Mataatua te Waka
Maungapōhatu te Maunga
Ōhinemataroa te Awa
Tūhoe te Iwi
Tamakaimoana te Hapū
“Hokia ki nga maunga kia purea koe e nga hau a Tawhirimatea”
“Return to the mountain that you may be cleansed by the winds of Tawhirimatea”
Born in Rūātoki, John is grandson of Rua Kenana and Ngāpera Riini. He was raised on his family farm with his parents Te Matā and Kui Rua. John has been profoundly deaf since early childhood. He endured many challenges because of not being unable to speak and hear, especially so during his early years at school.
His parents were eventually able to send him to a special school that catered for deaf children. John became fluent in New Zealand Sign Language and his life took a turn for the better when he met his future teacher Hone Te Kauru Taiapa, a Master Carver of Ngati Porou. Under his tutelage, John graduated from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute with Honors in 1972 at the age of 21.
When John Rua was born it was foretold that one day he would be a Tohunga Whakairo. He is held in the highest esteem by his people and throughout Aotearoa. A living Tohunga, his art surpasses that of many of his peers due to his passion, integrity and downright hard work.
John is profoundly deaf and faces challenges with communication wherever he goes, but his hearing impairment has never held him back from achieving success in both his life and his art.
John began learning woodwork at Van Asch School for the deaf. He carved sea creatures, kiwi and zoo animals, and his work was shown in an exhibition, leading to a meeting with Master Carver Hone Te Kauru Taiapa (1911 – 1979) also known as John Taiapa. John Taiapa invited him to learn traditional Toi Whakairo at the New Zealand Institute for Māori Arts and Crafts in Rotorua.
After graduating with honours in 1972, John carved Te Tira Hou meeting house, a purpose-built marae for Tuhoe people living in Auckland. He then went on to Whakatane and with two other master carvers carved a meeting house at Ohope Marae.
In 1973 John received recognition for his service to New Zealand by way of letter from the Rt Honorable Norman Kirk congratulating him on his work and achievements for Māori people.
In 1974 he began work for Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum in the South Island. He carved fourteen Poupou for the museum before moving to the area and continuing to carve on site for them. His other work there includes a Meeting House, two Waka (canoe) and a Pataka (traditional Māori food store).
John then moved to Christchurch where he set up his own business at the Artist’s Quarters in Oxford Terrace. At this time he was equipped with only a set of chisels. There were no vices, tables or machinery. He carved sitting on the floor with his chisels and wood held between his legs. Nonetheless, he produced some amazing work which was sold not only locally but to clients in England, Germany, the USA and Canada.
In 1980 he began work on the meeting house and dining room at Ngā Hau E Whā National Marae, Christchurch. This marae was established with the vision in mind that Māori from the North Island would have a place to come and meet, and call their own. Since then the marae has been known as a meeting place for people from all over the world. Today Ngā Hau E Whā is used by the Courts since the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.
John spent much of the eighties carving at this marae and after time away he returned to complete the job in 1990.
He has spent many years teaching a diverse range of people from all walks of life. A gentle spirit with a natural way with people, he has taught in prisons, schools and on marae.
His has sold his work worldwide and exhibited in Japan.
In 1992 MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan presented John with the Queen’s Medal for Service to New Zealand in recognition of his work. John also won the Kelliher Art Award.
During 1992 – 1995 John completed a contract with Christchurch Polytechnic to carve for Te Mātauranga Māori, the Department for Māori Studies. These Poupou are of a massive size and height, the smallest being over three metres high. He carved these while standing upright on scaffolding.
John returned home to live on his papakainga in Ohaua near Rūātoki in the Bay of Plenty. Since returning home he has completed whakairo work for the meeting house at Otenuku Marae in Rūātoki. He also completed whakairo renovation work at Waikotikoti marae in Te Whaiti.
Currently John is carving for Kelston Deaf School in Auckland to promote Māori pride for the deaf children and he teaches New Zealand Sign language throughout the Eastern Bay of Plenty. He has a very large class here in Rūātoki and is fulfilling his aspiration to communicate freely with the people of his own community.