Topic: Tuti Tukaokao (1929-2001)

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Master Carver Tuti Tukaokao (1929-2001) left a significant legacy and cultural contribution in his work which can be seen throughout Tauranga and the Western Bay.

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Tuti Tukaokao (also known as Tony Tukaokao) was born in Tauranga on 29 September 1929. Raised by his grandparents in Judea he belonged to the iwi of Ngati Ranginui and Te Arawa, but his main hapu links were with Ngaitamarawaho of Judea and Ngati Hangarau of Bethlehem.

He went to Otumoetai Primary School then transferred to Bethlehem Native School when it opened. Tukaokao started whittling wood as a child and later worked under master carvers on meeting houses which included Judea, Hairini, Te Takinga, Moko and Bethlehem.

In 1966 Tukaokao and John Taiapa were appointed as the foundation carvers for the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua, a place where Tukaokao was to spend the next 22 years instructing others in the art of carving.

Sculpture by Tuti Tukaokao  (Grey Street, Tauranga)

During his lifetime he contributed to the carving of 26 meeting houses, four waka taua (war canoes) and numerous commissioned carvings which now adorn civic and educational facilities both in New Zealand and internationally.

Tauranga's magnificent waka, Te Awanui, is held under cover on The Strand in Tauranga. Te Awanui is the original name of Tauranga Harbour. The waka was carved from a 300-year-old Kauri tree by Tukaokao in 1972 after a request by the City to the Maori Cultural and Promotional Committee. It was agreed that Tauranga Moana should have its own ceremonial waka to use on special occasions when celebrating the history of Tauranga. 

Te Awanui (waka)

Tukaokao came out of retirement to supervise the carving of an 11-metre waka from hinuera stone for the entrance to Otumoetai School.

The week prior to Tukaokao's death he was convicted in the Rotorua High Court on charges of rape and indecent assault, for which he received a five-and-a-half year jail sentence. Justice Priestley said that 'the offending represented a huge loss of mana for Tukaokao'. It was unfortunate for his victims that he was to die just a week later.

Knowing he was terminally ill, Tukaokao had carved his own casket in early 2001. He died of colon cancer on 6 June 2001 (reg. 2001/12043). His body lay in state on the Judea marae of Ngaitamarawaho in the Tamateapokaiwhenua meeting house; the house which he, as a promising young carver aged 19, was invited to help carve in the 1950s.

Works: (list under construction)

  • 1950s: Learned carving skills whilst helping on Tamatea Pokai Whenua at Huria Marae in Tauranga (opened May 1956).
  • 1963: Polynesian Cultural Centre project, Temple View, Hamilton.
  • 1972: Te Awanui waka carved from a 300-year-old Kauri tree.
  • 1974: The Legend of Taiwhanake - Tauranga City Council.
  • 1980s: Te Ika-a-Maui mural - Park Heritage Hotel, Rotorua.
  • 1981: Maui Taming the Sun mural - McDonalds, Rotorua.
  • 1981: The Eruption of Mount Tarawera - McDonalds, Rotorua.
  • 1981: Koruru, Wheku and Manaia mural - McDonalds, Rotorua.
  • ?: 11-metre waka from hinuera stone for the entrance to Otumoetai School.
  • 1994: Fish Hook - stone - 950 x 600 x 350mm.
  • 1995: Tangaroa - stone - 460 x 200 x 120mm.
  • 1996: Te Matau a Maui - stone.
  • 2000: Bay of Plenty Polytechnic stainless steel sculpture representing the three kete of knowledge.

by Debbie McCauley (2013).



Bay of Plenty Times (9 November 2000).

Bay of Plenty Times (21 February 2001).

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Mataora The Living Face: Contemporary Maori Artists (2005) by Witi Ihimaera, Sandy Adsett and Cliff Whiting.

New Zealand Herald (1 June 2001).

New Zealand Herald (7 June 2001).

The Carver and the Artist: Maori Art in the Twentieth Century (2008) by Damian Skinner.


How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2013). Tuti Tukaokao (1929-2001). Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2013)


This page archived at Perma CC in November of 2016:

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Tuti Tukaokao (1929-2001)

First Names:Tuti
Last Name:Tukaokao
Date of Birth:29 September 1929
Place of Birth:Judea, Tauranga
Date of death:6 June 2001
Place of death:Tauranga Hospital
Occupation:Master Carver