Air NZ decide: your culture or a job?

Air NZ / NAC stewards, circa 1978

My big Air NZ blag:

This has popped up in the news recently. No doubt you would have heard of it. Air NZ, in the middle of a job interview, stop it immediately when *shock horror* the interviewee revealed she has moko on her forearm.

Shonky HR practices aside, I feel compelled to comment. One, because Air NZ is the national carrier and I fly on it all the time as would many other NZrs (some of us Māori fly on planes a lot so Air NZ can be sure at least that segment of their customer base won’t be scared off). Two, I have been an admirer of the progressive thinking of its former CEO. And three, I like the ‘kiwi-friendly’ tone they have adopted in their safety promos. I’ve watched Bear Grylls eat bugs in the bush because of that. But gee Air NZ, why did you have to get squirmy all of a sudden because of a bit of moko?

Air NZ has a long and clearly visible history of appropriating aspects of Māori culture in order to stand out among the cacophony of airline brands operating worldwide. The koru (well, it’s kinda more like a mangopare but that’s okay, they know that too) is the key icon, but just a quick survey of past Air NZ television ads reveal how extensively Māori culture has been showcased as part of their brand promotion.

Nice, nostalgic, sanitised, controlled and as Ranginui Walker puts it, “cherrypicked” elements of our culture (Waatea interview, 29 May 13). Elements that help promote Air NZ as a culturally aware nationally responsive organisation that has some robust sense of the indigenous people.

But with that controlled nostalgia comes a sense of conservatism. And with conservatism, comes attempts at defining aspects of our culture that are ‘appropriate’ or ‘commercially-friendly’. By denying a job to a Māori woman proudly bearing moko on her arm (coincidentally, the same place where I have mine), Air NZ are denying proof of a culture in dynamic motion and resurgence, that same culture which they use to sell themselves out in the world.

On their Vision and Principles page, Air NZ proclaim: “…our Koru reflects and inspires who we are as Air New Zealanders. It links us to our beautiful country and gives us a sense of place. It reminds us of our responsibility to nurture and maintain our precious resources for future generations.”

Nice words but they sound extraordinarily hollow now.

Māori culture is more than a koru pattern or a pretty song sung by a pretty Māori. It is living, breathing, speaking and moving. And what’s more, Māori culture is wearing moko on its forearms. Now give her the damn job. Pfft

Te Matatini Kapa Haka Competitions 2013 – a curator’s excitement

“No Māori ceremony is complete without haka. It is as fundamental to our rites of passage as the language…”

Tīmoti Kāretu, Haka!: The Dance of a Noble People, 1993.pp. 13-14)

Everyone is very busy here at the museum, but I wanted to take a moment and write a quick blog post about an exciting event taking place next weekend in Rotorua.


Image reproduced courtesy of Te Matatini 2013.

Te Matatini Kapa Haka Competitions 2013.

“Kapa haka is commonly used to describe modern day performance of traditional and contemporary Māori song.  It is an avenue for Māori people to express their language, culture and heritage through song and dance.

 Kapa haka is heavily influenced by traditional forms of Māori pastimes; haka, mau rākau (Māori weaponry), poi (tiny ball attached to rope or string) and mōteatea (traditional chants or dirges).

 A modern kapa haka performance can be competitive or non-competitive. It can be performed by any number of people, men and women, young and old.” (quoted from Te Matatini website (

 Every two years since 1972, this enormous event has been run in a different part of the country and this year, it returns to the Te Arawa tribal lands in Rotorua for the third time – and coincidentally, the district where the first competition was held.

The four day festival is the focus of months of concentration, rehearsals, fundraising, preparation and discussion. It is one of the largest indigenous festivals in the world, and the place to be if you want to witness incredible Māori performing arts at their finest, most innovative and most passionately received.

For the last two years (since the last national competition), hundreds of Māori performing arts practitioners have been rehearsing up and down the country, in preparation for these competitions. Many of the performers, who compete at Te Matatini, are admired by enthusiasts of kapa haka as akin to competitive athletes, and as such their commitment is probably similar. Many engage in physical training, as well as lengthy and frequent rehearsal. I have one close cousin in particular, who along with her partner, flies weekly from Auckland to Wellington in order to attend rehearsals – all out of their own pocket and while holding down their day jobs. The competition is also now international, with groups travelling from Australia to participate.

The powerful presence of modern kapa haka today is testament to this kind of commitment, and to the massive fan base and engagement by the audiences that attend Te Matatini. Audiences that sit enthralled through the four days of competition and endlessly discuss the nuances of performances for months afterwards.

But the popularity of kapa haka today is by no means a recent occurrence. While Te Matatini has been running since 1972, competitions and expressions of Māori performing arts have deep traditional roots within Māori culture. The love of song, haka, dance and poi has been long held by Māori, performed for celebration or ritual – as some of the following historical images from 1850-1976 can show:


1991-0003-10; He haka; circa 1850; Thomas John Grant. Ink, watercolour.


1992-0035-841; A night haka; 1865; Horatio Gordon Robley. Watercolour, pencil graphite.


O.033764; Māori kapa haka (dance performance) before a large European audience, 1891. Unknown photographer.


E.005397/16; Māori Kapa Haka performers; 1960; Brian Brake. [Do these performers look familiar to anyone? Can you help identify where the image was taken?]


O.027023; Young kapa haka performers. From the series: Ratana Pa; 1976; John Miller.

Composers of fine songs, haka and the like, are greatly admired; and their songs sung repeatedly by different groups over the years. Indeed, many of the songs that are sung on the stage today are compositions which can be hundreds and hundreds of years old. It will also mean that some of the new compositions performed for the first time at this Festival, may go on to be sung and performed for the next few centuries – serving as valuable records of Māori, iwi, hapū stories, beliefs and creativity.

I love attending Te Matatini, not only to see fine kapa haka magnificently performed, and to appreciate the discipline of the performers on stage. But also to witness the rest of the festival with its food, visual arts on display, take in the sights and sounds, and enjoy the happy atmosphere and people. It is a scene of a culture in dynamic motion, continuing to celebrate and innovate – and a time where that arbitrary distinction between the contemporary and the traditional is difficult to discern.

So, if you happen to be in the Bay of Plenty next week from the 20th – 24th Feb, I very much encourage you to go venture to the festival for a look. Hopefully, I’ll see you there.

ps. I leave you with some more historical images of haka performance from Te Papa’s collection. Kia ora.

Rātana Church and Mita Ririnui: The Colours of Service

ME024090; Āpotoro Rēhita Haahi Rātana Kākahu (Registered Apostle Ratana Church religious clothing)

Continuing the blogging about some of the key uniforms and acquisitions for the Uniformity exhibition, this blog is going to talk about one of my favourite uniforms in the show: the robes of an Āpotoro Rēhita from the Rātana Church and a uniform with which I have a personal affinity.

 What is Rātana?

Rātana is a Māori adaptation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Founded in 1918 by T.W. Rātana (1873–1939), Rātana has become a major Māori church in New Zealand with over 45, 000 Morehu or followers (as at the 2006 census). T.W. Rātana was raised Presbyterian with Wesleyan influences, so it is highly likely this religious familiarity has influenced the presentation of the Rātana kākahu, which show a distinct and direct correlation to the Protestant ecclesiastical vestments. The clothing that symbolised authority within the Protestant faith was adapted as the symbols of authority and leadership in the Rātana faith.

From its establishment to today, the RātanaChurch continues its role as an important faith and guide to many Māori across the country, and T.W. Rātana had a major impact on Māori leadership in the twentieth century.

A.005127; At Ratana; 1939; Maori; Raine, William Hall

A.005127; At Ratana; 1939; Maori; Raine, William Hall


A.005115; Ratana; about 1933; Raine, William Hall.
5 men (all 5 wearing suits), on house porch, attending the 60th birthday celebrations of Tahu Potiki Wiremu Ratana (centre, front row) :- Back row (left to right) – PK Paikea, T Omana. Front row (lerft to right) – HT Ratana, Tahu Potiki Wiremu Ratana and ET Tirikatene.

Rātana Ministerial Uniforms

Uniforms are of great importance to the RātanaChurch, especially as visual signifiers of the specific roles and duties of the wearer. There are three levels of Āpotoro – three different ministers/readers, and each of these is identifiable by their various prescribed uniforms.

In the image below, you can see three types of minister uniforms.

The different Āpotoro at Rātana Pā. Photograph courtesy of Robin Ohia. 2011.

The different Āpotoro at Rātana Pā. Photograph courtesy of Robin Ohia. 2011.

The Āpotoro Rēhita or the Registered Apostle is an official registered minister who not only has spiritual duties but also legal. They are legally mandated to carry out the similar duties as a Justice of the Peace. (Purple cassock, white surplice, purple stole)

There are also the Āpotoro Wairua, the lay-readers, who support many followers of the Rātana Faith with spiritual counsel and guidance. (Blue robe, red stole)

There are the Akonga, or the disciples in training. (White surplice, yellow stole)

Colour origins

The design origins of the Rātana ministerial clothing lie within the Old Testament within the Exodus gospel: “And of the blue, and purple, and scarlet, they made cloths of service to do service in the holy place, and made the holy garments for Aaron; as the Lord commanded Moses. (Exodus 39, 1)

The Donor – Mita Ririnui

The Honourable Mita Ririnui in his Āpotoro Rēhita robes. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

The Honourable Mita Ririnui in his Āpotoro Rēhita robes. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

These kākahu were gifted by Honourable Mita Ririnui, a retired Labour MP for the Waiariki District and an Apōtoro Rēhita in the RātanaChurch for the last 25 years. He lives in Tauranga, where he was born and raised, and is of Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Pukenga descent. He continues to carry out Treaty Settlement work following his retirement from Parliament in 2011 and was raised in the RātanaChurch:

“I have always been a member of the Rātana Church, my dad was a member of the Rātana Church, my granddad was a member of the Rātana Church so that’s the only religion I have ever known. …. I have always followed the philosophy of the RātanaChurch; much of it has been instrumental in my upbringing.” (Mita Ririnui, interview with the Curator, 14 June 2012).

Mita became an Ākonga at the relatively young age of 27 and just a few years later he was made an Āpotoro Rēhita. His ascension within the church not only meant a commitment by him as the individual, it also required the commitment of his wider whanau. He described the special process in acquiring his appropriate robes for his new roles and the involvement of his family, almost as a rite of passage:

“My family gave me my kākahu – my first set of kākahu were my lay reader’s kākahu. My dad and his sisters gave me those. They were the only set of kākahu I had for that particular tūranga (appointment).  When I graduated to the next level as an Āpotoro Wairua, the responsibility was mine from thereon…and so when I was appointed the position, I made a deliberate approach to the church authorities and presented my certificate. And once it had been signed, I made a deliberate attempt to purchase my own, because it had to be mine. And because the role became more important I had to take total responsibility.” (Mita Ririnui, interview with the Curator, 14 June 2012)

The Āpotoro Rēhita robes that he wore as a Registered Apostle were, in the end, paid for by Mita and his father. The involvement of family in the ordination and robing was significant. To acquire the robes, the pair made a trip to the Rātana Pā near Whanganui.

“They’re only made in the church office, RatanaPa – these lovely ladies in the back room, with their sewing machines, having been seamstresses in previous lives, and I’d like to say made to measure, but they fitted me perfectly.” (Mita Ririnui, interview with the Curator, 14 June 2012)

Mita was then 30 years old, and still continues to practice today as an Āpotoro Rēhita.

Detail close ups of the kākahu. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

Detail close ups of the kākahu. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

On a slightly more personal note, while I was brought up Katorika or Catholic, I was also raised alongside many of my extended family and members of my tribes who belonged to the Rātana church. Indeed three of my grandparents were raised Rātana (until my maternal grandmother converted to Catholicism after marrying my grandfather). So the Rātana church had a very strong presence in my childhood and I’ve always loved the colours and sounds of Rātana – their striking purple uniforms, hymns, the thunder and lament of the Rātana Brass Bands (otherwise called the Reo), and the solemnity of the spiritual Āpotoro. And in this, there were memories of watching uncles who were Āpotoro, dress in their Āpotoro robes, in readiness for Whakamoemiti or prayer service. There was a tangible sense of transformation and reflection as they dressed. In that short small and informal ritual of donning their robes over their everyday clothes they stopped being our uncles, and became spiritual leaders. I wanted to duplicate this process somehow in the Uniformity exhibition.

When I explained this to the Uniformity exhibition team and to Mita, they were in full support. And with huge amount of gratitude to the generosity of Mita, we were able to film the following clip here in our studio at Te Papa. We filmed his dressing process in the morning, and in the afternoon, I interviewed him about his life in the church and as an Āpotoro.

Studio filming Mita Ririnui, photographed with the curator. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

Studio filming Mita Ririnui, photographed with the curator. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

Adjusting the robes for filming. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

Adjusting the robes for filming. Photographed by Michael Hall. Copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

The result of the filming was the following short AV, in which Mita recounts the significance of the robes and their coded meaning, as he dons the garb in front of the camera.

I’m always interested in hearing and seeing your own memories of churches in your life. Please feel free to share images or stories, either of the RātanaChurch or of any other denomination.

He mihi:

Thank you to Mita Ririnui for his generosity in contributing to the Uniformity exhibition and sharing his personal stories with Te Papa.

Thank you also to Te Herekiekie Herewini, for peer reviewing this article.


Kākahu: Clothes, robes

Tūranga: appointed position

Āpotoro Rēhita: Registered Apostle

Āpotoro Wairua: Spiritual Apostle, Layreader

Ākonga: Acolyte, Learner

Whetū Marama: The crescent moon and star symbol of the RātanaChurch

Haahi: Church

Whakamoemiti: Pray, Prayer, Service

Whānau: family

Morehu; Rātana church followers

“We are the same-same.” Rapa Nui visitors to Te Papa Tongarewa

Map of the Pacific. Image reproduced courtesy of Easter Island Travelling

Image of the famous Moai. Image reproduced courtesy of World Heritage Sites, on Tumblr.

Rapa Nui is in the furthest southeastern part of the Pacific, one of the most isolated of the islands which make up the PacificIslands. It is home of the magnificent moai statues and part of Polynesia. (For more information, read this recent National Geographic article:

Rapa Nui is called ‘Te Pito o te Henua’ (the bellybutton of the world), is a territory of Chile and is home to nearly 6, 000 people. On the island, Spanish and Rapa Nui te reo is spoken. Rapa Nui reo is very similar to Te Reo Māori and speakers of both languages are able to communicate.

The request to visit came from Bronwen Golder, Director the Pew Environment Group Kermadec Initiative. The Pew Environment Group has committed itself to securing Government protection of the Kermadecs and as part of that commitment; it has sponsored the Kermadec show at City Gallery here in Wellington, and the Deep Sea Biology Symposium, hosted by Te Papa last week. As part of the Pew conservation work, they are looking to develop a relationship between the indigenous people of Rapa Nui, where the Pew Group have identified a proposed reserve. So they have sponsored a visit by five Rapa Nui tangata whenua with the intention to bring representatives to New Zealand for a quick reconnaissance visit, in preparation for a larger group visit next year.

I have a special affection for requests from visitors from the Pacific. Many of the taonga that we care for in the museum have ancestral roots and resonances with many of the island nations throughout the Pacific. So when we have visitors from the Pacific to the Māori collection, I get very excited to hear their reflections and observations of the taonga Māori.


Rapa Nui carvings and artists, at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, Solomon Islands. Photographer Puawai Cairns, copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

My own travels to two Pacific Festivals of the Arts (one in American Samoa in 2004, and the most recent in the Solomon Islands, 2012), I have been lucky to see the Rapa Nui island represent itself at the festival with dancers and carvers. For some reason, a ripple of excitement always went through the crowds when Rapa Nui presented itself in any of the parades. Whether it is the exotic, beautifully sensual nature of the dancing, the beauty of their dancers, or just the mystery of the people and culture of Rapa Nui, it is difficult to tell. In any case, Rapa Nui always holds some allure.


Rapa Nui dancer, at the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, Solomon Islands. Photographer Puawai Cairns, copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

But like many of the Pacific Island nations, their recent history has been fraught with protests over land and recognition of indigenous rights, and great efforts to protect, and revitalise their language and culture.


Image of our Rapa Nui visitors in front of Te Hono ki Hawaiiki. Photographer Dr Susan Waugh, copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

The group:

Bronwen Golder (not pictured) – Director the Pew Environment Group Kermadec Initiative

Simon (Kuchy) Pakarati (left) – a Rapa Nui fisherman and Pew Environment Group leader on the island.

Alberto Hotus (2nd from the left) – Chair of the Council of Ancients on Rapa Nui. He was described by the group as a ‘Walking Library’ of Rapa Nui lore. He was the elder of the group and was referred to as Koro. He last visited New Zealand in 1976, when he came to the Pacific Festival of Arts in Rotorua.

Pedro Tepano (2nd from the right) –member of the Rapa Nui Council, who is responsible for revitalising Polynesian waka racing on the island.

Ernesto Escobar (right) – the Director of the Pew Global Ocean Legacy project in for Rapa Nui and Bronwen’s Chilean counterpart.

The Visit

A group of Te Papa staff gathered and greeted the visitors when they arrived. We had to speak through Ernesto, who translated from English to Spanish for us. I spoke Māori and we all managed to make ourselves understood. But thanks to Ernesto’s indefatigable efforts, he allowed the conversations to flow quite easily.

Te Papa has a few pieces in the collection with an association to Rapa Nui/Easter Island but when they began in the Pacific collection with Grace Hutton, Collection Manager Pacific, they were more interested in seeing material from other cultures. After the Pacific Collection, Mark Sykes (Maori Collection Manager) and I, took them into the Māori collection where we spent several hours going through the taonga Māori.

Through our shared conversations and exploration of the museum, I found it remarkable how many commonalities there were between us. The Polynesian culture – even though spread across thousands of miles – has maintained a strong presence throughout the many different islands. I showed them examples of taonga, such as the tokotoko, and they recognised them immediately – having the same taonga in Rapa Nui – with the same name and same function. In fact, the phrase – “same, same” kept arising the whole time they visited. Koro and I would discuss a story or a taonga and inevitably end up saying “same-same” and then smile at each other in recognition of the ancestral connections which still endure.

We had similar stories, humour, and even body language. When discussing some of the bleaker aspects of both countries’ encounter histories; for instance, imperialism, cultural erosion, efforts to revitalise customs and practices – these were still points where we could share common experiences and struggles. It was amusing, poignant and endearing.


Pausing at the mauri stone, Photographer Puawai Cairns, copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.


Pedro’s pukana. Photographer Puawai Cairns, copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

Two places they took particular interest in were the two whare in Te Papa. Te Hono ki Hawaiiki (pictured above in Pedro’s pukana picture) and the magnificent Rongowhakaata whare Te Hau ki Turanga. When I described the conflicted acquisition history of Te Hau ki Turanga and its negotiated return to Rongowhakaata, as part of the tribe’s Treaty settlement, there were nods of empathy and agreement that the whare’s return to its people was right.

Once they left the Cable Street site, Dr Susan Waugh then took them to the Natural Environment storage at the top of Tory Street, where they spent a further two hours looking at specimens in Te Papa’s enormous NE collection.

The Reo

Before their visit, my curator colleague and friend Reuben Friend from the City Gallery, sent me a list of Rapa Nui words that he thought I could intersperse throughout my conversations. I’ve listed them here because they reveal just how similar we truly are (I haven’t put in the macrons). [n.b. I am by no means a language expert, so consider this a rough guide as opposed to an exact linguistic translation.]

Rapa Nui word Māori word English word
wananga korero to talk
ite mohio know
ina kaore no
Maururu (can use kia ora) thanks
hare komo whare paku toilet
rohirohi ngenge tired
Petipeti! ka pai! All is well!
hakaora Whakaora (be well) see ya

These words came in pretty useful during the day, so many thanks to Reuben. If you want to listen to the sound of Rapa Nui reo, you can listen if you follow this link.

I hugely enjoyed the visit by our Rapa Nui whanaunga (relatives) and do hope they come back to Aotearoa again. I found it a moving experience, listening to their stories, their struggles to bring their own culture back from the brink and to be given the recognition that many indigenous peoples struggle for. I applaud the Pew Environment Group for having the foresight in supporting the people of Rapa Nui to be involved with their efforts to raise awareness of the fragility of the environment and the unique species found within the Kermadecs and around Rapa Nui.

In 2010, one of our staff wrote this intriguing blog about the toromiro tree, a relative species to the kowhai here in Aotearoa, and used in Rapa Nui carvings. You’ll see that Aotearoa and Rapa Nui share more than cultural similarities.

I look forward to their next visit!

Maururu / Kia ora!


Koro (Alberto) and me. Photographer Dr Susan Waugh, copyright Te Papa Tongarewa, 2012.

UPDATE: as a wonderful coincidence, this week two ocean-going waka from Aotearoa – using traditional navigational techniques and after four months voyaging – have arrived in Rapa Nui. You can read about it here: The Waka Tapu Project.


Uniformity: Making the Curatorial Cut

 I’ve been asked a lot of questions about why some of the new acquisitions were pursued and why they were put into this show, so hopefully this entry will help answer some of the queries and shed light on the curatorial decisions made for Uniformity.

In my last blog Uniformity: Why Uniforms Matter, I talked about the reasons for an exhibition about uniforms. And I promised in that last blog to talk further about some of the Māori uniforms included in the show. So for the next few blogs, I’m specifically going to talk about the seven uniforms from the Mātauranga Māori collection which also happen to be brand new acquisitions for Te Papa.

Uniformity was a collaborative exhibition between the Mātauranga Māori and History collections. This meant there were two curators, Stephanie Gibson and me, working on the show and deciding on the objects for inclusion. In this blog, I’ll just talk about the seven new acquisitions and go into a bit of detail about why these uniforms were acquired and the storytelling role they each have in Uniformity.

How the exhibition is arranged

There are seven large cases in total in Uniformity, and each of these cases holds a number of uniforms grouped according to a theme. After careful consideration of the potential content and the stories we wanted to tell, the themes selected were:

  1. Military uniforms: Colour to camouflage*
  2. Church vestments: Addressing the faithful*
  3. School uniforms: A ‘civilising mission’*
  4. All Blacks: In step with the game
  5.  Military style: In fashion (military influence on women’s fashion)
  6. T-shirts: Portable billboards*
  7. Invading the playground – military influences on children’s fashion

Just so you aren’t still here reading in a month’s time, I’m only going to talk about uniforms included in four of the cases (the ones with the asterisks*).

In this blog I’ll talk about one of the cases mentioned above – the Military.

Military uniforms: Colour to camouflage*


Key objects from the Military Case

  The historical roots of uniforms are firmly planted in Military and Ecclesiastical histories, so it is only right that the first two cases that begin the story of Uniformity exhibition focus on examples from the Military and Church.

In-situ shot of the Military Case

The Military case was a very satisfying case to work with, and it was also the case that took the most time and attention. Steph and I worked very closely with representatives from the Armed Forces – especially from the NZ Special Air Service (NZSAS) and Clive Robinson Senior Advisor Insignia and Ceremonial Items, from the New Zealand Defence Force.  Clive in particular was personally recommended by Sir Jerry Mateparae to advise and consult on all matters to do with his uniform and his expertise was truly invaluable.

New Zealand military uniforms have inherited a legacy of strong traditions from European military dress. The deeply significant customs and particularities around dressing made it very important that we got everything in the case absolutely right. No detail could escape scrutiny – the correct combination of insignia, the placement of the aiguillettes on the shoulder (a trickier task than you would think), and even the buttons – were all subject to careful examination.

I believe the pains we took to make sure everything was as correct as practicable have paid off. However there are a few very small quirks unique to Sir Jerry’s uniform and his wearing preferences, which some eagle-eyed uniform experts out there might spot. But I won’t highlight them, I want to see if anyone can pick them out.

Graphics by Nick Clarkson, Te Papa 2012

From the beginning of exhibition development, the military theme was a huge influence on how the Uniformity exhibition team envisaged the show.  The image above is the main graphic identity designed for the show by our Graphic Designer Nick Clarkson. You’ll see the strong silhouettes of soldier-type figures, male and female. Further, look at the bold red (which I loved from the beginning, when Nick suggested the use of it in the graphics) which reference the red in the Military case; and the use of camouflage patterning in the typography, all of these elements underline the significance of the military uniform story in the overarching show narrative.

  1. 1.    Ceremonial Service Dress uniform and accessories for Chief of Defence Force about 2006
Sir Jerry Mateparae’s CDF uniform. Photographer Michael Hall, Te Papa 2012.

Uniform gift of Lieutenant General The Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand, 2012 (ME024094)

Suit made by Albion Clothing, New Zealand; aiguillettes and sash by The Wyedean Weaving Company, England; sword by E L M Medallists, Singapore.

Made from poly-wool blend, anodised brass, gold, felt, cotton, steel, plastic.

On its own, this splendid uniform even without any mention of its very famous donor is remarkable enough. It is a wonderful example of khaki Service Dress, with accompanying regalia and insignia to demonstrate the wearer’s service history, and that he is of exceptionally high rank.

Between 1 May 2006 – 24 January 2011, His Excellency Lt Gen The Right Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM, QSO (Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Kahungunu), served as the Chief of Defence of the New Zealand Defence Forces, a remarkable epoch in a long military career. Enlisting in 1972, Sir Jerry rose through the ranks to become the first Māori Chief of Defence in the history of the military – the highest commanding appointment possible in the defence forces – in 2011. At the conclusion of his service as Chief of Defence, he was subsequently appointed as Governor General, the second Māori to be so – a role he continues to perform.

His Excellency Lt Gen The Right Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM, QSO (Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Kahungunu). Photographer Simon Woolf, image courtesy of Government House, 2011.

This uniform that you see here is a Ceremonial Service Dress All Ranks uniform. Known as a Ceremonial 1A, it is worn by all ranks of the NZ Army on formal occasions and directly influenced by the khaki British Army service dress adopted by the New Zealand Army in the early 20th century.

This uniform consists of long dress trousers, a short sleeved shirt and tie, and the service dress jacket. The trousers and jacket are made from polywool, by Albion Clothing in Christchurch. There are two patch pockets with box pleats on the breast, and two bellows pockets on the lower part of the jacket (called the skirt). The anodised brass buttons are removable and feature the words ‘New Zealand Defence’ with the 4 stars of the Southern Cross.

Close up of shoulder rank badges.

While this uniform was issued to All Ranks, there are a number of specific symbols on this uniform – on the breast, shoulders and upper arm – which distinguishes Sir Jerry’s very high rank and the corps to which he belonged or commanded.

Do you notice the prominence of the red – the colour of the gorget patches on the collar, and the puggaree on the lemon squeezer? Visually the red is not only very striking but also herald back to the historical use of red in British military uniforms (as demonstrated by the inclusion of the Gordon Highlander’s jacket). In this example, the red on the puggaree denotes the wearer is permanent infantry staff, and the gorget patches as worn on this uniform are indicators of rank signifying the wearer is above the rank of colonel.
Close up: Ceremonial Sash with kowhaiwhai patterning

And do you also note the use of Māori kōwhaiwhai design on the waist sash? Sashes are very old elements of military dress, which also signify rank. The incorporation of Māori motifs into the uniform references a strong Māori identity present within the New Zealand Army culture. As this quote from the NZ Army website reveals: “The unique culture of the New Zealand Army has been shaped and defined by a range of complementary influences. These include the martial traditions of the British soldier and the Maori warrior; our history, heritage and experience of war; and the characteristics of wider New Zealand society.”  In the sash, you see the two distinctive cultural expressions brought together – the sash form and the kowhaiwhai patterning – creating a new uniform element which is now unique to the NZ Army.

This strong Maori identity is further observed  in the NZ Army badge, a Herald of Arms that shows an officer’s sword crossed with a taiaha kura. When you come visit the exhibition, you can see a taiaha kura in the military case. One other interesting facet to the taiaha kura is the use of red cloth to form the tauri (collar) of the taiaha kura included in the show, as well as awe or Maori dog hair tassels. Ordinarily kākā feathers would have been used to create the tauri, as in this example but some tauri from the mid century were said to have used the red cloth from soldiers’ red-coats. These examples are however very rare.

There are a number of additional elements that we added to Sir Jerry’s uniform in order for the visitor to see how he would have dressed as Chief of Defence at very formal occasions. These elements have been borrowed from the New Zealand Defence Force. The Lemon Squeezer with its puggaree and hat badge, the aiguillette, the general officer’s sword and leather gloves, the medals and the ceremonial sash, have all been borrowed and I hope to acquire them permanently, so we can always be able to see Sir Jerry’s uniform dressed this gloriously.

Photographer Michael Hall, Te Papa 2012.

When His Excellency Sir Jerry agreed to gift this uniform to Te Papa Tongarewa, it was cause for a bit of celebration among some of the curators. His status and the significant life achievements of Sir Jerry mean that he is a part of New Zealand history and his uniform will be able to tell his story for future visitors to Te Papa.

Please take your time to look at this ‘decoding’ graphic that was produced by the Uniformity exhibition team, which helps the visitor to understand what some of the components of the uniform represent.

My sincere thanks to History Curators,  Stephanie Gibson and Michael Fitzgerald for their expertise and for reviewing this entry.

Graphic for Sir Jerry’s uniform. Te Papa 2012.

Uniformity – why uniforms matter


The Honorable Mita Ririnui in his Āpotoro Rehita robes from the Rātana Church. Photography by Michael Hall, Te Papa Tongarewa 2012.



Most curators will be able to pick out an exhibition in their professional history that they are very fond of. And I think the exhibition I’m going to talk about in this blog is one show that will always be a bit close to my heart. 

On the 27th of Sept 2012, an exhibition opened here Te Papa, in our Eyelights Gallery on Level Four – an exhibition called Uniformity: cracking the dress code. While an exhibition opening here at the museum isn’t all that unique, shows open and close here all the time, there are a number of unique attributes that Uniformity has in its favour which pick it out from the crowd.

First it’s the first collaborative exhibition between the Matauranga Maori and History teams for the Eyelights gallery, which is an exciting milestone for Te Papa trainspotters like me. But more interestingly for all you well-adjusted museum-going individuals out there, there are a number of brand new acquisitions which feature on the floor for the first time (which will be talked about in the next blog). 

So why uniforms? Well, they have an unusual ability to melt into the background so you don’t notice them but they are everywhere. On a personal level, many of us have experiences (happy or unhappy) wearing uniforms. They would have identified to the rest of the world what school you went to or your place of work. But at a national level, uniforms are important records of our country’s social history. They can record organisations, allegiances, status, social movements, fashion/anti-fashion, identities, cultural shifts and beliefs. Te Papa has collected many examples of different uniforms from across New Zealand history span, so their importance in remembering New Zealand’s history is vital.

So come down to Te Papa sometime soon and take a look around the Eyelights Gallery. We hope that the show makes you take a second look at some of the old uniforms that may still be lurking in the back of your closets, stitching together your own personal history.

In the next blog, I’ll be focusing on some of the uniforms that I acquired for the Te Papa’s Maori collection and explain in a bit more depth, the reasons behind their inclusion in the collection and the exhibition.

Umi tufala shea: sharing stories from the Festival of Pacific Arts

This is the third day of the Festival and there are way too many things and sights to properly explain. I can only give samples and highlights, and even these are too numerous to do it justice. The NZ delegation has jumped into action, performing and creating. The Festival village is buzzing with all the whare heaving with artists, customary and contemporary practitioners, curious visitors, booming music from the Pasifika stage, percussive sounds of toki carving into wood everywhere – and the occasional buzz of a chainsaw – its modern day stand-in.

To recount my best moment so far though….the festival opening started extra early on Monday morning. We had a 4am alarm and blearily jumped on to buses and headed into darkness to a beach (which I don’t know the name of, I apologise). A drizzly, warm morning, the beach was jam packed with people, all dressed in traditional fibre kakahu, lavalava, or bright polo shirt uniforms; a vast array of different bodies and appearances, there must have been at least 1000 people on that beach. Maybe more. We were treated to a fireworks display, the first since 1972 in Honiara, and a gift giving ceremony. There was an expectant feel in the air, and everyone seemed to be focused on the water rather than the official stage on shore.


Impatient because I couldn’t see anything, I wormed my way through the crowd to the shoreline, and I am so glad I did. Before me, in the dawn light, were seven magnificent double hulled waka called waka hourua, anchored several hundred meters out to sea. Added to this, were about 8 small Solomon Island waka, with at least 15 men in each. The scene behind me was a cacophony of sound but out in the ocean, it seemed silent.


I was speechless and embarrassingly emotional (sookie lala is how my family would describe it). The sight of the waka was overwhelming and for a long moment, I wondered if this was the sight that the ancient Tūpuna of the Pacific saw, when voyagers from afar visited their islands. Unable to compute what I was seeing, I just stood and gawped and had a bit of a tangi.

An amusing break in the emotion of the moment were the smaller waka from the Solomons, which raced up and down the shore performing what I can only describe as boy racer waka burnouts. They whizzed into shore, stealing a person and taking them out to sea. Only to speed back to the shore again at speed, water braking on the beach. Very funny and fabulous to watch.

The silent waka hourua stayed further out and maintained their impressive appearance. They are part of a monumental undertaking called the Pacific Voyagers project where seven replica waka are sailing through the Pacific Ocean, retracing ancestral links and drawing the world’s attention to the health of our oceans. Populated with crews from around the world, these seven waka have travelled as a fleet since early last year. There are two Māori waka in this whanau: Haunui captained by Hoturoa Kerr of Tainui; and Te Matau a Maui captained by Frank Kawe of Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Kahungunu (and he’s from my kainga tūturu – Tauranga!). Their voyage has been immense and breathtaking. You can read more about it here.

The waka slowly made their way closer to shore, and as they did so and the morning light grew brighter, the people on the beach began to sing, chant, wave and call out. The NZ delegation raced to greet the Māori waka Haunui and Te Matau with karakia, mihi and haka pohiri, to which the waka crews responded in kind.


It was an awesome morning which only got better when members of the delegation were invited on to the waka to sail to their mooring, about two hours sail along the coast. I clambered aboard Te Matau, and again was shamelessly emotional (I blame the early start).

The generosity and then the stories shared by the crew and by other manuhiri aboard the waka was wonderful. As well as some of the crew, I met two lovely women from Hawaii, and one beautiful lady from Tahiti who had sailed on one of the waka. They shared their own voyaging and cultural stories with me, as I did with them. It was a peaceful few hours and my definite highlight of the festival so far. I didn’t want to get off!


Holding hands across the water – 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, Honiara Solomon Islands


Every four years, an enormous event called the Festival of Pacific Arts is held in a different part of the Pacific. It is one of the most significant pan-Pacific gatherings where island nations from across Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia meet to share their arts – customary and contemporary – and renew the ancestral links that bind the people who share the Pacific.

Over 100 New Zealand artists – of Maori, Pacific, and Pakeha descent – have been selected by Te Waka Toi to attend this year’s Festival and join over 20 different island nations, from Hawaii to Guam, Australia to Rapanui. The original purpose of the festival was to prevent the erosion of traditional arts throughout the Pacific; erosion from the encroachment of modern living and the reprioritisation of values that this sometimes brings. From the first festival in 1972 (held in Fiji) however, the festival has grown into more than an urgent response to the perceived threat of cultural erosion. It has become a place to present exemplary practitioners of various customary artforms, to allow a space for sharing and reconnection, and to showcase the ongoing development, adaptation and maintenance of cultural practices, in avenues adopted by Pacific artists, in disciplines such as contemporary dance and music, sculpture, and puppetry – to name a few.

I find myself lucky to be at my second Pacific festival (in 2008 I travelled to Pagopago in American Samoa). And this year, I’ve come to the Solomon Islands at the invitation of Creative New Zealand and Te Waka Toi, and with the support of Te Papa which has allowed me time to come away to Honiara and join the large New Zealand delegation. I’ve come wearing two hats, one as part of the assisting operations crew to help look after the delegation; and one as a curator to present at a symposium next week and to observe the artists and festival goings on.


After arriving here on an RNZAF boeing on Monday and with a wonderful welcome reception by the people of Honiara, the delegation has been acclimatizing to the 70% humidity and 30 degree heat. The logistical practicalities of bringing so many artists to a developing country with a particularly voracious form of malaria and infrastructure limitations has been well thought out and planned by the Creative New Zealand and especially by the Project Manager, Jon Tamihere. It is a well-supported project!

On Sunday the festival formalities begin. It starts with a church service and then an opening ceremony on Monday. And for the next two weeks, we will inhabit a specially built whare alongside the other Pacific islands, as part of the beautiful festival village. Customary and contemporary musicians, actors, puppeteers, kapa haka, haka theatre, sculptors, carvers, weavers, and clay workers, all sharing with each other and with our Pacific whanaunga.

A very special event. I’ll be writing more as the festival unfolds. But in the meantime, follow NZ at the Festival of Pacific Arts on Facebook for more images and reflections.




Making a big world smaller



When I started writing this, it was midnight in Paris but back in NZ it was a bright cheerful 11 o’clock in the morning. I had spent 24 hours crossing from one hemisphere to the other, and was left struggling with a conflicting body clock, unfair currency conversions and a general feeling of bewilderment that I’m back in France, five years after my last visit.

I’ve been lucky enough to be brought here at the expense of Google – yes, that Google -who or which (what’s the right grammar for Google?) is launching a major museum project that Te Papa is involved with. A wee thing called the Google Art Project. But the launch is on Tuesday so I can tell you all about that once I’ve managed to take some notes and stuff. For the time being, I have been given a few days to orient myself and visit some museums before the big launch day, so I’ll waffle on about that.

So back to my lurching return to Paris…

I arrived here at 7am and to prevent myself from falling asleep during the day, as soon as I managed to dump my bags, I doggedly stomped straight to the Louvre. I love the Louvre. It’s the classic fantasy museum I would have made up in my head as a kid. A massive palace, maze-like and swollen with treasures collected by the French kings and conquerers from all over the world.



My nerdy museum alarms were going off in my head as I ogled each object. It was lucky I was by myself because I would have tried the patience of a saint as I kept stopping and looking or sniffing at the hidden mechanics of the Louvre – things such as beautiful little mosaic lions on a fireplace in the Egyptian gallery, the carved wood detailing on the doors,the air vents, the different (sometime dodgy) smells as you stumbled from room to room, the way light changed depending where in the Louvre you were standing or the hour of the day, observing the global nature of the Louvre’s visitors and watching where they congregated and how they all acted in the galleries. The physical act of visiting a museum for many visitors sometimes transcends just seeing the objects, sometimes museums are not only the theater where the action happens, it can also become a part of the action – or in museum terms, it can also become an object to appreciate. And especially in the case of the Louvre, the building can sometimes become just as important to your experience as a visitor as the treasures themselves.

One of the many cool things about visiting the Louvre is that so many of the pieces are familiar and famous, reproduced over and over in books, films, docos and websites. So there’s a gratifying feeling of satisfaction or sometimes an anti-climactic “weh!”, depending on the piece you’re looking at. But even though many of the paintings and sculptures in the Louvre are among the most photographed and written about in the world, there is still an impulse to want to see the thing itself with your own eyes.

Just think of the the famousest of all – the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. Reproductions of it are pretty good, even the cheapie posters are better to examine for the beautiful details, details harder to see when looking at the actual painting. The painting itself is smaller than you would expect. And it’s trapped behind barriers and glass, so viewing it can only be done from afar and usually with someone poking you in the side with their elbow. Yet it is one of the most famous draw cards of the entire collection, its fame pulling visitors who pack tightly side by side and crane their necks and digital cameras to collect their own blurry picture of it.


So why go to all that trouble when you can easily pick up a 3 Euro poster down the road? Especially as many visitors would have come from just as far away as I did. Well probably because there’s nothing like the real thing. Well that’s what I reckon. And the hundreds of people who I photographed that day giving the tourist camera salute to her are likely to agree…Even in this historical period of the Internet where zooms and close ups of these masterpieces are at the click of a button, the physical is still the winner over the virtual. But then it is important to also ask that without the virtual, without all the books that talk about the Mona Lisa, all the movies and docos that pontificate about her mystery, would as many people still show up to see her?

So why did I rattle on about that stuff you ask? What was the point of all that Louvre stuff unless I just wanted to show off that I was in Paris?

Well back to the luckiness involved in getting here. I’ve come to France at the invitation of Google and with the support of Te Papa, to attend the launch of Google’s 2nd phase of their Google Art Project. It’s a remarkable project, the first phase opened a few years ago and some very important museums and galleries around the world opened their collections to the world using Google’s hefty web power and, in a fashion similar to google street view, a web visitor could explore museums thousands of kilometres away by mouse-clicking their way through the halls and stopping to zoom in on selected pieces.

I was one of four curators who worked on the project for Te Papa, a group convened by our very energetic Digital Concept developer and helped by a problem-solving digital database team who oversee the electronic management of the collection records. Historical NZ art, Photography, Pacific and the Māori collection were all represented by the four curators and we had a pretty tight schedule but completed our project obligations around October 2011 and have been sworn to secrecy ever since.

But while I helped on the project, I’m very curious to see how it ends up looking when I attend the launch at the Musee d’Orsay on Tuesday. Expanding knowledge of the collection, and allowing greater access through the google channels might sound very flash and vague, and I think that’s a good thing that the more people in the know the better. However, I’m also a bit old school and, while a presence in the Google Art project is awesome, as a team the Te Papa crew who worked on this thought of it as a means to an end. Like the Mona Lisa, there’s nothing better than the real thing and maybe the Google Art project can be likened to a siren call to lure people to leave the ‘virtual world’ and come to see the ‘actual’ in Te Papa’s building. But it can also help us as a museum, luring community experts and researchers to participate in the ongoing research we do as a museum by providing access to pieces from afar.

A Paris Launch

Kia ora peoples – better start with the appropriate apologies (yet again) for the long time in between posts. Etc sorry very busy I promise I’ve felt very guilty about the lapse…

Okey, short update because I’ll be doing a decent entry in a few days time but I write this in a transit lounge in Kuala Lumpur on my way to Paris. I’ve been invited to attend an important launch of a project that my museum has been participating in. Sorry to sound so cryptic but more details will be forthcoming very soon.

Heoi! Loudspeakers are blasting so I better jump on my plane.