Rongowhakaata taonga and stories to be exhibited at Te Papa

In the moving ceremony, Rongowhakaata iwi carried their taonga onto Rongomaraeroa marae to mark the beginning of their time as Iwi in Residence at Te Papa, in advance of their exhibition opening later in 2017.

Representatives of the iwi travelled from Gisborne, following a consignment of over one hundred of the taonga which will be exhibited for two and a half years in their iwi exhibition Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow at the national museum.

Te Papa Kaihautū (Māori Co-leader) Dr Arapata Hakiwai says the Rongowhakaata iwi exhibition will continue the original intention of the Iwi Exhibition Programme in enabling iwi to tell their own stories and histories, and present their taonga in their own way.

“Conveying the richness of the Māori world was always an important dimension of this programme and Te Papa is honoured to have Rongowhakaata in residence sharing their taonga with the nation,” he says.

Rongowhakaata Kaumātua Lewis Moeau says, “The taonga has been brought together for this exhibition in a dedicated effort by the tribe’s five marae – Manutūkē, Ōhako, Pāhou, Te Kurī, and Whakatō, each of which participated in the Rongowhakaata Marae Exhibition Rukupo in 2016.”

June 12 2017 marks 150 years since the first accession record of Rongowhakaata’s whare whakairo (carved meeting house) Te Hau ki Tūranga was entered into the records of the Colonial Museum account books. The whare was confiscated earlier that year by the Minister of Native Affairs and Acting Director of the Colonial Museum, James Crowe Richmond supported by government troops.

In 2012, as part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement between Rongowhakaata and the Crown, the New Zealand government apologised for the forcible removal of Te Hau ki Tūranga, stating that the whare belongs to Rongowhakaata.

The Colonial Museum made extensive changes to the house in the 1920s and 1930s. Rongowhakaata is now developing a plan to restore the whare during the term of their residency at Te Papa.

Dr Hakiwai says, “The Pōwhiri yesterday starts a new chapter where past injustices can be recognised and pathways of reconciliation and healing advanced. We look forward to working together with Rongowhakaata and actively assisting them with their cultural heritage aspirations.”

Lewis Moeau says, “The relationship between Rongowhakaata and Te Papa Tongarewa is not a new relationship, but an opportunity for closer continuation of that long standing whanaungatanga (relationship, kinship) that commenced in the early 1990’s.”

The exhibition Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow focuses on the iwi’s dramatic story of innovation and adaptation and their visceral need to express their world through the spectrum of arts. The theme of light and shadow refers to the impact of light on the iwi’s environment, the East Coast landscape, and how this influences their artistry. It is also a metaphor for their story of dynamic contrasts, founded on their enduring relationships with their land and among their people.

Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow has been led by Rongowhakaata with the support of Te Papa. The exhibition will use technology, animations and music to help bring these stories to life.