HE MANUTUKUTUKU AHAU!

I AM A KITE!

I AM A KITE!

ko Rongowhakaata
MANAIA: Detail from a carved panel that features a manaia in the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum. The bulbous shapes seen in several works in the show are abstracted from the negative space created by the arm of the manaia.
Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
PITAUTANGA: The kowhaiwhai pattern in Brooking’s work, Pitautanga, features flowing bulbous forms seen in the exhibition poster and several works in the show.
Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
PITAU A MANAIA: Detail from a painted panel by Petera Te Hiwirori Maynard. At the centre of this detail from Maynard's painting is a form created by the bent arm of a manaia. The whorl of shoulder can be seen centre left while the manaia's stylised hand is on the right.
Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

A photographic cut-out of a kite in the form of a winged man hangs above the entrance to the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.

The kite, manu (bird) and manaia (a bird-man motif) are only part of a constellation of themes in the exhibition that stamps the iwi’s identity with ancient and contemporary taonga, and smart curatorship.

That fragment is touched on here but if you haven’t yet visited the exhibition, you have only 10 days before it ends.

The original manu whata (hanging bird-kite) is preserved at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Stories about birds and kites play a significant part in Rongowhakaata and Turanga history, says the museum’s kaitieki Maori, Tapunga Nepe.

Rongowhakaata was a kite flyer of some renown.

“We have a strong link with birds and manutukutuku (kites). Our oral history tells us Rongowhakaata was a shapeshifter.”

Some elders maintain Rongowhakaata had mastered the art of levitation and could transform into a bird figure, says text in segment two of the exhibition.

“It was this transformative ability that allowed him to shadow Uetupuke (his second wife) through the Waioweka Gorge.

Kowhaiwhai patterns

Kowhaiwhai patterns known as pitau a manaia (a double spiral pattern) can be seen in works in a small gallery by the entrance to the exhibition. These include Henare Brooking’s painting, Pitautanga, a tribute to tipuna who created the pitau manaia form.

The kowhaiwhai pattern in Brooking’s work features flowing bulbous forms seen in the exhibition poster and several works in the show. These shapes are abstracted from the negative space created by the arm of a manaia as seen in one of the carved panels in the exhibition.

Small pod-like forms know as kaperua bobble along the inside of many of the curved shapes in Brooking’s large work and enhance a sense of lightness of being in the painting.

Kite forms appear in a story in segment two of the show which also features a display dedicated to kumara.

As well as holding an important spiritual role in kite making and flying, Rongowhakaata is custodian of the sacred kumara.

Hinehakirirangi, a significant descendant from the Rongowhakaata iwi’s ancestral waka, Horouta, is depicted in a painting in one display. Hinehakirirangi is said to have held kumara tubers under her breasts to keep them warm and safe from salt water. Also in the tableau is a kumara planting tool and a panoramic photograph of the hill where Hinehakirirangi planted the kumara.

Birds play a significant role in one kumara story.

“Two birds were given to an ancestor whose objective was to retrieve kumara from Hawaiiki and to bring them to Aotearoa,” says Nepe.

The ancestor Pourangahua borrowed two birds and boarded one of them with two bags of kumara. He ignored the instruction to dismount and walk once they reached land.

The chief who had loaned the birds was furious and brought down a pestilence on the kumara crop Pourangahua had planted.

“Every story in the exhibition is unique and significant,” says Nepe. “We had all these stories but covering them so they flowed was the challenge.”

  • Ko Rongowhakaata at Tairawhiti Museum closes on May 21. Entry is free for locals.

A photographic cut-out of a kite in the form of a winged man hangs above the entrance to the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.

The kite, manu (bird) and manaia (a bird-man motif) are only part of a constellation of themes in the exhibition that stamps the iwi’s identity with ancient and contemporary taonga, and smart curatorship.

That fragment is touched on here but if you haven’t yet visited the exhibition, you have only 10 days before it ends.

The original manu whata (hanging bird-kite) is preserved at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Stories about birds and kites play a significant part in Rongowhakaata and Turanga history, says the museum’s kaitieki Maori, Tapunga Nepe.

Rongowhakaata was a kite flyer of some renown.

“We have a strong link with birds and manutukutuku (kites). Our oral history tells us Rongowhakaata was a shapeshifter.”

Some elders maintain Rongowhakaata had mastered the art of levitation and could transform into a bird figure, says text in segment two of the exhibition.

“It was this transformative ability that allowed him to shadow Uetupuke (his second wife) through the Waioweka Gorge.

Kowhaiwhai patterns

Kowhaiwhai patterns known as pitau a manaia (a double spiral pattern) can be seen in works in a small gallery by the entrance to the exhibition. These include Henare Brooking’s painting, Pitautanga, a tribute to tipuna who created the pitau manaia form.

The kowhaiwhai pattern in Brooking’s work features flowing bulbous forms seen in the exhibition poster and several works in the show. These shapes are abstracted from the negative space created by the arm of a manaia as seen in one of the carved panels in the exhibition.

Small pod-like forms know as kaperua bobble along the inside of many of the curved shapes in Brooking’s large work and enhance a sense of lightness of being in the painting.

Kite forms appear in a story in segment two of the show which also features a display dedicated to kumara.

As well as holding an important spiritual role in kite making and flying, Rongowhakaata is custodian of the sacred kumara.

Hinehakirirangi, a significant descendant from the Rongowhakaata iwi’s ancestral waka, Horouta, is depicted in a painting in one display. Hinehakirirangi is said to have held kumara tubers under her breasts to keep them warm and safe from salt water. Also in the tableau is a kumara planting tool and a panoramic photograph of the hill where Hinehakirirangi planted the kumara.

Birds play a significant role in one kumara story.

“Two birds were given to an ancestor whose objective was to retrieve kumara from Hawaiiki and to bring them to Aotearoa,” says Nepe.

The ancestor Pourangahua borrowed two birds and boarded one of them with two bags of kumara. He ignored the instruction to dismount and walk once they reached land.

The chief who had loaned the birds was furious and brought down a pestilence on the kumara crop Pourangahua had planted.

“Every story in the exhibition is unique and significant,” says Nepe. “We had all these stories but covering them so they flowed was the challenge.”

  • Ko Rongowhakaata at Tairawhiti Museum closes on May 21. Entry is free for locals.
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