John Rua is a Master Carver for the Tangata Whenua of New Zealand. John is a living tohunga in his art, and has carved thousands of stunning artefacts which have been displayed in maraes and museums across the country. John led several ground-breaking projects including the carving of Te Tira Hou meeting house in Auckland, Ohope Marae in Whatakane and Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum in the South Island. His most noticeable achievement was training carvers at the Ngā Hau e Whā National Marae in Christchurch, a project which took 8 years to complete. As well as teaching in prisons, schools and maraes, John has sold his work worldwide to Germany, Canada and the USA, and has exhibited in Japan. In 1992, MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan presented John with the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal for service to New Zealand.

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Carving at van Asch School for the Deaf

1972, John (left) with Mayor of Rotorua and King of Tonga visiting the Institute of Maori Arts and Crafts in Rotorua.

John Rua, third from left, featured on the cover of New Zealand Deaf News in 1972 for winning the $100 Kelliher Award as the outstanding student of a course in carving conducted by the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, Rotorua.

John working on an Okains Bay canoe.

John’s grandfather was Rua Kenana, the Maori Prophet for the Tuhoe people. When John was born, it was foretold that he would be a Tohunga Whakairo. Te Reo Māori was the only language spoken at home.

John attended Kelston School for the Deaf in Auckland then van Asch School for the Deaf in Christchurch and learnt NZSL.

John began learning woodwork and carved sea creatures, kiwi and zoo animals. His work was shown in an exhibition and he met Master Carver Hone Te Kauru Taiapa (1911-1979). Taiapa invited John to learn traditional Toi Whakairo at the New Zealand Institute for Māori Arts and Crafts in Rotorua. John graduated with honours in 1972.

The Ngā Hau e Whā project

Working on the Waharoa marae.

Ngā Hau E Whā National Marae.

1983, John (blue top) filmed by TVNZ covering the building of a new marae, Ngā Hau E Whā.

In 1980, John began work on the meeting house and dining room at Ngā Hau e Whā National Marae in Christchurch. This marae was established with the vision that Māori from the North Island would have a place to meet, and call their own. This marae became only National Marae for all the peoples of New Zealand regardless of tribe, religion or ethnicity.

Trainee Carvers trained and worked under the instruction of John. It was the first time that many Māori had the opportunity to work with other Māori on a quintessentially Māori project where participants were valued for expressing their culture.

The fully carved wharenui, Aoraki, with its beautiful Tukutuku panels, kōwhaiwhai and tōtara carvings remains the largest of its kind in New Zealand. The project was completed in 1990 and the Marae has been used as a centre for culture, education and entertainment. John continues to carve for many projects today.