Mana whenua's 'hearts are broken' after head of Māori carving post on Great Barrier Island sawn off and taken

The head of a Māori carving post on Great Barrier Island has been sawn off and taken - and mana whenua and other locals believe it's an act of racism.

It comes after new water controls have been put in place for the area around the island. 

Mana whenua are upset and worried following the provocative act.

"We now have racism coming out in the open and desecration of something that we hold most special is one of the worst things they could do for one of our sacred mahi, and that's around rāhui and the installation of pou whenua," said Jeff Cleave.

In Māori tradition, a pou whenua carving is a boundary marker post that also performs a spiritual function, acting as a kaitiaki, or guardian, and carvings like these are tapu.

To have the head, the most sacred part, sawn off and taken away is an insult that's come as a huge shock.

"Our hearts are broken and our minds are shying away from the enormity of this terrible mahi that's been done."

The vandalised carving was positioned at Okupe and is one of three pou placed around Aotea (Great Barrier Island) just last year. 

As part of the co-governance response to the discovery of an invasive exotic seaweed, mana whenua imposed a rahui and earlier this month, Biosecurity New Zealand backed it by imposing legal controls on some water-based activities, including anchoring vessels in the area.

Long-time local Izzy Fordham and chairperson of the Aotea Great Barrier local board told Newshub she's never seen vandalism like this before.

"To chainsaw the head of the fallen pou, and we haven't even been able to find that yet - do they take that home as a trophy piece? What are we talking about here? it's tragic and I'm absolutely dumbfounded."

Jeff Cleave, a Ngāti Rehua Ngāti Wai ki Aotea descendant, said racism has historically been on the island but is now at another level. 

"The ugly face of racism that hides in the closet now feels empowered to come out in the open and do what they will without thought or consequence. The issue we have [is] that these people have broken tapu and in that they have made themselves unsafe." 

The matter has been referred to police, however, mana whenua hopes that the culprit will seek help immediately.

Mana whenua's 'hearts are broken' after head of Māori carving post on Great Barrier Island sawn off and taken