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Lebon Wilson: Whakairo tauira, Te Kei

Like many Māori tāne, Lebon Wilson struggled with mainstream schooling and left at 14.

It’s taken him a long time to realise the benefits of being able to channel his learning and effort into something that he’s passionate about. That was by discovering whakairo.

“I carve every day. If I’m not carving, I’m learning something, or watching someone,” says Lebon who completed Kāwai Raupapa Level 4 in 2022 at the Papa-i-oea campus of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Before 2022, Lebon had never carved, but immediately he connected with the process and found fulfilment with taking a piece of rakau and turning it into a meaningful taonga.

This year he is enrolled in Toi Paematua Level 5 at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

His commitment to the art form comes from his aspiration to see his tamariki grow up believing it’s normal to have taonga around them.

“I want my children to think it’s strange to not have whakairo in your house. I want my household to have an abundance of it. Whoever’s is in my house, whoever’s close to me will end up with something.”

His first year of study proved challenging as he had to fit noho and classes around his mahi, and it was made even harder that year when he chose to set up his own painting and maintenance business.

But after making changes to his schedule, he was able to make it work and whakairo has been one of his top priorities since.

Learning a valued skill within the kaupapa Māori environment of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa has been the perfect way for him to discover where he belongs.

“You know where you stand in the world now and how you connect to those places and those people. It’s our own people teaching stuff back to us. There’s already a level of being comfortable knowing it’s about you, it’s about your people.”

Learning whakairo has also given Lebon a chance to delve into his own whakapapa, and this has opened doors and conversations within his own whānau and community. He is determined that his own tamariki won’t grow up disconnected like he did.

As there are no carvers in Lebon’s whānau, there has been no one able to create or restore taonga until now. He has started carving small pieces for friends and whānau and is especially proud of the poupou he has nearly completed for his yet-to-be-born daughter.

This year, Lebon applied for and won the Mike Watson Memorial Scholarship. The award is named after a former director of the Papa-i-ōea campus who was committed to the arts as a way of communicating and reviving mātauranga Māori.

It was intended to support a tauira committed to their community and whakairo.

With the funds, Lebon has been able to purchase tools to set up in his garage and carve when it suits.

“My reo journey, that’s for life. But for me, it’s easier to communicate with whakairo, the same meaning. Whakairo comes to me easier.”

Learn more about our toi Māori (arts) programmes

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Published On: 29 February 2024

Article By: Gemma Bradly-Jacka

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