|LOCAL LEGEND: Mike Tavioni
Story and photographs by Tara Carr
A legend in his own right.
Local artist Mike Tavioni has dealt with the traditional arts all his life including
carving, writing, composing, fabric painting, tattooing and oil painting.
Carving commercially for the past twenty years, Tavioni has among his many achievements
two rock carvings in place at the Punanga Nui in Avarua where he also has a craft stall
called Local Art.
The Punanga Nui is the local market place, begun at the time of the Maire Nui (Pacific
Arts Festival) which was held in Rarotonga in 1994. Its recent development has been
sponsored by the New Zealand Overseas Development Aid (NZODA) and Tavioni has been
involved with the Punanga Nui project for some time.
Part of the Punanga Nui complex includes an open air stage which was sponsored by a
Chinese delegation who visited a few years ago.
Included in the sponsorship were two rock carvings which are placed on both sides of the
The two carved rocks at either side of the open stage at Punanga Nui in
The rock on the left hand side of the stage represents a compass as each
carving on the rock represents and points to the countries of New Zealand, Tonga, Hawaii,
Rarotonga and the Easter Islands. The remaining space will be used for two more carvings
which will symbolise and point to the islands of Nukuhiva and Austral -- a five island
group east of Mangaia.
Representing the island of New Zealand -- Aotearoa.
||The rock on the right hand side of the stage has various carvings. A
traditional mermaid-like creature with a fish in the background was carved by Mike
Tavioni's brother Henry. Tavioni said that anyone is free to carve in the remaining space.
An unusual sight on the traditional rock are words written in
Chinese which translate into a deeper meaning of Kia Manuia -- what was intended to do,
was done well, said Tavioni.
Statue carved by Mike Tavioni's brother Henry.
|Apart from carving, Tavioni took on the art of traditional tattooing in 1990 with Ben
Nicholls. Tavioni commented that he did so because he felt sorry for the
young people who were putting meaningless tattoos on themselves such as "Born To
Lose" or "I Love Jane".
Tavioni and Nicholls offered more culturally significant traditional designs which held
meaning that Cook Islanders could be proud of. Tavioni said he wanted to revive the use of
traditional motifs of tattooing as an alternative.
His oil painting skills are on display at the University of
the South Pacific (USP) Library where a painting of his niece Ake Tairi at the age of nine
|Recently Tavioni with wife Awhitia, who also carves, travelled to Maui, Hawai'i for
the Celebration of the Canoes event. Each of the Pacific islands represented at the event
had to build a vaka and Tavioni said that on Monday they had a piece of log and by the end
of the week on Friday there was a vaka. Assisting with the vaka was James Mani a young
apprentice who Tavioni has trained since he was thirteen.
|James Mani -- Cook Islands Canoe Carver
James has been Mike Tavioni's apprentice and right hand man for many years. He is a young
and talented carver who recently moved to Melbourne, Australia. Like Mike, he also does
shell, bone and tattoo work.
The completed carved Cook Islands vaka Kehomiaala.
Mike Tavioni and James Mani working on the
MikeTavioni has a hut at Punanga Nui marketplace where wood and bone
carvings can be purchased.