Te Papa to lose treasured Maori whare

MUSEUM CENTREPIECE: Te Hau ki Turanga whare, which is regarded as one of the oldest and most significant carved houses in existence.
MUSEUM CENTREPIECE: Te Hau ki Turanga whare, which is regarded as one of the oldest and most significant carved houses in existence.

Te Papa will lose its prized Maori exhibit when the carved wharenui Te Hau ki Turanga is returned to its rightful owners by 2017.

Gisborne iwi Rongowhakaata negotiated the return of their taonga in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement, which includes financial redress of $22 million and the return of several Crown-owned properties in the region.

A new museum to house the 20-metre-long wharenui is being discussed but who will pay for it and where it will be built are likely to be contentious issues.

The totara wharenui was built in 1842 by prominent carver and chief Raharuhi Rukupo as a memorial to his older brother, chief Tamati Waka Mangere, who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Rukupo refused to sell the building to the Crown in 1865, during the Maori Land Wars. Two years later it was confiscated by native minister J C Richmond – informally acting as director of the Colonial Museum – dismantled, and removed.

Today, it is regarded as one of the oldest and most significant carved houses in existence, and one of the first to be built using steel tools.

Rongowhakaata negotiator Jody Wyllie said the return of the country's "premier taonga" was part of the iwi's healing and re-education process because their whakapapa was woven into the walls.

"One of the problems that we have is a lot of our people don't know about this. This is a very important mnemonic device that will help generations to remember."

The logistics of moving and housing the country's "most expensive" taonga, which will be fully restored as part of the settlement, needed to be finely balanced, Mr Wyllie said.

"Look, we need to do our homework and we need to do some feasibility studies around this. If we're not careful, this taonga could quite easily bankrupt us.

"We're talking about an international art piece here."

Te Papa was doing a scoping study to look at how the wharenui needed to be cared for, a spokesman for Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson said. "There's no discussions further than that."

Te Papa did not return calls yesterday.

Mr Wyllie said it was a "golden opportunity" for a new regional museum to be built.

"What we want to do is have our taonga that's been missing from us for many generations brought back to its rightful owners so that we can promote ourselves on a global stage here.

"So instead of people taking their money to Wellington they can bring it to Gisborne. We need something like that."

Returning it to its original site at Orakaiapu Pa, Manutuke, had been raised as an option, he said.

The settlement reached last week covered all of Rongowhakaata's historical claims and included several apologies. Legislation to finalise the settlement is likely to be passed next year.

The Dominion Post