Iwi exhibition timing a perfect fit
The timing couldn’t be better for Ngati Toa – a $70 million treaty settlement signed off in April, and immense opportunities for the iwi. What better time to tell the story of how they got there? TESSA JOHNSTONE reports.
Some stories tell themselves, and some taonga pick their time to shine, too.
It’s taken more than a year of talking, collecting and preparation for the 30- month exhibition Whiti Te Ra: The Story of Ngati Toa Rangatira, which opened at Te Papa last weekend.
Ngati Toa are the seventh iwi to hold court at the national museum. Ngati Toa spokeswoman Jennie Smeaton said though the timing of the exhibition was just a coincidence, reflection was timely.
‘‘Any iwi given the opportunity to present their story within a national museum context is pretty significant,’’ she said.
‘‘ But there were some key korero we wanted to share with people – the story of how Ngati Toa came here, the Treaty settlements and the haka.’’
It was Te Rauparaha – the man responsible for the All Blacks’ haka – who recognised the strategic importance of Cook Strait and led the charge on resettling the tribe from Kawhia.
There were some bloody battles, some necessary alliances and, by 1840, Ngati Toa Rangatira was recognised as the dominant tribe in Kapiti, Wellington and the top of the South Island.
One of the taonga taking pride of place in the exhibition is a mere pounamu ( greenstone club) named Tuhiwai, a peace offering given in exchange for a waka taua (war canoe) by Ngai Tahu chief Te Matenga Taiaroa. It signalled the end of the conflict over land at the top of the south.
‘‘ It was the healing of the tribes,’’ said Karanga Metekingi, whose father put it in the care of the Dominion Museum in the 1960s.
‘‘He thought it should be here for all our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,’’ said Metekingi. Until then, Ngati Toa families had held it since 1839.
Te Papa kaitiaki taonga Moana Parata, who is from Ngati Toa, said it was lucky there was such a wealth of objects to choose from – but it wasn’t a difficult choice, the taonga chose themselves with their stories.
The exhibition will include Sir Maui Pomare’s parliamentary pass and whalebone walking stick, a pencil etching of Te Pehi’s ta moko, eight mere, taiaha belonging to Te Rauparaha and muskets belonging to Te Rangihatea and a cloak and a hei tiki belonging to two of just 13 women who signed Waitangi.
Smeaton said some of the objects had been in the care of museums for years and others had come from the private collections of Ngati Toa whanau.
As well as objects with historical significance, the exhibition group has contemporary work and stories, too.
‘‘We wanted everybody to see themselves in some way,’’ Smeaton said.
One example is a feather cloak handwoven by local teacher and artist Kohai Grace and whanau at Hongoeka Bay. It is made of gifted feathers from kakapo, kaka, tui, kiwi, kereru and kakariki.
‘‘We wanted to highlight a tra-
of ditional practice in a contemporary way. To be able to get those types of materials is very rare.’’
Te Papa’s lead curator on the exhibition, Awhina Tamarapa, said the key point of difference with this iwi exhibition was the audio visuals that had been developed with iwi members, as well as the significant taonga belonging to the iwi.
Whiti Te Ra: The Story of Ngati Toa Rangatira,
Ngati Modern model: Toi kaitiaki Karanga Metekingi models the contemporary cloak woven by whanau from gifted feathers.
Pride of place: The mere pounamu named Tuhiwai, a peace offering from Ngai Tahu after wars in the early 1800s.