A six-metre-tall statue in the Manawatu Gorge has been attacked by vandals who used steel-cutting equipment to cut off its phallus.

Te Āpiti Manawatu Gorge Governance Group described the attack on the landmark, which occurred on Tawa Loop Track on the night of 30 December, as disrespectful and extremely disappointing.

Rangitāne o Manawatū governance group representative Danielle Harris said the statue commemorated Whatonga, a significant ancestor.

The statue not only acknowledged his place in Rangitāne’s whakapapa and history, it was also a way to educate visitors to the gorge about the iwi.

“The patterns on his statue tell his great story as a chief and explorer. To say we are disgusted to have a part of that story so disrespectfully removed is an understatement,” she said.

“It clearly shows the ignorance and lack of understanding by some individuals of art and its place in our world. We encourage those responsible to front up to the act.”

Governance group chair Fiona Gordon, who is also a Horizons Regional councillor, said the well-known statue would be repaired.

“Whatonga is one of the most visually represented icons of the wider Manawatū and Rangitāne. He is photographed by local, national and international visitors, is on the front page of our local paper, greets people at the airport and has featured in many other places. It’s really hard to believe that someone would go to so much effort to disfigure him and we share the disappointment of our iwi partners,” she said.

Gordon said the group was made aware of the attack on December 31 and urged anyone who knew who was responsible to contact the police.

The perpetrator had to carry steel-cutting equipment a significant distance up the track to reach the statue.

“Efforts will be made to restore him to his proper state as soon as possible and we hope those responsible know they will not succeed in diminishing his mana through their premeditated, disrespectful actions,” Gordon said.

Mavis Mullins, the governance group’s Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua representative, said vandalism of art was unacceptable.

Throughout history, art was often explicit in its portrayal of the human form, from Michelangelo’s statue of David to Titian’s painting of Venus.

Mullins said anyone who felt strongly about the artworks in Te Āpiti should instead contact the governance group for a “progressive and educated discussion”.

It is not the first time a statue has been attacked in this manner.

In 2006 three men were captured on CCTV using a chisel to remove the phallus from a carved pou outside Whangārei Library.

The damaged appendage was dropped into the library’s night return slot some weeks later.