As we all know, traditionally Moriori carved trees in the “Rākau Momori” style (dendroglyphs) usually to commemorate their dead, atua or significant events.

The book, Manu Moriori published (Richards, 2007) posits that these carvings signify humans and birds.

Kōpinga Marae revisited the art of Rākau Momori when completing construction of the marae itself.

A group of Islanders learning about hokoairo studied photographs of lost carvings and looked at and felt the existing examples of hokoairo and interpreted them through the lens of re-establishing and re-stating moriori culture and mana-whenua and mana-tangata on Rēkohu

They then produced a series of panels to adorn the walls of Kōpinga Marae  their own, many of which re-create the old carvings and some of which have a contemporary twist.


Kaiako to pre-cut rectangles of 18-22mm customwood approx 150mm W x 600mm L

You can buy them in pieces like that from M10 although it is cheaper to get full sheets and cut them yourself.

Task A: Having studied images of Rākau Momori and seen pictures of the tree carvings, your task is to design on paper, your own Rākau Momori and then once the designs finalised, transfer it to wood and carve it.

Your design must represent an ancestor or ancestors of yours and could symbolise something significant that they have done or something they are famous for in your family. It could also represent your hokopapa, or whakapapa.

Task B: Using what you have discovered about Māori marae, and seen imagery from inside a marae, your task is to design on paper, your own ancestor or atua and then once the design is finalised, transfer it to wood and carve it.

Your design must be of just one ancestor or atua, Perhaps an atua famous for war (Tumatuenga), or atua of the sea (Tangaroa). Think carefully about how is that atua usually depicted? What are they holding/doing?


  • Usual safety rules for using tools and sharp instruments apply – particularly about never cutting towards yourself.
  • Ancestors and atua deserve respect. As do the people around you and their work. This is non-negotiable.

Create your designs. Do several drafts. Sketch pieces of your image and piece them together afterwards. Get each component right first. Don’t be too worried about the big picture until you have neiled each individual aspect.

Don’t be afraid to revisit the design. Don’t settle for less than what you first envisioned.

Once your design is completed and approved by kaiako, transfer it to your sheet of customwood. (Examples on how to do this here >>>>)

Once you have an outline transferred over to your customwood, go over top of that with a dark pencil or small ink pen. Dont use a big heavy duty marker as the marks from that will penetrate too deeply.

When you are ready to start carving you must remember that your design is left behind on the customwood and NOT carved out.

That’s right! You carve away the rest and leave your design (aside from any details on it of course).

This is usually the first mistake that novice carvers make when doing this style of carving.

Once you have finished carving, use fine sandpaper to smooth off all edges of your new hokoairo or whakairo .

Then use a dark brown shoe polish to highlight the carved figures and/or a light brown/tan to colour the remainder of the wood.

You could complete and seal the carving with a matt finish,  water-based polyurethane varnish.

Kaiako and akoranga jointly assess completed works and the message it conveys.