Young Maori curator inspired by cultural conservation

Kararaina Te Ira is the Poutiaki Taonga or curator of Taonga Maori at New Plymouth's Puke Ariki Museum.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Kararaina Te Ira is the Poutiaki Taonga or curator of Taonga Maori at New Plymouth's Puke Ariki Museum.

Every time Kararaina Te Ira goes to work, she gets a chance to preserve pieces of Taranaki history.

As the ​Poutiaki Taonga or curator of Taonga Maori at New Plymouth's Puke Ariki Museum, she is in charge of looking after a range of cultural artefacts, including the famed Motunui panels which were returned to the region in 2015.

Since starting the job in December, Te Ira has spent much of her time becoming familiar with the extensive collection.  

Part of Kararaina Te Ira's skill set is her expertise in the conservation of Maori taonga.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Part of Kararaina Te Ira's skill set is her expertise in the conservation of Maori taonga.

One of her passions is working with taonga Maori and learning about the whakapapa and knowledge related to each piece.

READ MORE:
Carving experiment designed to shine light on what makes Motunui panels so unique
Motunui panels returned to Taranaki
* Relief as stolen taonga returned to Rotorua Council

After finishing her undergraduate degree in New Zealand, she studied at the University of Melbourne, where she graduated with a Master's degree in Cultural Material Conservation.

During the first months in her new role at Puke Ariki, Kararaina Te Ira has been getting to grips with the museum's ...
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

During the first months in her new role at Puke Ariki, Kararaina Te Ira has been getting to grips with the museum's extensive collection.

"My background has been predominantly in conservation and preservation management," the 26-year-old said.

Before being appointed to her role at  Puke Ariki, she worked at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

A particular area of interest to her is the traditional way Maori used wetlands as a method for preservation.

"That's what has really drawn me to Taranaki," she said.

Ad Feedback

One of the noted examples of this is the Motunui epa, which are on display in the gallery. 

The five elaborate carvings, thought to have been carved between 1750-1820,  would have formed part of the back wall of a pataka or storehouse.

During inter-tribal warfare, the panels were buried in a swamp near Motunui, north Taranaki, for safekeeping. 

The epa were discovered in 1972 and illegally sold to  collector George Ortiz, who lived in Switzerland, and taken out of the country.

Following years of negotiation, the New Zealand Government paid $4.5 million for the panels.

Te Ira was seven years old when she was first introduced to the concept of cultural preservation.

Raised with her kuia and koro in Taupo, she spent her school holidays with her parents in Palmerston North.

During a visit to the city's museum, she came across a preservation workshop, where she helped make a frame of a box which was destined to house a kete.

She recalled how she could still remember the look of pride on the faces of the older people present.

"I remember really clearly the importance of looking after our taonga and how much it meant.  That's when I knew it was important mahi (work) to be part of and advocate for," she said. 

From then on, Te Ira was focused on turning this vision into a career pathway and it's a vocation she wanted other young people to also consider.

"The main thing I would really like for Taranaki is to encourage our rangatahi to get into this line of work."

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback