THE BIG CLAW CLIMBS TO NEW HEIGHTS AT THE SWANSON’S COMPLEX
The iconic Uga (coconut crab) sculpture named the “Big Claw” now greeting visitors to the new Swanson’s complex has caught the attention of many. The sculpture - an idea that transpired out of the Tahiono Art Gallery back in 2011 had taken 4 years in the making what with discussions and design between artist and visionary Mark Cross and Bootleg design, a 3d New Zealand based company.
Back then uga numbers were under threat and Mark Cross envisioned such sculpture as a thought provoking project for uga conservation. Mark, when at the time the uga ban hadn’t been imposed, travelled with a cooked uga to Bootleg for measurement. Impressed at the outset Bootleg was thrilled to be a part of it.
A study conducted by DAFF in collaboration with SPC commencing in 2014 revealed the sad revelation that in a mere 11 months an incredible 10,000 plus ugas were exported out of Niue via suitcases and chilli bins predominantly as gifts for Niuean friends and families residing overseas. While hard to believe for non-Niueans acknowledging 98% of Niue’s population resides overseas, the demand for real Niuean food including the coconut crab is prominent amongst the Niuean overseas community. The findings prompted urgent consultation with key stakeholders and officials resulting in imposing the ban on uga exports. Some Niueans inform previously that regulations were enforced with ongoing monitoring practiced by DAFF. Compliance and enforcement around the uga nowadays is virtually non-existent given the fragility of Niue being so small and people knowing almost everybody with the added lack of human resources in the relevant departments. The ban must be thus seen to help in this respect.
Talk of the Big Claw project was revived in late 2017 with support from Sails Restaurant owner Stafford Guest who’d queried Mark on the status of the project encouraging its fruition. With the exception of Crazy Uga Cafe owner, Willie Saniteli, zero interest [by the private sector] in investment in the project resonated with most noting not much benefit could be derived out of such project.
With the Big Claw now taking centre stage at the entry to the new Swanson’s complex – the sculpture has generated great public interest to the many passing by with cars even stopping to take footage. Mr Cross reveals his intention for the sculpture was to be hyper real and that he’d spent three months in Auckland monitoring the progress which included many hours of research, photo shop mock ups and taking many photos as references.
The project was boosted by long term acquaintance and friend John Heise of W H Groves who Mark reveals was excited from the start so they then had sufficient investors and a suitable location.
Even after several years when asked, Bootleg design were more than happy to continue with the project informing also that the original uga they’d kept still remained in their freezer. The best possible materials were used with longevity and UV protection in mind.
The volunteers are visualising the sculpture be slightly lifted complimented with landscaping the surrounding mound with natural rock formations, ferns and small plants.
Given such expense in creating and importing the Big Claw, the creators of the Big Claw do not want to restrict close access to it but if climbing and sitting on it continues close access will be prevented by a fence which the creators are reluctant to resort to owing to the possible spoiling of the experience for everyone including future generations.
(Acknowledgements: story includes extracts from Team Uga, prepared by Mark Cross)