Ngati Toa's wealth of objects

TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014
Ngati Toa exhibit
NGATI MODERN MODEL: Toi kaitiaki Karanga Metekingi models the contemporary cloak woven by whanau from gifted feathers, to be shown at an exhibition at Te Papa.

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The timing couldn't be better for Ngati Toa - a $70 million Treaty settlement was signed off in April, and the iwi have immense opportunity ahead of them. So what better time to tell the story of how they got there?  

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Some stories tell themselves, and some taonga pick their time to shine, too.

It's taken more than a year of talking, collecting, and preparation for the 30-month exhibition Whiti Te Ra: The Story of Ngati Toa Rangatira which opens at Te Papa Tongarewa on Saturday.

Ngati Toa are the seventh iwi to hold court at the national museum, and while the timing of the exhibition is just a coincidence, it is a good time for reflection, says Ngati Toa spokeswoman Jennie Smeaton.

"Any iwi given the opportunity to present their story within a national museum context is pretty significant. But there were a number of key korero we wanted to share with people - the story of how Ngati Toa came here, the Treaty settlements and the haka."

It was Te Rauparaha - the man responsible for the All Blacks haka - who recognised the strategic importance of the Cook Strait and led the charge on resettling the tribe from Kawhia.

There were some bloody battles, some necessary alliances and, by 1840, Ngati Toa Rangatira was recognised as the dominant tribe in Kapiti, Wellington and the top of the South Island.

One of the taonga taking pride of place in the exhibition is a mere pounamu named Tuhiwai, which was a peace offering given in exchange for a waka taua (war canoe) by Ngai Tahu chief Te Matenga Taiaroa and signalled the end of the conflict over land at the top of the south.

"It was the healing of the tribes," explains Karanga Metekingi, whose father put it in the care of the Dominion Museum in the 1960s.

"He thought it should be here for all our grandchildren and great grandchildren," says Metekingi. Until then, Ngati Toa families had held it since 1839.

Te Papa kaitiaki taonga Moana Parata, who is from Ngati Toa herself, says they were lucky to have had a wealth of objects to choose from - but it wasn't a difficult choice, the taonga chose themselves with their stories.

The exhibition will include Sir Maui Pomare's parliamentary pass and whalebone walking stick, a pencil etching of Te Pehi's ta moko, eight mere, taiaha belonging to Te Rauparaha and muskets belonging to Te Rangihatea, among other objects, and a cloak and a hei tiki belonging to two of just 13 women who signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

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Smeaton says while some of the objects have been in the care of museums for years, others have come from the private collections of Ngati Toa whanau.

"To have the whanau allow us to put it in the exhibition and to have it all together for a period of time is significant."

As well as objects with historical significance, the exhibition group has worked hard to pull in contemporary work and stories, too.

"We wanted everybody to see themselves in some way," says Smeaton

One example is a feather cloak handwoven by local teacher and artist Kohai Grace and whanau at Hongoeka Bay, made of gifted feathers from kakapo, kaka, tui, kiwi, kereru and kakariki.

"We wanted to highlight a traditional practice in a contemporary way. To be able to get those types of materials is very rare."

Te Papa's lead curator on the exhibition, Awhina Tamarapa, says the key point of difference with this iwi exhibition is the audio visuals which have been developed with iwi members, as well as the significant taonga belonging to the iwi.

"We hope that people, no matter where they are from, will be inspired, feel uplifted and appreciate Ngati Toa and Maori culture as a result of this exhibition."

Asked what the feeling among the runanga will be at the dawn powhiri, Smeaton says: "One of excitement, I would imagine, in seeing how our stories will be told and potentially emotional for a lot of people."

THE DETAILS

Whiti Te Ra: The Story of Ngati Toa Rangatira, Te Papa, from Saturday.

- The Dominion Post

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