Locums for a Small World Blog

Think of it as a cross between ancient art and a great daily catch

Posted by Saralynn White
A traditional Maori carving

Alan M. Wagner, MD, is a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology from Oklahoma. He and his wife, Roz, traveled to the North Island of New Zealand for his first locum assignment with us and they loved it so much they went back for another adventure. This just in from New Zealand:


Last year, when my wife, Roz, and I visited Whanganui, New Zealand, we met a fellow at the weekly market by the name of Cain Peke. Cain is a Maori bone and greenstone carver. I was fascinated by his work, which was simple in form yet complex in meaning. It was some of the most beautiful carving that I have seen in our travels throughout the North Island. I asked Cain if he taught his work to others; he said yes, and that he would be happy to 'tutor' me. I knew I would not be able to learn from him during our stay last year, but I kept his brochure anyway.

Beautiful WanganuiNow that we are back in New Zealand, Roz and I went to see Cain again yesterday at the market. He agreed to take me on as a very art-and-symbol-challenged 'Ameerican', as the Kiwis call our sort. Cain told me he would teach me the art of bone carving from the very first step to the finished product.

He taught me to clean the meat and other debris off of fresh beef bones with a very sharp knife; cut the bones on a band saw; clean the marrow from the bones in a hot water and bleach bath; and then let the bones dry. From there, I looked through the many volumes of Maori symbols and contemporary art Cain has compiled over many years. He made both of us a cup of coffee and I questioned him thoroughly on what I was about to undertake.

maori-boats-new-zealandI selected a fish hook or Hei-Matau to carve.The Hei-Matau is very important to Maori history and heritage, as the early Maoris used the sea as a place to find food. Today, the Hei-Matau represents strength, abundance, prosperity, fertility and a strong respect for the sea. It is also viewed as a good luck talisman for anyone traveling over the oceans. I was to draw the design I chose, right on a piece of beef bone. That was the most difficult part of all, transforming the design and the bone into a single 'palette' from which I would create my carving. To carve my own Hei-Matau, I used a band saw, a fret saw, a sanding wheel, needle files, and some sandpaper.

I glazed the surface with Brasso metal polish; then I spent about 15 minutes bringing it to a shiny finish. Cain then tied special knots in brown waxed polyester braid from which I would suspend my Hei-Matau around my neck. Before I put it on, I put the carving in my hand and—with his hands clasped over mine—Cain said a special prayer in both Maori and English. He wished both Roz and safe travels in his land; he also blessed the taonga or 'treasured thing'' he had given to me along with the knowledge of the Maori art of bone carving.

What a blessing I have received during my four hours with Cain. Moments like this make this journey so special for us.


We found an interesting video of Maori bone carving using a hand saw, dremil and chisel you can watch here:

Topics: Dr. Alan Wagner, Maori bone carving, Cain Peke, Maori History, Hei-Matau

Locums for a Small World Blog

Twice a month, our inquisitive locum tenens community asks us to tackle topics ranging from cuisine and culture to recreation and entertainment. We also include great storytelling from our doctors. Have a topic you’d like to read about? Let us know.

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