A kuia once charged with restoring a 200-year-old waka, gifted to the people of Hamilton 41 years ago, wants the Waikato Museum to come clean with details of a fire that threatened the priceless taonga.
Mamae Takerei, a former curator at Waikato Museum and leader of the restoration work on the waka Te Winika in the 1980s, said she was "disgusted" to hear news of the fire at the museum on Sunday.
She is now suggesting the waka be returned to Maori hands.
The waka was undergoing restoration work when linseed oil-soaked rags used on the project burst into flames.
Takerei criticised museum management staff and said the circumstances leading up to the fire could have been prevented.
"In 1973 Te Arikinui gifted that waka to the city of Hamilton, [the] integrity of that gift has now been compromised.
"Let's not rule out the option that it could very well be taken back to the owner, by way of birthright."
In 2001 a management plan was prepared and signed off by the museum director at the time and Takerei.
It looked in-depth at how to care for the waka.
The reality about restoration was that one had to understand the medium, impact and the science behind it, Takerei said.
Assessors are checking other collections at the Waikato Museum for water and smoke damage.
In 1987, Maori Queen Te Atairangikaahu, chose Takerei to put together a team to restore Te Winika. The restoration work took 14 months.
The team dismantled the waka piece by piece to restore its natural grain.
Takerei believes any restoration work done on Te Winika should have been in consultation with her.
"I know that waka, I know her curves, I know her like she is my own child.
"I believe the museum must now start to talk to me because that waka is in dire straits. It will now need full restoration."
Takerei, said she had heard that restoration plans were put in place for Te Winika five months ago.
She advised Tainui and Waikato Museum officials against the restoration work, which she deemed unnecessary.
"The question now remains, can we actually trust the museum to look after Te Winika?"
Takerei has asked to be taken to the waka to evaluate it herself.
The Waikato Times understands some carvings on the waka had light charring damage but Waikato Museum partnerships and communications manager Louise Belay did not want to speak on the record about the fire.
"We couldn't allow your photographer to take a photo of the waka because it is tapu [sacred] - I'm not even allowed to take a photo of it."
The feathers and trimmings on the waka had been stripped away while the waka was undergoing restoration.
"We have closed off that part of the museum because the site is still being cleared and we are waiting to bring in insurance people."
She said staff were devastated about the fire and the situation was unlucky.
Insurance quotes would be assessed this week, Belay said.
Hamilton City Council was asked what the restoration process involves, how often they carry out this process on the waka, and what damage the waka suffered on Sunday night.
Council communications adviser Jeff Neems said the council needed to work closely with iwi liasion officers to answer questions.
"We are not in a position to comment on the restoration as this was being undertaken on behalf of the King's office," he said.
"Firstly our focus is to look over the events of the weekend with the fire."
Te Papa conservator Nirmala Balram said preservation of a 200- year-old waka should involve "preventative conservation".
"We don't use linseed oil on things any more.
"We do preventative conservation - that involves keeping it in a room at a controlled temperature and just keeping it clean."
"For something that lives in water - if it dries out it will crack."
She said the smoke would not dry out the waka, but it would possibly discolour it.
Calls to the Maori King's office were not returned.
- Waikato Times