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Carver creates gateway to the Navy

A Royal New Zealand Navy sailor on a journey to grow his skills in whaikairo (Māori carving) has found the ideal project in the creation and placement of two pou at the entrance to the Navy’s school for training its sailors.

30 October, 2023

Able Electronic Warfare Specialist (AEWS ) Caleb Kutia apprenticed himself to local carver Natanahira Pona to convert two former piles from Devonport Naval Base’s Calliope Wharf to create a gateway to the Leadership Development Group, where sailors would pass through to start their training.

The pou, which had their whakaputanga (unveiling) at dawn on 26 October, represents all sailors coming through the Navy as they embark on their journey of training and development. A common expression for sailors is passing through the ‘gate’, with the pou culturally representing those brand new to the Navy and those undertaking leadership and professional development in the progression of their careers.

AEWS Caleb Kutia is in his second year of studying whakairo at Te Wananga Aotearoa, and had been doing a course at the Lake House Art Centre in Takapuna where he met the centre’s resident carver Natanahira Pona. Natanahira was scheduled to create the pou for the Navy and AEWS Kutia asked if he could work alongside him to develop his own skills.

The pou are intended to be the physical manifestation of the symbol of leadership, allowing a spiritual connection to the Navy

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Warrant Officer Seaman Combat Specialist Ngahiwi Walker, Maori Cultural Advisor (Navy), has also had an input in the work. The three said a karakia before the carving began, and AEWS Kutia always did a karakia before each day’s efforts. “It’s something you do to keep you safe.”

He says it’s been a very fulfilling journey, albeit both mentally and physically challenging. The piles used for the pou are from Australian jarrah, a heavy hardwood timber. It’s a symbolic connection to the past, present and future, but it’s certainly hard on the tools.

“These piles were taken down a while ago and stored nearby,” says AEWS Kutia. “It’s a bit difficult on the tools – I’ve chipped a couple of chisels working on it. But we expected it. It’s got a really distinctive smell as you work on it.”

He’s never worked on anything this size before. “This is my first big project. Everything else I’d done had been at beginner level. It’s certainly a lot harder than I thought it would be. It’s hard on the body, because I’m quite tall, and you have to bend over a lot and use your entire body to carve the right angles. It’s not just the physical – I’m still in a learning phase and I had to concentrate hard. Knowing how important the project was added a bit of weight on you, because I don’t want to let everyone down. That’s why I’m lucky working with Natanahira. He can guide me through fixing mistakes.”

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The pou are intended to be the physical manifestation of the symbol of leadership, allowing a spiritual connection to the Royal New Zealand Navy and symbolising the movement and transition towards the future. 

The carvings include faces, symbols of the stingray – the symbol of LDG – rings for the leadership framework and the four winds. This brings together the themes of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga – looking after people, and the unity of the people, all belonging to the Royal New Zealand Navy.

AEWS Kutia had been planning on leaving the Navy to follow his whakairo journey full time. “I am grateful that the orginisation came up with a pathway that would benefit both parties. The Navy has allowed me to follow my dream whilst giving back to the service.”

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