A mature Totara tree reaches up to 30 metres in height. The leaves are small, narrow at both ends and are dull brownish-green. They are stiff and prickly to touch. Totara is also recognized by the distinctive stringy bark, which flakes off in thick brown slabs.
- The huge Maori waka taua [canoe], capable of carrying 100 warriors, were often hollowed out from a single Totara log.
- Maori used the wood for large carving and framing for whare [houses].
- The inner bark was used for roofing and for storage containers.
- A pointed Totara stick could be scraped on a slab of softer wood such as mahoe to make fire.
- The smoke from the wood was used as a cure for a skin complaint, and boiled bark was used to reduce a fever.
- A valued food, the Maori collected the bright red fruit, which are sweet and juicy with a slightly piney flavour.
- Since European times, huge areas of Totara have been felled to supply general building timber, railway sleepers, telephone poles, house piles fencing etc due to its natural durability and dimensional stability.
Rata and the Totara
Needing to build a waka [canoe], Rata went into the forest and felled a large totara tree. Exhausted he went
home to return the next day to carve the waka. When he came back to the site the next day he found the tree standing upright again. Rata was confused so, after felling the tree again, he hid in
the forest and waited and watched. After dark, thousands of birds and insects began putting the tree back together again, chip by chip. With powerful chants they lifted the tree back onto its
stump. Rata leapt from the bushes angry that the hakaturi (forest spirits) were playing a trick on him. They chastised him for cutting the tree without asking Tane’s permission. Humbled, Rata
performed the karakia [prayers] and built a mighty waka from the totara tree.
He iti te matakahi pakaru rikiriki te tötara
A wedge may be small, but it can reduce the tötara to splinters.
The cabinet draws its inspiration from:
- The action of using a wedge to split a totara log ready for carving.
- The form references a house pile (one of its popular uses as a durable timber).
- The surface represents the distinctive bark pattern of the totara tree.
- The wedge cut from the cabinet refers to the story of Rata and the Totara with the small forest creatures rebuilding the ‘trunk’ of the tree.