Two weeks ago an important poutokomanawa (carving), titled Te Waaka Perohuka was taken to Gisborne on loan for an exhibition, Ko Rongowhakaata, at Tairawhiti Museum. This Poutokomanawa, carved in the 1860’s, was originally intended for Te Hapuku’s wharenui (house) Kahuranaki I. On completion, the pou was considered too precious to leave Manutuke and was held back by Chief Otene Pitau. Te Waaka Perohuka was later gifted to Greacon Black, a Scottish collector of taonga, who settled in Gisborne.
Black amassed a significant taonga collection and on his passing it was handed down to his son, Robert, who wanted to find a home for the collection in perpetuity. Approaches were made to the Gisborne Council to erect a facility at Manutuke to house the collection, however this never eventuated.
Leo Bestall, founding director of our museum, was an acquaintance of Robert Black and in 1937 Leo negotiated having the collection come to Napier, where it is now part of the Ruawharo Ta-u-rangi (Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust) collection.
Returning this Pou to Rongowhakaata was a significant journey in my second week at the museum. Confirming the special effect taonga play in our lives. This particular hui provided a rare opportunity for oratory to come to the fore, as stories of Te Waaka Perohuka the Chief were recounted, stories of the pou reaffirmed, and strong connections made between museums, iwi, and descendants of Te Waaka Perohuka and Greacon Black.
So Te Waaka Perohuka returns to serve his people as poutokomanawa do: the one serves the many and the many serve the one. This is the value of taonga to Maori people in its raw essence, a uniting force that allows for the oral traditions of our people to be handed from generation to generation. Our taonga are our tupuna (ancestors).
I’ve no doubt this journey will help shape my thoughts about how we approach our taonga collection. Igniting a spark of realisation about the importance of our collection being accessible. One thing is for sure, our stories need to be told.
I’m also reminded of the 30th anniversary of another returning, that of Te Maori, the famous exhibition that travelled the world and returned home. By all accounts it was an enlightenment for Maori at the time. It was our taonga that prompted an awakening and flurry of story-telling and engagement of young people with our culture across performing arts, carving, law, education and Te Reo Maori.
For the people at Rongowhakaata, Te Waaka Perohuka achieved the same effect. So what would the result be if we continued being led by the inspiration of our taonga? The emerging generation are at risk of being disconnected from whakapapa, from tikanga and ultimately from Te Reo Maori. Technology is accelerating the disconnect – however, if harnessed, technology can be an avenue for accessibility to our taonga and subsequently the telling of our stories.
With attention diverted to treaty claims and other important subjects, I’m content for now to be within the calm wairua of our tupuna and I look forward to working with our community.
Charles Ropitini – Maori Engagement Coordinator, MTG Hawke’s Bay
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 10 December 2016