News | 3 February 2023
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Kaiota: The new mural at Bowen Street

The hillside behind Bowen St was a kainga (food garden) before it became a residential area and cemetery. The new mural Kaiota brings together that history and other māramatanga (meanings). The artist Ariki Brightwell talks us through the elements.

Ariki Brightwell painting her mural.

Can you give us an overview?
Kaiota means raw food, because the area had a few kainga, like Pakuo Pā and Raurimu Kainga, that were homesteads for visitors. Tinakori Hill, Ahumairangi, all the way up to the ridge, was a huge cultivation site. The mural is about that universal human interaction of food and communication, breaking bread. At the centre of the work are the two atua Rongomatāne and Haumietiketike — they’re the gods of cultivated and uncultivated food.

Rongomatāne represents cultivated foods. He’s holding a bundle of kumara, his symbolic food. He’s also known universally as the god of peace, which ties in with Taranaki and Te Atiawa. The raukura (feather plume) on his head, is an acknowledgment of the local rohe (area).

Ariki Brightwell finished mural.

His twin brother Haumietiketike is the god of wild food and fauna. He’s holding a bundle of kawakawa, one of our great healing plants, a good symbol because it’s always collected wild. You could say that Rongo is peace, and Haumietiketike is healing. That ties together the history of the land, the protests, and the government’s positive actions, especially in indigenous affairs. It also relates to Parliament Grounds, which are just down the road. 

In the centre of them, in the background, there’s a cross that represents Parihaka. The values of Parihaka also come from the bible. They’re tied together, and so is Māori religion today. It’s also a nod to the cemetery, to those who are buried above (at the Bowen St cemetery). 

What about the kowhaiwhai patterns?
The two kowhaiwhai patterns stretch across the whole wall. One’s called Ngutukaka. Ngutukaka means the parrot’s beak or the parrot’s lips. There are a few connections. One is place called Boom Rock near the bottom of the North Island, facing the South Island. Near that is Ngutu Kaka, which is the boundary between Ngāti Toa and Taranaki (Wellington iwi). But there’s also a rare plant species called ngutukaka, which was a delicacy to Māori, and we used to trade it as treats. 

Cyclist passing by the Ariki Brightwell mural.

So that’s in the middle behind them, and then coming out towards the end is the koiri, which is another kowhaiwhai pattern, and that represents growth and nature. It represents food and communication, but also the government’s efforts to improve Māori affairs. It represents the growth and improvement of our leaders, and their decisions, and human rights in Aotearoa as a whole.

There’s an addition I added at the end of the mural, on the two pillars, where the mural flares away and branches off. On the right side is Whātaitai, who carved the West shore of the harbour, and who came from the Korokoro Stream, and on the left side is Ngake, who carved out the harbour and the channel to Cook Strait. They stand there on guard, on the sides of the two gods. Ngake and Whātaitai are very strong, prominent taniwha, summoned from Pukeatua, Wainuiomata area by the people of Kahui Maunga. From there they traversed over to the harbour, which became their home before it was burst open into the sea. 

That’s pretty much the main symbolism. Lastly, at the top and bottom, there are the triangular patterns, they’re called niho taniwha. They represent strength, endurance, and leadership.

Murals are an opportunity to create points of reference throughout our city and acknowledge and celebrate sites of significance, enhancing mana whenua mātauranga. To see more of Ariki Brightwell’s work, you can visit her Facebook page.