Angela Ewing always knew her British father's Maori cloak was special.
"I just didn't know how special", she said as she gave it back to New Zealand at Te Papa yesterday.
Covered in kiwi and kaka feathers, with a solitary kereru feather, the cloak, say museum experts is an unusual and distinctive taonga.
Though its origins are unknown, it is believed to have had an illustrious history, even adorning a prime minister's shoulders.
Ms Ewing, a Londoner visiting relatives in New Zealand, said her father came to this country on exchange as a teacher in 1953.
After working in Dannevirke, he was given the cloak, or korowai, by a colleague surnamed Walker and was able to take it out of New Zealand without trouble.
Mr Walker was apparently a wrestler, and the cloak had been given to him by New Zealand's first Labour prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, who shared a love of the sport, Ms Ewing said.
She thought her father had an idea of the cloak's significance but said he gave it to her when he next travelled to Asia.
"I've been meaning to give it back for at least 20 years ... it's just been stuck in a cupboard," she said. Ms Ewing was presented with a greenstone necklace after she gave back the cloak.
Arapata Hakiwai, responsible for Maori collections at Te Papa, said Ms Ewing's gift was a "great, chiefly act".
The stories and history of the cloak she had shared would help to track down its origins, he said.
Te Papa planned to include the cloak in a publication in the next 18 months, as well as a public exhibition within four years, Mr Hakiwai said.
Maori curator Awhina Tamarapa said the cloak was especially distinctive as it was decorated with three columns of feathers with tassels in between, and staff had dubbed it a "feather korowai".
Marks of the weaver were clear, from a series of small triangles in one corner to the solitary kereru feather. Further research would be done to try to locate the cloak's origins.
- © Fairfax NZ News