Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Hinerupe, Tainui, Ngāti Porou
James was one of seven tauira (students) selected in 1967 to study in the first intake of the NZMACI Whakairo (carving) school and has been part of NZMACI for 52 years. Now Tohunga Whakairo (Master Carver), he takes great pride in the influence the institute’s legislation has had on the retention of the art of whakairo (carving) in New Zealand through the students taught.
James explains that a key part of his role is to help restore Marae around New Zealand - he has worked on 30.
“If Marae is the centre of our culture, then you can judge our culture by the state Marae are in. People have an emotional connection to Marae. We have 800 in this country and half of them are run down and around half are family owned as well. We act as a referee giving advice about what’s required to restore them. The people need to make hard decisions about what needs to be done and that’s the key to cultural survival. That’s what I’m proud of.”
James loves to meet people from different walks of life at NZMACI, hearing their different perceptions about how the world works. “Through the eyes of a carver, it’s about a meeting house, how it’s put together and if the genealogy is right, then it’s about engaging with the people around it.”
He is also at the forefront of the cultural diplomacy evolution, playing an important role in the Tuku Iho exhibition, showcasing the art of whakairo (wood carving) and meeting with indigenous tribes to share knowledge worldwide.