There are few opportunities for Pasifika artists to seek and receive funding and resources to tell their stories, their way. In the wake of a major shift in the New Zealand political landscape, times are feeling more turbulent than ever for storytellers, and the need for alternative ways to resource Pasifika artists becomes more pressing. The Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi has launched its annual Boosted x Moana campaign to help catapult 18 projects by Pasifika artists from ideas to reality.

Talanoa is excited to share with you the stories of these artists and their dreams.

Vava’u Carving House is a family owned and operated business, founded by Langi’o’uiha ‘Isileli Latu Tangulu and Caroline Scott Fanamanu specialising in hand-carved wooden products. ‘Akau Tau, The War Club is not just an ancient weapon but an hierloom of families, geneaologies of community that formed relations or built new lives. After each warfare, victory, loss, event, a decorative or symbolic carving would be gouged onto the war club to tell their stories.” and Vavau’u Carving House want to create the largest ‘Apa’apai ‘akau to ever be made.

Tell us about how you begun carving with your father. What was it like to learn? 

My journey as a “Tufunga-meaʻa Ta-tongitongi / Woodcarver” began in 1994 back in Vavaʻu Island, Tonga. A school project for our Tongan Studies subject required us students to choose and produce a piece of traditional woodcarving as part of our Internal Assessment (I.A) to add up to our final exam marks at the end of year. Not knowing what to do, I tried to hustle my father to lend me some money so I could just buy something from our local market! Upon finding out my real intention for trying to borrow money, he stopped me and told me, “you are going to make your own and Iʻm going to help you make it”! Excited but very nervous at same time, but as every son does, I trusted my father.

He told me, under our (meaning him and my mom’s) bed, there is a wooden chest underneath it, draw it out and bring out those tools inside. The very first time for me ever to see this old wooden box being opened. Inside it, there were these old-school wood working tools. Oldies but goodies! There were adzes, axes, rasps, a large two-man-crosscutting saw and some few chisels.

He told me, “I used to use those tools, some of those tools are my fatherʻs also. We used to carve, we were canoe and boat builders too. Your grandfather, and his father, his fatherʻs father were all carvers and canoe builders.”

Little I knew of these stories about my father and my ancestors until that day. An amazing feeling to learn of these that day. Long story short, we grabbed the tools, headed to our tax-allotment named FAIʻULU in Tefisi, Vavaʻu. We cut down a “tavahi” tree, chopped a block of wood and made a beautiful little tanoʻa out of it for my project. This was the birth of my journey as a TUFUNGA.

Some beautiful lessons my father taught me when we made this tanoʻa, “do your best on every piece of “ta-tongitongi/taonga” that youʻll make, focus and pay attention to small details but most importantly, carve from inside your heart, clear your mind and heart every time you’re working on a piece of carving.”

What is unique to Tongan carving practices that you are passionate about?

Wood, bone, stone/rock and shells carving were an important part of the Tongan culture. Various carvings tell stories, connect the past, present and future. They pass down histories, knowledge and genealogies.

What has been your favourite thing to carve so far?

While I enjoy every piece of creations we have made so far, I am now at the finishing stage, working on a piece of carving called the “PATU-ʻAPAʻAPAI”. A piece inspired by combining shapes of two “ʻakau-tau” war-clubs the PATU and the ʻAPAʻAPAI.

Why do you want to create the biggest ‘Apa’apai ‘akau tau to date?

I wish to create the biggest ʻapaʻapai to date and enhance it with patterns of the whenua and the moana, connecting the people of the wider Moananui a Kiwa and the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa from the past to present and to the future.

I saw that you sponsor two women’s rugby teams back in Tonga. Who are they and why is it important for you to support community in Tonga?

I have supported many organizations, community groups, sport teams, rugby clubs not only here in Aotearoa but abroad including Tonga by gifting creations of taonga or awards.

It is important to give back to the communities in whatever ways possible to stay connected with them. 

Help Vava’u Carving House reach their boosted target by their October 31st deadline by donating here

Stay up to date with their stories on social media @vavaucarvinghouse