Ngāti Kahungunu's treasure trove

By Marena Mane

Ngāti Kahungunu is putting a "treasure trove of language jewels"  on display this week in Hawke's Bay.

They are in manuscripts charting Ngāti Kahungunu history, particularly the Repudiation Movement, led by Henare Matua of Porangahau. The movement rejected sales and leases to Pākehā and had its own Te Reo newspaper.

The exhibition: Mārama: Manuscripts with memory, an intimate audience with Ngāti Kahungunu tīpuna, is the result of a research project by Eastern Institute of Technology Professor David Tipene-Leach and EIT archivist Waitangi Teepa. The collection includes letters between Māori leaders of the 1800s and records by Māori land court scribe J T Blake. 

Tipene-Leach is currently working on the records for the whanau as well as 870 letters from all across the country addressed to Henare Matua. 

“The big thing about working in this way, working with archives is that we are able to see what the old people in their times were doing, what they were thinking, what their troubles were. So it’s important to know that one of the collections here is about rangatira from up and down the coast, indeed from around the country, who were writing about the troubles they were having, mostly land troubles but not completely, writing about their troubles to the repudiation movement.”

Whanau caches

Tipene-Leach there are many families, whānau, hapū who have huge caches of manuscripts tucked under the bed, tucked in a case in the backroom or down the back room of the marae.

"These papers are everywhere and one of the things we have been able to do is not to create an archive We aren’t creating an archive, we’re creating an opportunity for whānau to be able to see they can archive their own records, they can care for their own records and they need to come out from under the bed into acid-free boxes to be catalogued, so that we can all sit around and get a good look at what our tupuna were saying to us.”

EIT archivist Waitangi Teepa is also a lexicologist and “word freak” according to Tipene-Leach and has come upon words that have never been seen anywhere else.

“Ko tētahi o ngā kupu. One of the words is ‘rongotaima', the word for mortgage. So, it’s like oh hello, what on earth does this mean and it’s kind of like, rongo taima, you will hear about the time when you need to give this money back to me. So, in that word, you can see the deception of what was going on at that time.”

“It was not a mortgage that was repayable at a particular time. It was a mortgage that they were able to call up.”

Unknown whakatauki

Tipene-Leach says he is not a Māori language expert but Teepa has seen a "whole bunch" of words in the manuscripts that are very particular to Ngāti Kahungunu that he has not seen before.

“Certainly the other things in here are whakatauki that we haven’t seen before. Whakatauki that we thought came around the turn of the century and here they are back in the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s being used.”

“Different euphemisms, different ways of writing. There is a treasure trove of language jewels in this archive.”

“The main thing we wanted to do was to acknowledge the families who have given us these treasures and of course given, it’s not given - ā pākehā nei. It’s given - ā Māori nei, so we, the kaitiaki for these, for a period of time and they will be able to determine what happens next." 

Tipene-Leach says he thinks that one of the things about Kaitiakitanga Māori is acknowledging the families, to let them know what they have done with their records and where they are all headed next. 

Māori archive questions

“We are posing the question here in Hawke’s Bay and I’m sure it’s been posted around the country. What should we be doing with Māori archives? What’s the difference between a Māori archive and a mainstream archive? Are there different rules? Do we do different things? Are there different outcomes?”

People from the galleries, libraries, archives, and museums sector are going to the exhibition to discuss that on the second day of the exhibition.

“Day three is about showing to our tauira, possibilities for work and their future and their research, so places that they can go, things that they can do with the reo that they have learned here at EIT.”

Tipene-Leach says the question about repatriation, the question about Māori whānau, Māori hapū, Māori iwi taking care of their own taonga "is really big".

"It’s a huge post-settlement question as we get over ourselves and get over some of the troubles of the past and we look forward to the development of the future.”

“Archiving and the re-claiming of taonga is certainly one of those things and I have to say that we’re involved in some of that. Within my own hapū we’re involved in re-claiming carvings and what we have found is that the museum is extremely open. So, the day when post-settlement governance entities run their own whare taonga is definitely here.”