There are a load of grumpy, bleary eyed people stumbling around Te Papa today after many of us came in just before 5am to welcome the beautiful taonga Uenuku into the whare.
Uenuku is normally held at the Te Awamutu museum in the Waikato and has been kindly lent to Te Papa as part of the upcoming Tainui exhibition, due to open in September. But while development work on the exhibition has been going on for nearly two years, Uenuku’s arrival this morning marks the beginning for the taonga preparation phase for the exhibition.
Uenuku is an atua or a god, and this taonga can at times be a taunga atua (a resting place for him) or the god himself. It is very special, sacred and a remarkable record of how the old people incorporated and viewed the spiritual world in their everyday lives.
Around 200 people assembled for a dawn pohiri, he was escorted on to Rongomaraeroa (Te Papa’s marae) by an ope taua (band of warriors), who looked deadddddly. Taiaha, wahaika, pukana and maro flashing, it was breath taking stuff, and I’ve been lucky enough to see some pretty awesome pohiri take place on that marae.
Uenuku is now resting in the collection store Te Ahuru Mowai until his installation in the exhibition in the coming months. The exhibition will be installed for approximately 3 years and Tainui will become the next iwi-in-residence at Te Papa. When I was 7 years old I first saw Uenuku in the famous Te Maori exhibition in Auckland. It’s an honour that I’ll get to see him again on a daily basis.