“I don't trust Pouhere Taonga” on the return of Hinemihi whare

updated By Taroi Black

130 years after being sold to Britain, a dispute over the return of carvings from the Hinemihi meeting house in London has erupted.

One descendant of the original ancestor is claiming that they are being locked out of discussions. Te Ohu Wi Kingi is a direct descendant of the original owner of Hinemihi, Aporo Te Wharekaniwha. Te Wharekaniwha commissioned Hinemihi to be built. It was originally situated on his whānau block in Te Wairoa.

“We had a series of meetings and it was about getting her home.”

Wi Kingi tells Te Ao that repatriation discussions (to bring Hinemihi home) started in 2002 with the National Trust from the UK, Hinemihi’s current exhibitors.

The meeting house was built in the late 19th century in Te Wairoa, located near Tarawera Maunga. This area was where the world's modern tourism industry was created.

Te Ohu Wi Kingi with National Trust representatives on Hinemihi's original site / Used with permission.

Then in 2017 Wi Kingi was “enlightened” that progress was being made. More dialogue took place between the National Trust and Wi Kingi for its return. Wi Kingi then invited the National Trust to come and see what would be Hinemihi’s final resting place.

“And then all of a sudden, and up rises this new rōpu my nephews, mokos, so whakahīhī ki a rātou mā (elders) and naughty.”

The rōpu Wi Kingi refers to is Ngā Kohinga Whakairo o Hinemihi. Their mandate comes from the portion of Ngāti Hinemihi that are directly descended from Te Wharekaniwha.

Ruakiri Fairhall from Ngā Kohinga Whakairo o Hinemihi says, Wi Kingi “Has not taken part in any forum, hui or wānanga pertaining to this kaupapa” since November last year.

"Uncle Te Ohu, truly deep down in his heart, he wants her to come home. I haven’t heard what he has said, however, it would be great to have him on board for this kaupapa with us as a member of our whānau and as a former contributor to the current now approved proposal that is our success to celebrate, him included."

Wi Kingi recounts a different story.

“We were takahi by mokos, nephews and nieces. That would never have happened in our mum’s days, no way!”

Heritage New Zealand (Pouhere Taonga) issued a statement that they agree with the cravings from Hinemihi being returned in principle.

Chief executive Andrew Coleman says, “When Ngāti Hinemihi and others welcome her home, we're certainly hoping that she goes back to what we regard to be her home which is Te Wairoa.”

Wi Kingi said that he would carry on because it was the ownership of Hinemihi that matters.

In regards to those that may disregard his right to be part of the process, he says, “Anyone who can sit in front of me and say they own the house, sit in front of me because the first thing I will throw at them 'kōrero mai and you start with your whakapapa'."

As for Pouhere Taonga, Wi Kingi’s words, were short and succinct.

“I don't trust Pouhere Taonga.”

This article has been updated to include comment from Ruakiri Fairhall from Ngā Kohinga Whakairo o Hinemihi for the purposes of balance.