Teaching Texans about our taonga

01:00, Sep 13 2012

A Nelson-based Maori arts adviser is flying to the United States to teach Texans about the cultural significance of Maori taonga held in a museum there.

The cultural twist is not lost on Doc Ferris, who is the director of Maori education at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

He is travelling to the Menil Gallery in Houston, Texas, with a delegation of four other Maori arts and culture experts from around New Zealand.

They will spend 10 days examining the museum's collection of taonga puoro or traditional Maori instruments.

The expedition's project manager, Rangitunoa Black, said the trip had been in the making for two years.

She successfully applied for funding for the trip from the United States-based Memnosyne Foundation, which aims to empower indigenous people to revive their culture and history.


Ms Black said Mr Ferris was selected because of his expertise in te reo Maori, Maori taonga, carving and education.

"He has a deep commitment to revitalising the Maori language and culture and is also an experienced carver in his own right, who makes and plays taonga puoro."

The taonga puoro held in the Menil Gallery date back to pre-European New Zealand, possibly before 1825.

Ms Black said the provenance of the whole collection had been provided, but the information was very basic.

The group would have unimpeded access to the Maori taonga puoro collection, a recording studio and a forensic facility to examine the instruments.

“This is a really huge honour and privilege,” she said. “It's the first time that an indigenous group who are not curators, academics, or government officials have been given an opportunity to curate, record, document and research their own history in a United States museum. It's priceless.”

The trip is being documented by TVNZ One's Waka Huia programme by producers Christopher Winitana and Tinamaree Kaipara.

Mr Ferris said it was a privilege to be invited.

“My job is to go and study the carvings themselves and try and leave the Menil with as much information as I can about where they're from, who might have carved them, which iwi they come from and what's represented in the artworks themselves."

Mr Ferris said "of course we'd love for them to be in New Zealand - maybe with the people that created them", but the next best thing was to make sure they were at least displayed with the correct information along with protocols on how to handle them and how look after them.

The Nelson Mail