THREE carvings done for the former Opotiki ANZ Bank 51 years ago by Watene Snell, centre, have been returned to the Omarumutu Marae this week.

A MAN whose carvings were returned to Omarumutu Marae this week credits his former college art teacher with recognising his potential more than a half century ago.

Watene Snell produced the three carvings 51 years ago, after his Opotiki College teacher Jerry Flude saw his talent and connected him with the ANZ Bank.

He was 15 years old at the time.

Mr Snell shared the story with Omarumutu School students attending Tuesday’s repatriation ceremony, urging them to make the most of their educational opportunities.

“Listen to your teachers, they are trying to provide you with opportunities,” he said.

“I am grateful to Jerry Flude who saw the potential in me.”

As a 15-year-old, Mr Snell drew up some design suggestions to present to the ANZ bank, which selected three for carving. He then worked on the carvings during his weekends.

“The middle carving represents the head of the bank, and the outer carvings represent the people, whom the bank is reaching out to,” he said.

The carvings were housed in the Opotiki ANZ until its closure in April 2018.

Former bank manager Ellie Collier was at the repatriation, accompanied by ANZ Whakatane agri manager Jason Parkinson and other ANZ staff.

Mr Parkinson said the carvings had “stood proudly in the ANZ branch while we were the custodians of these taonga”, and were now being returned after 50 years.

Kaumatua Te Riaki Amoamo, who also spoke at the ceremony, brought with him a “tokotoko” – an intricately carved ceremonial Maori walking stick – that had similarly been carved by Mr Snell.

Having been brought up in the town of Opotiki, Mr Snell explained how he had missed out on much of his ancestral knowledge, including te reo, and it wasn’t until he began to spend more time at his marae later that he caught up.

In a deal where knowledge of belonging was traded for his carving skills, he was asked to carve the tokotoko, which portrayed a specific ancestral story.

Mr Snell said he made the tokotoko for Tiwai Amoamo, who died before it could be completed.

He instead passed it onto Mr Amoamo’s wife, Te Urututu Kui Gage, who in turn passed it down to their son, Te Riaki Amoamo.

In return for the completed carving, the elders made true on their promise to tell Mr Snell where his lands were.

“They pointed all around me, saying these were my lands,” he said.