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Walking into Amanaki Prescott’s house, the beauty and craftmanship of dozens and dozens of carvings is overwhelming – it’s hard to know where to look. Sculpted timber features in almost every piece of furniture and on every inch of wall. Each room radiates with the rich timber tones and sleek lines of his sculptures, an Aladdin’s cave of natural beauty.

Tongan carving

When Amanaki was diagnosed with gastric cancer he was given just one month to live. But defying the odds, it’s now almost 12 months later and he continues to respond well to chemotherapy. The Hospice West Auckland team checks in on him regularly, and some days he even feels well enough to work. Despite his family’s urging, Amanaki has no plans to return home to Tonga. Looking around his home, he explains: “This is where I’m happiest. My carvings give me so much joy, I want to stay surrounded by them.”

Amanaki comes from a long, talented bloodline. His uncle, Aleki Prescott, is reputed to be the best carver in Tonga, and the gift clearly runs in the family. His creative talents don’t end there, though. As a young man he taught himself how to play the guitar just by watching it being played in church. He then learned to play the piano and took up song writing. Forming a music group with his friends, they went on to make a total of 14 albums in his beautiful native Tongan language.

It was when Amanaki started work as an arborist that he became aware of his talent for carvings. He can look at a branch or trunk and visualize the work of art he can transform it into. “I follow the inspiration of the wood. Most of these are natural pieces, I follow the grain of the wood so I’m not forcing it,” he says. Gesturing to a wide, waist-high sculpture, he explains how the bowls carved into it part-way up and on the top were natural holes in the wood.

I can clearly see the joy Amanaki’s carvings give him, as he points out some key pieces. “This is made from totara,” he says of one, “it took maybe 60 hours.” He has given away many of his treasures over the years. He’s estimated that he’s made more than 200 21st keys, and tells of the time when he lent eight intricately carved dining chairs to a large family event and only one was returned to him. “They kept the rest, but that’s ok because I can always make more!” he exclaims with a laugh.

Tongan carving

A huge upright bench seat dominates his dining area – a tribute to his late parents and still a work in progress. “The seat represents my mother because she was my support, my anchor, and the back of the bench is my father because he always supported me. I’m still working on the design details,” he says, pointing to the sketched artwork still to be carved out.

Amanaki is a joy to spend time with, clearly taking great delight in the happiness his creations bring to others. “When people visit me they sometimes forget what they came to say because they’re so busy looking at all the artwork. They have to go home and ring me when they remember!” he laughs. “But it makes me so happy to see their reactions.”

Whether it is carving, playing guitar, writing songs or poetry, gardening or cooking, Amanaki is happily living every moment.

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