Ten taonga riri (weapons) have come out from storage and gone on display this week. Eight taiaha (long-handled weapons) and two tewhatewha (shorter-handed weapons) were selected by Michelle Lee, Curator Taonga Maori, for display in our Tenei Tonu gallery. The taonga chosen are representative of the nearly 200 taiaha and tewhatewha we hold in the collection. Ranging from pre-contact through to the 1940s these examples show a range of styles and materials.
Bringing treasures out from storage and putting them on display for the public to appreciate and enjoy is one of the more satisfying parts of museum work. Our staff love and care for the objects we hold, ensuring they are kept in good condition and preserved for future generations. A core part of our purpose is also sharing the collection with the current generation, and as always we need to find a balance between preservation and access.
These taiaha come from all over New Zealand and we’re not always able to identify their original iwi or hapu. Taiaha may have changed hands many times before they come to the museum so full histories are not always known. Historic museum practice was not focused on capturing full information about items, whereas today understanding and recording the background stories around objects is a standard part of the acquisition process.
One of the items on display is a beautiful whale bone taiaha. If you look closely at this taonga you will see one eye has been rimmed with red wax and the other with paua – making for an unusual finished look. Another taiaha has a noticeable bulge in the binding. We know from other museums (which have x-rayed similar taonga) that there can be other items held within this wrapping such as teeth or pounamu. We hope one day we may be able to find out what the taiaha we have here contain within their binding.
Some of these taonga have not been on display for over 100 years. We’re delighted and pleased to be able to share these with the community and visitors to Hawke’s Bay. Bringing these taonga out from storage and putting them on display has caught the attention of Maori media – making it onto Maori TV and several radio stations from Kaitaia through to Turanganui-a-kiwa, Gisborne. We’ve been taken by surprise with how far this story has spread and it’s a reminder that sometimes what seems like a routine part of what we do, can have implications and ripples that we can’t foresee.
This is not the only change Michelle has made to Tenei Tonu, with fishing nets, contemporary artwork and a digital installation added into this gallery – and more changes in the pipeline. We’re hoping that what we’ve done so far better reflects the richness of the collection and the stories of a people – Ngati Kahungunu.
Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 07th April 2018