Whānau call for stop to misuse of Māori taonga

By Regan Paranihi

Descendants of Herepo Rongo and Kirikino Epiha are outraged at the misappropriate use of the portraits of their ancestors.

The whānau gathered at Poihakena Marae today to discuss a way to stop their ancestral taonga being disrespected. 

John Haru, a grandchild to Herepo Rongo, says, "It's just beyond disrespectful, even more so because he himself I believe is Māori."

Māori treasures are on display all over the world, however, some can end up in the wrong hands.

"People can access anything in regards to Māori taonga history, it's out there for everybody to see and collect. It's just that you hope that they're more mindful as to how they treat that information," says Hineurunga Kaa, another grandchild of Herepo Rongo.

She also says the artist can right his wrongs.

"I hear he made money off these portraits, I'd like it if he would donate it, not to whānau or anything, but to a charity or even to the marae of these kuia and kaumātua that he defaced."

Te Ao reached out to the artist for comment, however, he sent back a statement saying he was mortified at the offence he caused.

Marr Epiha-Brown, a descendant of Kirikino Epiha whose portrait was also misused, says, "What would ever possess him to do such a thing to our taonga, to our kuia kaumātua?"

The portraits of the kaumātua that were used are seen in one of Michael King's books about moko.

Phillipa King-Davis, the descendant of Herepo Rongo, says, "The book where these photos came from is all [copyrighted], so I don't understand who gave him permission because our whānau stands behind us, our whānau are all here and nobody gave him permission."

What's done is done and now the whānau are looking for a way forward.

"The best thing as Māori is [to] get together and talk it out and I believe the marae is the right place for it," says Haru.

"Finding a way to heal will be the first step, and then from there seeing what we can do to protect our taonga," adds King-Davis.

They will continue to hui about this matter in the hope of seeing an end to the misuse of Māori treasures.