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Taonga maori are portals to oral history

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In MTG’s collection there are approximately 6500 taonga Māori.

Lists that read adzes and instruments of greenstone and blackstone.
Of anchors, bailers, boxes and dishes of pumice and stone.
Lists reading combs, cultivators, drills and drill points, eel killers, floats and flutes some made of bone.
Of beaters for flax and fern, of firing lights, of gourds, hooks and carved heads of both wood and stone.
Lists of kete, korowai, and knives, of lighting lamps and lintels.
Lists of mere and matau, mauri stones green and black and mats. There are shawl pins, pendents – pōria, pekapeka, manaia, and koropepe.

Lists reading prows, paddles, rattles, snares and spares – tao, kapere, spades – hapera and kō, sticks, and sinkers, hōanga. Lists of tewhatewha of wood and bone. Of tiki, spinning tops, troughs, tomahawks and trumpets. Of wakahuia, whalebone and so much more. Some of these taonga come with a little bit of history, but most don’t.

For example, an entry reads,
“Patu Paraua – Rauwhiti (glistening blade) is the name of this mere. The bone was brought back from the Auckland Islands when Tapsell and his wife Hine-Korama returned from the whaling station there about 1817. With that bone, Haupapa, Hine’s father made this mere. He used the mere as a weapon in the war party (taua) with Rauparaha when it went by the east coast to Cook Straight and returned by Taranaki 1819. It was also his weapon when Hongi attacked Mokoia in Rotorua Lake in 1822. Haupapa escaped by canoe to Kawaha on the eastern shore of the lake.

When the Ngati Haua attacked Pukeroa (the hospital hill at Rotorua) in 1837 Haupapa still had this mere. The Waikatos were repulsed there. When they attacked the Te Arawas at Te Tumu (Bay of Plenty) Haupapa was slain. The body was recovered by Tapsell with this mere still in his girdle and the body and the mere were buried on Mokoia Island. The mere was taken from there in 1900. It was intended as a present for the Duke of Cornwall but was not given. Since then it was in the possession of the Ngati Tunohopu tribe from who it was obtained”.

Another entry reads,
“Hoeroa – A short one. Its name was “Okawarea”. It was carved by Toari, Takahu’s brother. He was killed through Hongi Hika throwing this hoe-roa at him, being shot at the same time by a warrior of Hongi’s named Tareha, who shot him as he emerged from the gate of the pa. Hence his son’s name, Patu-kuwaha (killed in the gateway). Patu was afterwards killed at Mauinaina in 1821”.

Yet another reads,
“Patu pounamu – a long thin one, very old, by name Taura Poho. It was a mere of Hongi Hika’s hapu – Ngapuhi. It was named after an ancestor of Hongi’s and was made from a block of greenstone obtained by Taura from the Ngati Haua in Waikato. The mere was used by Hongi’s son Hare Hongi who was killed in a battle at Te Ranganui in 1827. It then became the property of Ngati Whatua being in the possession of Murupaenga’s family. There were four generartions from Taura-Poho the maker of the mere to Te Auha, it then passed to Te Hotete, from him to Hongi Hika and from him to Hare Hongi. It was in the possession of Murupaenga in 1824, (died in 1826) of Mihaka Mokoare 1848, of Pita Kena in 1873, of Kereopa in 1908 and of Tuara, from whom it was obtained in 1927”.

Although not always accurate, these taonga with a provenance are portals to an oral history past. The last physical link ki te ao kōhatu they are married to real people and events often leaving behind place names.

Unfortunately without provenance the majority remain pani.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today on 3 December 2022 and written by Te Hira Henderson, Curator Taonga Maori at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image: Koropepe, Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi.

7 December 2022

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