Friday, March 22, 2013

Hoe : Making the Maori Paddle

The face of a finished Hoe, paua shell eyes and the gorgeous awa (river in the background)
I have been on a vision quest of sorts over the last few weeks, paddling from the top of volcanically active Mt. Tongariro in central North Island, New Zealand, down the Whanganui River, to the Tasman Sea. While there's infinitely lots to tell you about the journey, I'll first get back in the groove with a little bit about making paddles, while I rest at my very good friend's Dan and Nerja's in Auckland.

Chiseling a hoe blade

Using natives pieces of Kauri (and for a few not so native radiata pine), I made a set of paddles, all from single chunks of gorgeously grained and strong wood. The first Hoe I made, depicted in the first picture and below, was cut with a chainsaw but then shaped using adze, plain, my knife and a rasp, making it a pretty much hand-tooled piece. Following a ceremonial hoe design that Hector showed me, I have a curve in the shaft and an extremely long blade. For the handle, I carved an eight-point star, my personal crafting symbol, as well as a turtle shell.

Making sure the centerline is correct is priority number one (thanks Opo!)
The blades on each of the paddles come to a fine point, symbolizing the war uses in Waka Taua (war canoes) for hoes in the past. The backward side of the blades were carved out using a chisel to give a cupping effect on the water. The blades for the hoe are considered the tongue. The hoe, like all carvings, once completed, have a Mauri (life force) and are considered a living thing. Putting the tongue on the ground, as it would be for a human being, is considered highly disrespectful. It is also tapu (sacred code) to step over a hoe, dishonoring its life force.

A marlin carved onto a hoe for my good ol' uncle Gavin
I did use a few power tools, particularly the super friendly power grinder. I made a hoe for Opo in which I carved a triple curve in the shaft, like a flowing river, or to depict the three baskets of knowledge he taught me about in Maori symbolism.

Grinding the hoe shaft for a tripple curve
It was an incredible feeling when I finished each hoe, particularly for those individuals whom I cared about. The face of the hoe came to life once I set eyes in from paua (local shellfish) shells. The symbols and energy I put into each hoe as a gift for someone mean a great deal to me, literally bringing a creation to life.

Gavin's finished Hoe looking to the sky
 Learning to carve in the Maori style taught me a lot of discipline and carefully choosing the symbols that are meaningful to you. Those symbols and carve figures can give you constant power and teachings when surrounded by them. When they are something you've made, your always connected to them.

The eight point star on the handle of my hoe

I realize the pictures are a little out of order but I was too excited to show the finished product. For one week, Opo and I stayed up late into the nights carving. That was a powerful experience, being so deeply involved in the work.

Drawn face, ready to carve

Adzing the blade thinner

Opo's finished paddle in-front of our newly lashed Waka

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