Rangi Hetet's life carving for the people honoured in new film

A new film is documenting the life work of one of carvers who helped to keep the traditional arts alive.

Rangi Hetet's whānau decided to document his carving career in the film Mo Te Iwi - Carving for the People, which is part of this year's New Zealand Film Festival. 

Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt is one of the many marae Hetet left his mark on. Marae around the country have been a focal point for his carving career - and where his journey first began.

"When I was going to college my tribal elders asked me to go carve our meeting house in Waihi, Tāpeka, which surprised me because I wasn't interested in carving."

When he saw how much the carved meeting house meant to people, his perception of carving changed forever.

"It gave me pride to be part of their happiness. You know it made me proud for what I had done."

Missionaries had destroyed and discouraged whakairo, but under the guidance of master carvers Tuhaka Kapua and later John Taipa, Rangi helped to lead the renaissance of carving.

"They were trying to revive the art because it was sort of I suppose like the language disappearing - wasn't so strong."

Over the years he taught at a number of institutes, marae and held wānanga for his carving classes - teaching Māori all around the motu. 

"It was good to see them take an interest in it and feel proud of what they were doing."

 One of his long-time students is Sam Hauwaho. He's been under Rangi's wing for the last 30 years.

"He initially started off being hard but a strict teacher - and I guess that's his the way that he was taught, really. I guess since then he's sort of mellowed out a lot."

Sam followed in Rangi's footsteps and is now teaching a new generation of carvers the traditional carving values passed on to him.

"He's old-school, and I guess I just try to keep those teachings in respect for him."

Veranoa Hetet is Rangi's daughter and is married to Sam - for her, the Māori arts are a way of life.

"When I was growing up being totally immersed in the creative arts I didn't realise what I was growing up in because I thought that that's how everybody lived."

Veranoa says keeping the traditional values of Māori art alive is a fine balance.

"We get excited about new techniques and to mix those with the traditional is really exciting. But they must always must always maintain a sense of integrity about the traditional."

The film comes 20 years after Rangi's late wife Erenora Puketapu Hetet's film Tu Tangata - Weaving for the People.

"There's been lots of time so I've watched that on my own. And so the day will come when I will be watching a video of my dad and remembering."

For Veranoa, her passion for the Māori arts has been handed down the generations.

"I spent every day absolutely immersed in carving and weaving and designing and painting and appreciating Māori art. It's become like breathing." 

Hetet believes carving's taught him many important life lessons. His mahi - a true labour of love.

"Most of all it's given me satisfaction to see people happy - all the sweat and tears to get their houses done, their canoes done - and finally having it opened. 

"It's their work, not mine."

The Hui