Taonga tell accurate history of Cook encounters

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Steve Gibbs, Associate Professor at Toihoukura in Tūranganui a Kiwa, speaks about the significance of Rangiwaho: Ihu ki te Moana, the first contemporary exhibition in the National Maritime Museum in England to address Pacific encounters with Captain Cook.

Gibbs says the gallery is about "addressing the notion that we were discovered by the English and in particular Cook, and that we had 1,000 years of navigational history prior to 1769."

Gibbs says that within the first three days of Cook's arrival in Aotearoa, Māori blood was shed.  However, as the Endeavour was leaving the area, an encounter took place where taonga were exchanged by Māori wanting to meet the master navigator of the Endeavour, Tupaia

"Word got out from Tūranga, from the Gisborne district.  The first three days you could hear the gunshots so people knew that things were happening but they also heard that this guy Tupaia was on board the Endeavour and that was the person that they wanted to touch base with," says Gibbs. 

The exhibition, Rangiiwaho: Ihu ki te Moana, is a collection of contemporary works by Toihoukura students and local iwi artists that reveals the accurate history pertaining to those early encounters.

"What we did was really give an indication of that thousand years of history prior to the arrival of Cook.  That's significant for the people of that area, Rangiwaho, who were living in Whareongaonga, because those are the people who had that first encounter and those are our tīpuna (ancestors)," says Gibbs.

The exhibition was opened by Sir David Attenborough.

"He acknowledged that whole idea, that a Eurocentric perspective was that the Pacific Islanders could not possibly have navigated that vast area of water, what he did say was that, yes, we have proof that we were trans-navigating the South Pacific a thousand years before Europeans ventured into that space," says Gibbs.

It's the first British museum in London to dedicate a standing gallery to Oceania Pacific, providing an opportunity to hear the voices of  Te Moana Nui a Kiwa.

The Pacific Encounters gallery is a ten-year project.