Masterton's Aratoi Museum puts Ngati Kahungunu taonga on display

by Sharon Stephenson / 18 August, 2017

A korere or feeding gourd from the Pukengaki area (Auckland Museum).

Prized 19th-century artefacts are among iwi treasures that have returned to the Wairarapa.

It’s taken more than 110 years but an elaborately carved wahaika (hand weapon) has finally come home – one of 200 items on display in Te Marae o Rongotaketake: Redressing our Kahungunu History, at Masterton’s Aratoi Museum until September 3.

Exhibition curator Haami Te Whaiti says this is the largest collection of Ngati Kahungunu taonga ever assembled. “Most were sourced from the museum’s own collection and from around New Zealand, but we’ve also brought back items such as the wahaika from the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles.” 

The wahaika was carved from celluloid (a substitute for bone) by Jacob Heberley in the late 19th century for Greytown’s Papawai Marae, before being presented to the 5th Earl of Ranfurly, Uchter Knox, who served as Governor-General in New Zealand from 1897-1904. It was later sold to the Wellcome Trust in London, and then given to the Fowler Museum in the 1960s, among a collection of some 30,000 pieces from all over the world. Other artefacts on display at Aratoi include waka, traditional cloaks, contemporary works and 11 Gottfried Lindauer portraits.

Ngati Kahungunu is the third-largest tribal group in New Zealand. Work on cataloguing the taonga began four years ago, and the exhibition aligns with the signing of the iwi’s treaty settlement deed for 2.5 million acres, one of the largest land claims in the North Island.

“It’s been a 30-year process, but we are pleased to be able to end it at the museum,” says Te Whaiti, one of the settlement negotiators.

He says the exhibition focuses on the future, as well as the past. “It’s about who we are as Kahungunu, about colonisation and the taking of our land, as well as our future aspirations.

This was published in the September 2017 issue of North & South.

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