Rotorua Museum show 15 taonga to Tuhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao

By Herewini Waikato

This week staff from the Rotorua Museum showed 15 taonga of importance and connection to the people of Tuhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao as a chance for iwi to add their narratives to the information obtained for the taonga over the years.

This was also an opportunity for some to discuss whether or not returning them or keeping them was the best idea.

Rotorua City Council Te Arawa partnership advisor Clarke Pirika was delighted at this opportunity to bring the taonga out of storage and show it to Tuhourangi.

He also has iwi connections to the taonga which made this gathering extra special. For him “We are excited and we are honoured to display these taonga,” Pirika said.

Included in the display is Tuhourangi, a 500-year-old taiaha that in 1901 was given to the then Prince of Wales in Rotorua by Rangawhenua.


Taonga of importance bring Tuhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao and Rotorua Museum together. 

Modern research different

There are taonga belonging to the Rangihuea whānau, Rangipuawhe, the first Māori Oxford graduate Makareti Papakura, a pouwhenua or staff that was given to Rangipuawhe by Queen Victoria, and a tau-ā-ngā-manu or bird perch given to Tuhotu Ariki.

Pirika said documenting and researching taonga 50 years ago was different from today. “They didn’t go out as much to the people and could have done better to ensure the taonga information was accurate,” he said.

Now, with a strong Māori representation in the museum, and a deep fascination for Te Ao Māori, new research systems are being implemented to capture an authentic iwi perspective by gathering and sharing stories.

“It’s the best way forward to give the iwi mana to rewrite any errors and what may have been inaccurate about their taonga. Today is the beginning of something good,” Pirika said.

Updating documentation

Taonga Māori collection curator Manaaki Pene was instrumental in creating this gathering. She is responsible for the preservation of the taonga collection and making sure the documentation on their database system is kept up to date. Alongside that comes the development and strengthening of relationships with whānau and institutions that own some of the taonga in the museum’s care.

This week she was proud to be show her Tuhourangi whānau their taonga, how fragile they are, and how the museum has done a great job to keep them in pristine condition.

Although the taonga were returned to the museum at the end of the display, some looked at wanting to place taonga, especially the 500-year-old taiaha called Tuhourangi in a whare at the Whakarewarewa village. 

Others wanted it still cared for by the museum.

“I feel sorry for our people who are asking to have their own house to care for our treasures. The question raised though is: Who will pay for it?” said Tuhourangi spokesman Rangitihi Pene.

Museum rebuild

Mita Taupopoki Clarke, a descendant of the 500-year-old taiaha, would like to see it returned to the museum so that everyone can view it.

The closure of the Rotorua Museum in 2016 was caused by significant structural damage, and a seismic assessment showed it fell far below earthquake safety standards. The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed the rebuild, initially expected to be ready by 2022. The building's renovation has funding to date of $53.5m.

The museum team will visit other iwi and hapū of Te Arawa and collate their narratives for the taonga in the museum’s care and display at the opening of the museum in 2025.