Air NZ decide: your culture or a job?

 

http://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/history

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.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10886641

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.

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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 (http://www.tematatini.co.nz/Rotorua2013/about_kapa_haka.htm)

 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:

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

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

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

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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?]

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Making a big world smaller

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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.

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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.

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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.

More stories than you can shake a tokotoko at

Sorry about the length of time between posts, I’ve been juggling a bunch of different gigs and research duties. The fun don’t stop! But regardless of my shameless plea about time poverty, I better get this blog back up off its flatline….eep.

I’ve only been a curator for 7 months and even if you were the brainiest most well read person in the world, a curator is really only as good as their knowledge of their museum’s collection. So in familiarising myself with the Taonga Maori collection at Te Papa, I’ve been systematically going through all the collection areas, drawers, shelves and trawling our collection database, trying to cast my eye over as many of the taonga as possible. With 35, 000 pieces in the Maori collection alone, you can imagine this is going to be a long getting-to-know-you process. There are stories and mysteries at every turn in the museum, more than you can shake a tokotoko at, the place heaves with detective trails just waiting to be followed up. I’ll eventually try and cover them all, should take me about 200 years.

But for this blog I thought I’d talk about one interesting little object that I stumbled across in one of the drawers in our collection stores.  In a small metal drawer, secured in a cliplock plastic bag was this little oddity.

Small, about the size of an outstretched hand, and weighing about as much as a tea cup – it had no information other than a small accompanying cardboard label in the plastic bag.

 

Now immediately before anyone gets the wiriwiris, this isn’t a skull tiki. Even I blanched a bit when I saw the label but any objects made from modified human bone or remains are all in a specially designated room in Te Papa, well-secured and with restricted access. So I knew it was highly unlikely that this was human bone. It was too heavy and dense a material, and there was a glossy quality to its surface that looked too artificial to be bone. I guessed it was probably ceramic or something along those lines but held off making a decision until I had investigated everything.

I examined it carefully, photographed it, weighed it, noting any strange qualities or clues. It was a beautifully carved four-limbed creature. Piko-o-rauru (plain spirals) embellish the buttocks, while rauru (notched spirals) are found on what could be termed the back/shoulders. The head is small with two large very round blue-glazed eyes, a mouth with teeth, and a small suspension hole. The splayed left hand is held upright while the right hand terminates in a manaia joined to the right foot. On the reverse side, there are pencil markings and cross-hatch markings, presumably from a mesh cloth used in a plaster-making process (establishing pretty quickly it was probably made from plaster or ceramic). A small length of coarse twine is tied to the hole between the right hand and foot.

Once I was satisified with the physical once-over of the object, I went to the archives to check if any record existed of it (none did). So I happily went on a detective hunt (the fun part of the job).

First thing is start with the written material that came with the object. The cardboard label held a clue that I used to establish the most probable period or year the replica might have been made. The G.R. and the image of the crown is a definite time marker. The G.R. stands for George Rex, a regal stamp for George V. George Vs reign started in 1910, so the label has helped me figure out that the replica was made at least after 1910 and no later than 1936, when George V’s reign ended. Good, timeframes are handy for museum records…

The second lookup was to scan for any mention of ‘skull tiki’ and I found several references relatively quickly. The best were found in two written sources: a 1932 JPS article by Henry Skinner about Maori amulets and a large book published 1898 by James Edge-Partington called Ethnographical Album of the Pacific Islands. The James Edge-Partington book was probably the most helpful. In the late 1800s, Partington – a keen collector and ethnologist of Pacific material – researched and documented private and public collections of Pacific and Maori material. These collections were found in NZ, England, and Australia; his book is a fascinating sketched record of holdings at that time. And nestled within the pages of this enormous book was the following sketch of a “skull tiki” held at the British Museum, recorded between 1890-98 (Partington’s research period for the book):

Bingo. So what I had at Te Papa was probably a plaster replica of a British Museum original. I tracked the records at the British Museum and reconciled on our database where the Te Papa copy came from. The original at the BM is classified as a ‘skull tiki’ and probably from the occipital section of the skull. The British Museum has no acquisition information about this piece but they have made an attribution to Taranaki, early 19th century. It was worn as an adornment, across the chest hanging from the neck. While it is described as a tiki by the British Museum, there has been some korero among my curatorial colleagues and me about whether it can be rightly called a tiki. It deviates from the template a hei tiki usually conforms to. But that can be left for a proper discussion at another time.

So I now have a source for the replica and a year it probably made its way to Te Papa’s museum predecessor – the Dominion Museum. But what was still unknown was how did it get into the collection store? Why did Te Papa have a copy of a British Museum piece? To answer that required more archival digging…

Because I now had a date (circa 1910), I hunted through old correspondence held from that time in the museum’s archival records. There was one letter from Augustus Hamilton dated June 4th 1909 addressed to James Edge-Partington requesting permission to take a cast copy of a putorino (bugle flute) that had caught his attention after reading Edge-Partington’s book mentioned earlier.

Also in the letter, Hamilton mentions he had written to the British Museum asking for casts of pieces he had seen. It suggests that as he read Edge-Partington’s Ethnographical Album of the Pacific Islands, Hamilton may have been treating it almost like a shopping catalogue and, he would have seen the image of the British Museum skull tiki and added that to his list of requests for replicas.

So the mystery is sort of solved…the British Museum ‘skull tiki’ would have been seen by Hamilton in Edge-Partington’s book around 1909. Hamilton then sent a request to the BM asking for a cast replica to be made, which would have made its way back to New Zealand around 1910. And ever since then, it has sat in the Collection Stores. There are no records of it ever being exhibited and certainly, it has never been researched until now. It had never been registered and no records were ever kept with it and, the funny thing about museums, if an object isn’t registered or recorded, it is almost as if it is invisible or doesn’t exist.

So now after a bit of hunting, we are able to figure out this quirky little object’s history and reconcile the records accordingly. It is a replica of an even more mysterious original held in a museum thousands of miles away. And even though it’s a replica and easily dismissed because it is a copy, I think its existence and story alludes to some interesting trade/copy traditions between 19th/early 20th century museums. I’m not sure if today you would see such a willing response by a museum to copy a collection item for another museum. And in a time of Google or Collections Online where access to other museum’s collections around the world is usually at the click of a mouse button, it is should be easy to imagine how eager museum professionals of the late 19th/early 20th century would have received or taken up opportunities presented by a large book such as Edge-Partington’s tome.

A cross-tree from the crossroads – ME001431

A large part of our role as Matauranga Maori curators is to constantly research and find out more about the taonga Maori that Te Papa holds. We research for exhibitions, books, and ensure as much is known about the collection as possible. However, with 35, 000 taonga, curatorial research can be a lifelong pursuit. One of the taonga I’m researching at the moment is this cross-tree. If you were to come and visit Te Ahuru Mowai – the largest Maori collection store in Te Papa – as part our Back-of-House tours; I would guide you towards the back of the storeroom and direct your attention to this – sitting high on a storage grid:

© image Puawai Cairns

© Te Papa

This unusual looking item is called a cross-tree, dates from probably 1864-1870. It is over 5 metres long. At its widest it is the width of an old telephone pole and and its narrowest, it’s the width of an upper arm. It is covered with a fading red paint, some parts are particularly still bright red though. And there are two carved manaia at either end. one looks pretty fierce with a protruding tongue and the other is tongueless but no less impressive. Associated with the Pai Marire faith that emerged around 1862 from Taranaki, cross-trees were components of a larger flagpole called a niu. The cross-tree name describes essentially how it was attached to the flagpole, where it was fixed horizontally approximately two-thirds or halfway up a central pole.

Flags were flown from the central niu, from the cross-trees or from the ropes that bound the structure together, as you can see in the example image below.

James Cowan (1956) The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72). Wellington, NZ. p 297.

Te Papa’s cross-tree was acquired from THOMAS EDWARD DONNE who had been collecting taonga Maori for many years before selling his collection to the Dominion Museum in 1905. It has never been in an exhibition before and has always caught my attention.

I called this blog ‘A Cross-tree at the Cross Roads’ and pretty deliberately so. The period of the New Zealand Wars, the rise of Pai Marire (and the slightly later rise of Ringatu and Te Kooti) was a period of intense change and conflict for Maori and Pakeha. Other well-known historians have gone into this crucial nation-breaking/nation-building time for Aotearoa so I won’t go into a big essay about it here – save that for another time. But needless to say, the volcanic times of the mid 1860s created a hotbed for immense change – it was a cross-roads of sorts for this country.

Also geographically, the history of this cross-tree is important. Donne collected it from Galatea which, during the period of Pai Marire, was a hub of colonial, tribal and military activity – so again, it was another crossroads. The famous soldier Gilbert Mair Jr had a base there called Fort Galatea that he used to push into the Urewera country in campaigns against the Tuhoe and Pai Marire converts. It is important to know that at the time, Pai Marire were considered dangerous rebels and there was a concerted mission to supress the rise of converts. Whenever a band of government soldiers would overtake a pa that had aligned itself with the Pai Marire, one of the first things they were reported to have done would be to cut down the niu. Interesting that this action confirms that importance that both warring parties placed on its potency as a symbol….

But back to the business…when I take visitors through the stores, I usually stop in front of this piece and ask them what they think it is. The various answers I get are “a ship’s mast”, “a crane for lifting things” and so on. And this isn’t so far fetched. The very first niu to have been erected by the main Pai Marire prophet Te Ua Haumene, had reportedly come from the mast of a ship called the Lord Worsley. So it isn’t so bad sometimes when looking at taonga for the first time to trust some of your guesses.

I’ve said earlier that researching taonga can take a considerable amount of time and effort. Last week a crew of Collection Managers and one of our photographers worked hard to get images of the cross-tree, a slightly awkward task given the size and shape of the cross-tree. It was too large to comfortably take down to the photography studio so it was arranged that it would be photographed in the collection store.

© Puawai Cairns

I also had one of the Conservators to assist in checking it over, and to examine the paint and wood. The paint or pigment on the cross-tree appeared pretty unstable. While we handled it with rubber gloves, the pigment still left a residue on our hands, even with very careful handling. It has a very powdery quality – kind of like the old powdered tempera paint that primary school kids from the 70s and 80s would have used. Because of this I had suspected it was kokowai rather than European paint that had been used to colour the cross-tree (kokowai is a fascinating story all on its own but click here if you want to know more about it). And while Maori in the 1860s had access to european paint, the contemporary writings from the 19th century also describe niu as being painted with the traditional kokowai rather than european lead-based paints.

Shane James, Collection Manager, and Robert Clendon, Conservator assessing the cross-tree. © Puawai Cairns

I’ve written the official description and that’s now available on Te Papa’s Collections Online here, along with more images of the cross-tree.

I have been researching it for the last four months and hope to have a more detailed paper and presentations readied for the public within a few months time. While there is very little knowledge about this actual cross-tree, the more research I uncover about it the more intriguing and hugely significant the stories attached to it become. That is the marvellous thing about working closely with taonga; you never know what it will tell you until the timing is right.

Tai Timu, Tai Pari – Uenuku is in the building

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.
 
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