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Tradition carves the way for carpentry apprenticeships

Different cultures weave together in the work of carpentry students as they make traditional Māori weapons, known as taiaha, to tell the story of their own history.

Using hand tools they’ll use in their apprenticeships, Ara Institute of Canterbury students create personalised wooden rods representing their past and current identities, while also developing basic carpentry skills.

Ian Alexander Naghi drew on his Romanian background to design his taiaha. “Every taiaha is so different, like your own personality,” says the Level 3 carpentry student.

“You have to think about what represents you the best and then try to recreate that in the wood. For me, it was both my European family and the Māori designs of my adopted country.”

Naghi came to Aotearoa New Zealand with his family when he was eight years old.

“It was a 180-degree shift – every single part of my life suddenly changed. I went from knowing everything that was going on around me, to not knowing much at all. I had to learn to take everything as it is, to adapt to a new flow of life.”

The body of his taiaha is etched with geometric lines that represent the culture he was born into. “Everything was uniform and straightforward there – people were predictable. You never step out of line there!”

The head of his weapon features curved Māori themes that reflect his later childhood and the country he has come to love. “My taiaha has a bi-cultural feel to it – with two cultures coming together.”

Mark Dawson, Manager, Construction Trades, says that a lot of students come into the carpentry programme without having had engaging experiences at school.

“We need to get them to trust us, which can take a while. Making a taiaha as one of their first carpentry projects means they have to think about their pasts and their personalities, as well as get their hands on all the hand tools like planers, skill saws and routers. The level of engagement is very high.”

Ian Naghi with classmates making taiaha.

Ara’s Certificate in Construction Trade Skills – Carpentry prepares students for work as apprentices in the construction sector, covering carpentry basics and terminology, calculations and drawing, and machines and timber. They assist in the construction of one and two-story residential buildings and light commercial buildings.

In the carpentry classroom, students clad in work gear and protective earmuffs lean over work benches, focusing on their handmade woodwork. One student positions pāua shell in the eyes. Another sands down rough edges then adds flax to his taiaha. In just a few months, these students will begin their carpentry apprenticeships.

Naghi holds his taiaha proudly, knowing he is armed with the strength and craft of his two cultures, side by side.  

Ian’s taiaha

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