Did people feel a slight rumble as the hand carved, dark wooden statue of Rūaumoko, was placed respectfully on the table?
“Perhaps a reminder of what Rūaumoko represents,” says, Dr. Ali Sahin Tasligedik Earthquake Research Engineer for the University of Canterbury (UC) and the UC Quake Centre. “Or maybe to say, we are here…we have arrived!”
When Dr. Tasligedik travelled to the sixteenth world conference on earthquake engineering (16WCEE) in Santiago, Chile - he was not alone. The statue of Rūaumoko, representing the Māori mythological god of earthquakes and volcanoes, had come along as well.
One of Dr. Tasligedik’s jobs at this year's conference, (held every four years at 'seismic hot spots' around the world), was to present his research paper. The other - to carry Rūaumoko.
The intricate statue (usually housed in a glass-case at the UC library), has become the revered symbol for the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering as well as the International Association of Earthquake Engineering. At each WCEE a ‘guardian’ is assigned responsibility for Rūaumoko’s travel arrangements and safe delivery home.
It’s a prestigious line of work. “I felt honoured to present at the 16WCEE and also honoured to carry Rūaumoko,” says Dr. Tasligedik. Some of the UC’s most distinguished and internationally recognised earthquake engineers, like Professor Paulay (1923-2009) have been responsible for the statue in conferences past. “So it felt a bit like bearing an earthquake engineering Olympic flame.”
With great honour comes great responsibility though. There are sacred Māori protocols to follow; the statue must always travel facing up; its presence is required at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the conferences, and; be vigilant, (referring to the unfortunate disappearance of the original carved Rūaumoko to a light-fingered passer-by during the 2008 WCEE in Beijing, China).
“Not to mention a few problems getting the wooden (bio-hazard) item through customs, leading to a missed connecting flight,” chuckles, Dr. Tasligedik.
It does seem fitting to have Rūaumoko along. Once unleashed, he packs a powerful punch although it’s ironic to note that the WCEE are full of people working at ways to alleviate his destructive might.
Read more about Dr. Ali Sahin Tasligedik’s presentation of his research at the 16WCEE here.