the diocesan office.

The Aotearoa Chapel was specially designed as a memorial to Sir Apirana Ngata and Bishop Frederick Bennett who had both been involved with Waiapu throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

While the English cathedral tradition is used to the idea of a Lady Chapel or other chapel being added on outside the main wall of a cathedral, some Māori thought the’outsideness’ of the former chapel was rather like an afterthought So moving the chapel into the main space was additionally welcomed.

Tukutuku with mumu pattern at Waiapu Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Napier
Tukutuku with mumu pattern at Waiapu Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Napier

Each of the then Māori pastorates and Māori Mission Districts in the diocese was asked to prepare two woven tukutuku panels. Those from Te Puke-Tauranga are the first matching pair you come to one on each side of the building. They are followed by those from Te Ngae and Ohinemutu, and so on, while those from Ngāti Porou are on the east wall.

Named individuals were responsible for each of the pairs of panels but in each case a number of others helped. I know I pushed a few ends of prepared flax through the slats following the pattern on seven of the panels from the areas where I was involved.

Cliff Whiting was asked by someone whether plastic ribbon could be used instead of traditional weaving material such a pingao. His reply was, “No, in another generation or two when repairs are necessary our mokopuna should have the chance to learn how to do the work”.

Cliff encouraged us all to complete our panels, and he prepared the surrounding borders and painted their kowhaiwhai patterns.

Waiapu is grateful for Cliff Whiting’s contribution to our Cathedral and honours a great artist, carver, heritage advocate, and teacher.

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