Topic: Whatanoa Gateway - FMG Stadium Waikato

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History behind the carved gateway at FMG Stadium Waikato.

Te Whatanoa Gateway

Unlike any other sporting ground in New Zealand, FMG Stadium Waikato (formerly Waikato Stadium) in Hamilton is home to the Whatanoa Gateway, an elaborately carved wooden structure which dominates the eastern side of the stadium.

History of the ground and its surrounds

Originally occupied by the chief Taiko of Ngaati Te Ao, a sub tribe of Ngaati Wairere, Whatanoa Pa and its urupa or burial ground, stood on what is now know as Beetham Park. Ngaati Te Ao lost their pa to two Waikato fighting chiefs named Hanui and Hotumauea who killed Taiko in hand-to-hand combat for the pa in the late 1600s. After the Pa fell to Hanui and Hotumauea the decapitated head of Taiko was elevated on a food storage platform or whata as a desecration of his mana, therefore, removing any tapu or sacredness making it ‘noa' and hence the name ‘Whatanoa'.

After the remains of the urupa were exhumed in 1922 and the extensive construction that has taken place over time there is no evidence of the original ditches or pa can be seen today, however there is confirmation on aerial photographs right up until 1945 as to where the pa once stood.

Redevelopment of the FMG Waikato Stadium

During the redevelopment of the Stadium in 2002, it was decided recognition of Whatanoa Pa be taken into account and commemorated. After much consultation with Ngaa Mana Toopu o Kirikiriroa, The Waikato Stadium Trust, Hamilton City Council and others it was decided that a waharoa or gateway would be commissioned, constructed and erected.

What is a waharoa and what is its significance? "A waharoa is traditionally a carved archway which taua, or war party would pass through when heading to war, when they pass through that archway they were completely committed to Tumatauenga (the God of War) and they knew that there was no coming back, they were absolutely committed to warfare. In todays world we need something like a waharoa to bring a sense of that warrior essence out in our players. They are there to defend that ground in battle. So, we are more or less introducing a very old tikanga, or custom into a modern setting in terms of sports like rugby which is really ritualised warfare", Mr Wiremu Puke.

It was this description that helped secure the Whatanoa Gateways place in the FMG Stadium Waikato. With the support of the Perry Foundation, The Scottwood Trust, the Hamilton City Council, Ngaa Mana Toopu o Kirikiriroa, Richard and Marie Wymer and; Steven and Glenda Saunders the project came to fruition and Whatanoa was recognised as an important part of our local and social history.


Whatanoa Gateway


Design and Construction

The Designer
Wiremu PUKE (1964 - )
Wiremu Puke, of Ngaati Wairere descent, is a well-known carver in his own right. Wiremu believes that having been exposed to carved meeting houses on the East Coast of Aotearoa from a very young age influenced him and fuelled his desire to be a carver. Wiremu recalls that as a child he would often sit and look at the carved forms which adorn meeting houses such as Porourangi in Waiomatatini on the east coast, Turangawaewae in Ngaruawahia and his own marae Hukanui in Gordonton, and be spellbound by what each form conveyed. From an early age Wiremu displayed the characteristics of a carver, from creating pieces of work with his fathers' screwdrivers, to caving fence posts on his fathers' farm; he even won a school art competition at age six for turning a soap bar into a hei tiki.

As an adult, Wiremu spent many years at the New Zealand Arts and Craft Institute in Rotorua where he perfected his craft, under the tutelage of some of countries best carvers. Attending the institute raised his expectations of other carvers and today he still frowns upon poor workmanship, he is a firm believer that good workmanship reflects the mana of the local people, it gives them a sense of pride and dignity and that is conveyed in the work and what it portrays.

Over the years, Wiremu has mastered the art of using stone tools, greenstone chisels and stone adze as opposed to more modern steel tools. The use of steel tools in Aotearoa has been in existence for over 200 years, however for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Cook and other settlers, Polynesians existed as a stone tool culture. As a carver, Wiremu feels that the change to steel tools has changed the art of carving forever, therefore, Wiremu would like to retain as much of the old world style carving as possible and he is an advocate for the use of stone tools and traditional methods.

The Design
Based on the waharoa concept and drawing on traditional patterns and styles, Wiremu has captured many aspects of carving that reflect back to a pre-European era. There are two pieces within the waharoa that are based on a pou whakamarahara (a memorial post) and a waka, both of which are held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The significance of the pou whakamahara is that it is carved in a style which is known to be from the Taupiri area and has links to the Ngaati Wairere ancestress, Koura, the grandmother of Hotumauea who is portrayed on the gateway. The carvings on the gateway symbolise the ancient traditions and landmarks of the Tainui people and in particular Ngaati Wairere who resided in the area before relocating to Hukanui, Gordonton.

With the historical significance in mind Wiremu drew the designs for carver, Darren Lee of Ngaati Maniapoto to follow and chose the colour scheme of traditional ochre for Darren's wife Tui to paint the structure in to further reflect the local and historic nature of the piece.

Carved on only one side to ensure the structural integrity of the piece, the Whatanoa Gateway stands at 15 meters tall and is made up of five large pieces which resemble the carved frontage of a waharoa which adorn some of the countries marae.
• Tekoteko - carved figure on the gable of a house
• Maihi - facing boards on the gable of a house
• Amo - upright supports of the lower ends of the maihi on the front gable of a house
• Raparapa - the projecting portion of the maihi, or facing board on the gable of a house

The figures and patterns
Tekoteko: The tekoteko represents Uenuku. Wiremu describes Uenuku as being one of the most sacred ancient Maaori gods; he was one of the most supreme of all in the traditional stories of creation within Tainui and rightfully earns his place as the gateways figurehead.




Maihi: With the depiction of local land marks such as the Waikato and Waipa rivers, Taupiri, Kairoi, Pirongia, Maungatautari and Hangawera mountains and hill ranges. Each of the maihi is slightly different. To the left of the tekoteko is the Waipa River and the whakatauki or proverb "Waikato horo pounamu" which represents the fierce fighting nature of the Waikato people. "Waikato horo pounamu or Waikato swallows a greenstone" refers to the battle which happened near Te Awamutu at Lake Ngaroto where Waikato defeated a larger invading force against the odds. Following the battle, Waikato removed the greenstones from the bodies of the slain chiefs on the battlefield; therefore, this proverb encapsulates the victorious nature and fighting spirit of the warrior.  "Waikato taniwharau, he piko, he taniwha" represents the Chiefs who lived at each bend along the banks of the Waikato River who is likened to a taniwha, this denotes the mana of the Waikato people.

Amo: On the uprights of the structure two formidable Ngaati Wairere chiefs who reigned over the land on which the FMG Stadium Waikato and Hamilton City now stands. With his full facial moko, Hanui stands to the left, while Hotumauea is to the right.




Maui and Rongo: Maui is the figure which sits below Hanui. He was traditionally known to be a trickster who used his cunning, nerve and deception to go beyond the boundaries of luck, he symbolises the need to take risk, be combative and competitive in sport. Below Hotumauea is Rongo, the ancient deity for sports, pastimes and the harvesting of food and as Maaori traditionally held games after the harvest, Rongo is associated with Maaori sports.




As both these figures are painted in the Waikato colours of red, yellow and black which supports all sporting codes that use the stadium to encompass the spirit of sport in the Waikato.

Raparapa: On the raparapa to the left and closest to Tristram Street is an interlocking pattern carved in the kawa o Ngaati Wairere - the tangata whenua of this land. The figure represents Hani, a Tainui war god. The spiral carving represents the mauri or life force of Whatanoa Pa and the history of the people who lived in and around the pa. To the right is Puna, the female Tainui deity of cultivation and peace offerings. The spiral patterns symbolise hope, expectations and opportunities. Puna is also associated with women who not only partake in but support Waikato sports and their teams.




The players' tunnel
Because a traditional waharoa is a large structure, it would be impossible to build such a structure for the players benefit without obstructing the view of the field, with the help and vision of Ken Williamson - Chairperson of the Scottwood Trust, Wiremu incorporated carvings inside the players tunnel to allow the same sense of ownership when the players pass onto the field as they would with a waharoa. A carved pare and poupou adorn the entranceway and players are invited to tap these on their way past so that the mauri or life force of successive players can be passed on from one to another.


Players' tunnel carvingPlayers tunnel carving


The future
Wiremu would eventually like to see another waharoa built on the south western side of the stadium that addresses the themes of Ngaa Hau e Wha, for those who journey from the four winds and not Waikato centric incorporating themes such as the silver fern, the Olympic rings and other regional carving styles.

 The information in this article was taken from an interview conducted with Wiremu Puke in January 2010.  The transcript and recording of this interview will be made available through the Heritage Collection at Hamilton City Libraries shortly.








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Whatanoa Gateway - FMG Stadium Waikato

Name:Whatanoa Gateway
Subject:Carved gateway at Waikato Stadium
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Whatanoa Gateway - FMG Stadium Waikato by stardust is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License