Back to top

Bringing the huia back into the light

rsz rsz ext back 002

We’re thrilled to announce that two works by Ngāti Kahungunu artist, Fiona Pardington, have been gifted to the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection.

 Fiona and her representatives, Starkwhite Gallery, have donated the work pictured, and the MTG Foundation, have funded the purchase of a second work; Manawarahi Female Huia, MTG Hawkes Bay. The actual feathers and female huia, subjects of these fine works, are held in the Trust’s collection.

 A finalist in the Forest and Birds ‘Bird of the Century,’ the huia has been extinct now for over 100 years. MTG is supporting and championing the huia for Bird of the Century and we’d love you to help us by voting for the huia through the Forest and Bird website or just search for bird of the century. Please tell your friends and whānau and help us get the spectacular huia recognised in this way.

To say that the huia bird is culturally and symbolically charged is an understatement. Its mana and significance are underlined by the story of its whakapapa, which sets it apart from other birds that dwelt in the realm of Tāne-mahuta. The huia is a sacred bird.  

At one time the bird was worn by rangatira and their whānau as a symbol of mana. Feathers were worn in the hair, dried skins and heads worn from the ears. Walter Buller noted about the heads, “the beaks of which, hanging down all round and coming into contact make a rattling sound as the wearer moves about. These are called ‘pōtae huia’ and only a woman of high rank would presume to wear one”.

To an extent, huia numbers declined through the early days of Māori settlement in Aotearoa, the birds being traded across the country in return for other valuables.

Sadly, for the huia, its distinctive beak also saw it prized by European collectors and international trade of the birds in the nineteenth century saw its numbers decline even further. In 1901 the gift of a huia feather to the heir to the British throne made the feathers so widely desired it ultimately set in place the bird’s extinction. The last huia seen were two males and a female, in 1907.

Like a rescue operation, Fiona is concerned with giving the huia new life. The act of photographing them brings them into the light, back into the living world and reinvests them with mauri.

As a symbol of rangatira too, the feather seen at such a large scale makes a statement about the allocation of wealth and power in this country. Like time travellers, they’re reminders of a place where Māori were rangatira and able to govern themselves in their own lands.

Last week, I wrote about the new collection access and storage facility in Hastings. As a reference to the sacredness of the huia, the outside of this building, along Queen St East and Hastings St North, will be faced in a protective cloak of large scale steel huia feathers, each 6m high.

These significant feathers, glowing at night, will turn the building into a Hawke’s Bay landmark. Each feather will be laser engraved with a single name: be it an individual, a family or an organisation. The names of eighty generous supporters will be preserved permanently, a record of the people who understand the value of protecting and caring for Hawke’s Bay’s collection of precious objects and taonga. Contact if you’d like to support this heritage project and donate a feather.

In the meantime, we’re wishing best of luck to the huia becoming the ‘Bird of the Century’. You still have a chance to see these photographs in all their glory, in Tāku Huia Kaimanawa – Fiona Pardington, on display at the museum until 3 December 2023.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 4 November 2023 and written by Laura Vodanovich, Director at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image: Taku Tahu, MTG Hawkes Bay, 2022, Fiona Pardington. Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi

6 November 2023

Back to News

Disclaimers and Copyright
While every endeavour has been taken by the MTG Hawke's Bay to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and up to date, MTG Hawke's Bay shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of information on this website. Information contained has been assembled in good faith. Some of the information available in this site is from the New Zealand Public domain and supplied by relevant government agencies. MTG Hawke's Bay cannot accept any liability for its accuracy or content. Portions of the information and material on this site, including data, pages, documents, online graphics and images are protected by copyright, unless specifically notified to the contrary. Externally sourced information or material is copyright to the respective provider.

© MTG Hawke's Bay - / +64 6 835 7781 /