Now at the end of a two-week stay on his home island of Aitutaki, Hewett is on a mission to preserve and pass along the stories and traditions of his forefathers, by gathering them together in the form of a graphic novel, which he hopes will eventually be distributed throughout the country, as well as amongst Cook Islands communities in both New Zealand and Australia.
And while yesterday’s painting depicted the defeat of the giant Tairi Te Rangi by Aitutaki warrior Pukenga, who disguised himself as a vaine and danced to entice the giant warrior in close before stabbing him through the eye with a sharpened stick, the talented artist has also already completed several other paintings of events from Aitutaki lore.
Drawn by way of what he calls a “speed painting exercise”, Hewett has also illustrated a scene from the story of Varopana and Varokura.
“This the story of a vaine who entrusted her husband to travel to Avaiki below and come back,” explains Hewett. “But alas he fell in love with a siren from Avaiki below and together they produced a son.” His painting shows a forlorn-looking Varopana searching for where her husband went to the world below.
A third painting captures the time Aitutaki was invaded by warriors from the west.
“A message was sent to Marouna in Rarotonga, who had ancestry to Araura, to help,” says Hewett. “Marouna collected a band of warriors from Ngaputoru to help free Aitutaki of duress.
“Outnumbered, they went by night, feeling for the heavy heads in the dark, who would belong to the invaders.”
The painting shows the warriors Marouna of Rarotonga and Taratoa of Atiu as they go about their deadly business under a starry night sky.
Finally, one of Hewett’s most recent Aitutaki-based works is of the brothers Te Erui and Matareka, who made several attempts to reach Aitutaki in their vaka.
“After their first vaka was turned back by a storm the brothers, with the blessing of the priest, built a new vaka and set out again from their homeland and arrived on the west side of Aitutaki.
“After defeating Ru Enua’s descendants they were able to land on the reef. Here, Te Erui cuts through the reef at Te Rua-i-kakau to allow his vaka to enter, with his famous adze ‘Haumapu’.”
While Hewett’s interpretations of these Aitutaki stories have been gleaned from the many elders, storytellers and family members he’s spoken to over the past two decades, the 47-year-old artist, carver and sculptor says he welcomes any and all feedback on his work.
“I got on the radio here (in Aitutaki) and I just said, ‘Look, anybody who’s got something to say, please put it down on Facebook – you will receive the acknowledgement,” says Hewett.
“This is not a Clinton Hewett book, this is a book using my talents for the Aitutaki enua.
“Maybe we are going to get some questions over some of the stories – but that’s what we want, and that way we can adjust the stories to keep their integrity.
“It’s all about preserving our culture and our way of life back then – and that’s really important, because I see it changing every day.
“It’s just good to keep it alive – this is something that our community needs to be a part of.”