Te Aonui o Ruhia is a commissioned collaborative artwork by Wellington Boys’ and Girls’ Institute (BGI). For the main collaborators Onyx Karati, Leon Hohepa and Ross Davis the artwork grew organically.
The mural is inspired by a 200 year old sacred Maori cloak, which belonged to a Maori woman of considerable mana named Ruhia Porutu. Ruhia, had used the kaitaka paepaeroa (cloak) to save a 13 year old Pakeha’s boys life in Wellington in February 1840. Ruhia offered her cloak and her own life to save Thomas Mackenzie who had broken tapu and according to Maori law had to be killed.
As one of the only youth organisations in Wellington in the 19th century, BGI is interested in telling the story of Thomas Mackenzie and how he formed an enduring relationship with mana whenua.
Mackenzie, later became an elder at St John’s church and is known as the father of Wellington. When he passed away the cloak that saved his life adorned his coffin. Ross conveyed the story to 20 year old Onyx Karati who later visited Te Papa who is its current kaitiaki (guardian).
Te Aonui o Ruhia literally means The great world of Ruhia and has been translated as the third sight of Ruhia.
Aonui also refers to the tāniko pattern of triangles that represents the pursuit of knowledge about the natural world. So it could also be translated as The Triangle of Ruhia. Inside one huge triangle are three large intersecting triangles, that are made up nine small triangles.
Aonui is first month in the Maori year and the artwork heralds both the new beginnings for BGI in its renovated space as well as the new way of being for Pakeha / Maori relationships that the cloak represents.
The words say Te kaitaka tapu; (the sacred cloak) te kaitiaki (the protector), te kaiwhakaora (the saviour).
Onyx Karati & Leon Hohepa, completed the artwork in December 2015.