Carvings found in village are 90‑year
legacy of improbable Edwardian love.
A extraordinary story that began almost 90 years ago with an improbable romance ended this week in a tiny Oxfordshire graveyard after a ceremony over the grave of the Maori princess who became Mrs Richard Staples‑Brown, mistress of Oddington Grange. A group of Maori people had come to the village of Oddington, population 140, to collect an important lost carving, worth at least £10,000, which spent most of the 20th century s a carpenter's workbench.
They joined villagers in chants and prayers over the rave of Makareti Papakuri, known as Maggie in the village Tony Pecotic, a member of her tribe, and like Makareti from a family of musicians and rood carvers, said: "We pay tribute to the people of this land and, and thank you for letting her lay amongst your own."
The vicar, Paul Bond, who as just taken over the parish, bravely blessed the Maori and villagers in return.
Makareti was born in 1872 to an English father. She was brought up by her mother's relations but her father paid for an English school education in New Zealand. She became famous for her beauty, and as a singer, dancer and guide at Rotorua, which flourished as an Edwardian tourist attraction. In 1907 one of the purists was a wealthy English Landowner, Captain Richard Staples‑Brown.
In 1909 the villagers of Rotorua built a magnificent Maori meeting house, buildings that although used for village gatherings and social vents are also regarded as having spiritual power. The carvings, stylised images of noble ancestors, were made by Makareti's uncle Tene Waitere, who was regarded as one of the most outstanding craftsmen of his generation. A large group of singers and dancers, led by Makareti, travelled with the house to an exhibition in Sydney, and then in 1911 to the Festival of Empire at White City in London. Among the Indian temples and Canadian log huts, a Maori village was built, complete, according to newspaper accounts, with a geyser that spouted water every hour on the hour.
Queen Mary and King George V came to sit on the bench in the meeting house and listen to the music. So did Richard Staples‑Brown, by then a widower. When the rest of the group went home, Makareti became Maggie and moved, with her jewellery her musical instruments, her feather cloaks and her meeting house, to Oddington.
The childless marriage did not survive what must have been extraordinary pressures, but after her divorce and her husband's death, Makareti stayed in the area. She studied anthropology at Oxford and died on 16 April 1930, the day after handing the manuscript of her book, The Old Time Maori, to the director of the city's Pitt Rivers Museum. She also chose to be buried in the village graveyard.
In 1946 a curator from the museum was visiting friends in Oddington and spotted a series of carvings from the meeting house built into a pig shed and used as fence posts. She contacted the New Zealand high commission, the carvings were shipped back, and are now displayed in Makareti's native village.
Nobody in Oddington now remembers the princess ‑ the last woman who knew her died some years ago. But villager Glenys Edwards is accustomed to having groups of Maori, who, have come to visit the grave, turn up on her doorstep.
Last summer the village carpenter turned up instead. He was retiring, and clearing out his workshop. He wondered if she wanted the funny bits of carved wood whose flat back he had turned into a handy sized workbench. If not, he said, he would chop them up as firewood for her.
She contacted Alan Gallop, who has become honorary caretaker and historian of another Maori story ‑ the meeting house the fourth Earl of Onslow bought for £50, and brought back to his Capability Brown parkland at Clandon Park, Surrey.
Through a series of faxes and emails between Oxfordshire, Surrey and New Zealand, he established that the carving was from Makareti's house, but was the work of the same carver as the Clandon Park house. The Maori have agreed that the carving can be displayed in Surrey until its final resting place is decided, and the National Trust, which owns Clandon Park, formally accepted guardianship of it yesterday
The carpenter evidently found the carving, which is taller than a man, too awkward and heavy to handle, and he chopped it in half. An expert on Maori art will visit he chopped it in half. An expert on Maori art will visit Clandon this summer to assess whether it can be repaired.
The Maori took no offence. They believe that the carving, which would be worth a small fortune on the flourishing market for antique Maori art work, gains more power from its experiences, from the hands it passes through and from the people who encounter it.
"Better in two pieces than in sawdust," Mr Pecotic said over Makareti's grave. "Things happen, things get forgotten."
Thanks to Teressa for the contribution.