Te Papa Museum and Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust
Rongowhakaata Trust
May 12, 2021

Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust and Te Papa Board Relationship A, Agreement and Return of Taonga, 1 October 2020, Whakato Marae.

Earlier this month the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust signed a historic relationship agreement with the Te Papa Board at Whakato Marae. The agreement recognises the longstanding relationship between Rongowhakaata and Te Papa, emanating from their respective responses to the changing fortunes of Te Hau ki Turanga.

The ancestral whare acclaimed as the signature piece of, Rongowhakaata Master Carver, Raharuhi Rukupo and penultimate example of the Turanga style of carving.  Te Hau ki Turanga is a cornerstone of the relationship between Rongowhakaata and Te Papa. The agreement signed in front of Te Mana o Turanga, another outstanding example of Rukupo’s work,  commits the Te Papa Board and the Rongowhakaata Trust to an enduring relationship that supports and enables Rongowhakaata to achieve their aspirations regarding taonga, identity, culture and heritage.

“It’s significant for us, our board, management and staff to be here, this is the first time the Te Papa Board has been here for over 20 years. I think it acknowledges the significance of the occasion and the signing of the relationship agreement between the Rongowhakaata iwi Trust and Te Papa.”, said Te Papa Kaihautu, Arapata Hakiwai. Mr Hakiwai also gave the apologies of Te Papa Chair, Dame Fran Wilde, who despite best efforts was unable to attend. The Trust Board did manage to catch up with Dame Wilde at a subsequent meeting held at Te Papa, later in the month.

In pursuing their aspirations, Rongowhakaata will assist Te Papa support Maori development by enabling the wider New Zealand society to benefit from Maori culture and co-facilitate cultural exchanges and symposiums. Last year, Rongowhakaata and Te Papa co-hosted the biannual national Tuhonohono i nga taonga a iwi conference in Gisborne

Courtney Johnston has been a member of the Te Papa team that  actively  nurtured the relationship over the past two years and now in her new role as Tumu Whakarae, Chief Executive, she is able to consider, the practical ways that Te Papa can give effect to the relationship agreement. “Personally, that relationship has been so upholding and strengthening, particularly in this year of disruption”.

“Having Rongowhakaata in the house supporting us, so that we can support Rongowhakaata in their care of their taonga has been amazing”.” I think that is what this relationship for me is primarily about”.” It’s about coming together around the taonga, around the Matauranga, inherent in the taonga”, said Ms Johnstone.  

Post the signing of the agreement the two boards met to discuss priority actions to be included in an annual work programme. Four priorities were agreed; restoration and return of Te Hau ki Turanga, digitising Rongowhakaata taonga, intellectual property and reframing the conversation regarding loaning taonga. On the matter of digitising taonga, the Trust will work with Te Papa to explore state of the art, digitising technologies and processes and facilitate access to museums including, the Tairawhiti Museum and other national and international institutions that house Rongowhakaata taonga.

Trust Board members led discussions on, correcting the description of the relationship of the taonga with iwi, hapu, whanau and Te Papa. Trust Board member, Te Aturangi Nepia-Clamp said, “the taonga belong to us and we are lending them to you, Te Papa, for the benefit of the public”. He went on to say that all future loan agreements should reflect this understanding.

“Museums have an old history of controlling and taking away, we have a new history of bringing back, of bringing life back, warming up and partnering and that’s what’s so fulfilling for all of us and particularly fulfilling for me.” said Courtney Johnston.

Along with agreement signing, six taonga were returned to Rongowhakaata whanau. These taonga were part of the Ko Rongowhakaata, Ruku i te Po, Ruku i te Ao, Exhibition, which opened in 2017.Rongowhakaata Trust Chair, Moera Brown said, ” the return of these six taonga marks the beginning of te hokinga mai, the return journey of the 100 plus taonga that comprise the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition currently at Te Papa.

Ms Brown said, “We will be working with our whanau, hapu and marae to discuss and design the process and programme for the return of all our taonga, when our exhibition closes, early October 2021. We will be pulling together a working party to oversee this project, and will draw on the expertise and experience of iwi members such as Tapunga Nepe, current Tairawhiti Museum staff member and recipient of one of the inaugural Whaia te Matauranga, Tuia 250 Scholarship established by the British High Commissioner to Aotearoa/ New Zealand, Her Excellency Laura Clarke

The taonga returned comprised a selection of potae, whariki and korowai, all fine examples of the toi, (arts), tradition and skill of Rongowhakaata weavers. The six taonga belong to the Ria, Pohatu, Maynard, Nepe and Ratapu whanau. Whanau members were on hand to receive their taonga and an acknowledgement and vote of thanks from Trust Chair, Moera Brown.

Te Papa Kaihautu Arapata Hakiwai said the day marks the start of the journey to return Ko Rongowhakaata taonga home. “Three years ago, when around 100 taonga, that comprise the Ko Rongowhakaata Exhibition, were taken down to te papa we had never seen anything quite like it”.

The return of these taonga, said acting Te Papa Board Chair, Caren Rangi “Is the right thing to do, it is part of what’s important to us in terms of the principal of mana taonga. We believe that taonga should be with the people that they are most related, connected to, taonga should be returned to their home to the people they belong to”.

“We are very happy to be able to do that today.” In fact, the return of the taonga and the moving ceremony involving, karanga, karakia, waiata and korero was a great learning opportunity for the Board. Current, Te Papa Chair, Dame Fran Wilde is serving her second term on the board, while the rest of the board are all first timers.

Caren Rangi said it was a great for Board members to participate in a ceremony welcoming returning taonga. Board members were able to see first-hand, the intimate and spiritual connection that whanau, hapu and iwi have with their taonga.  She believed it was a good introduction to the later discussion on proprietary rights and interest and taonga provenance.  

Trust Board member, Staci Hare said, Rongowhakaata is presenting Te Papa with a  wonderful opportunity to lead, to develop innovative indigenous models of ‘ownership and stewardship of taonga’, to explore new digital technologies and to discuss the changing face and role of Museums in the 21st Century and in COVID-19 impacted times.

Trust General Manager, Amohaere Houkamau, said what is reassuring is, ‘both boards are committed to doing things that really matter, to doing them differently and to doing them together.”

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