Out of darkness into the light

Bringing taonga to light, reinforcing iwi identity and building on strengths in the arts were among Rongowhakaata’s reasons for starting an exhibition journey that began on five marae and is now at Te Papa. Rongowhakaata’s kahui kaumatua (council of elders) former chairwoman Hineiromia Whaanga explains that journey to Mark Peters.

Bringing taonga to light, reinforcing iwi identity and building on strengths in the arts were among Rongowhakaata’s reasons for starting an exhibition journey that began on five marae and is now at Te Papa. Rongowhakaata’s kahui kaumatua (council of elders) former chairwoman Hineiromia Whaanga explains that journey to Mark Peters.

TAONGA: A major exhibition of Rongowhakaata taonga at Te Papa national museum includes a painted panel that depicts the whorl of a manaia’s shoulder and the form’s bent arm. (Picture courtesy of Toko Toru Tapu Church and Te Hau ki Tūranga Trust.)
GENERATIONS: Rongowhakaata’s kahui kaumatua (council of elders) former chairwoman Hineiromia Whaanga sits beneath portraits of her tipuna Wi Pere and her husband’s tipuna Ihaka Whaanga, mokopuna of Te Ratu who met Lieutenant James Cook.

THE Story of Light and Shadow is a fitting title for the exhibition of Rongowhakaata taonga at New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa.

“The young people looked at master carver Raharuhi Rukupo’s name and used that as their direction,” says Rongowhakaata’s kahui kaumatua (council of elders) former chairwoman Hineiromia Whaanga.

Rukupo means “delving into darkness”. The Maori wording for the exhibition is Ruku i te Po, Ruku i te Ao.

“It was about bringing skills and traditions out of the darkness and into the light.

“We used Rukupo as an exemplar. He was a master carver, orator, leader, trader and businessman. He wasn’t afraid of trying new things.”

New things include the traditional stone, as well as steel implements Rukupo used to carve the whare whakairo (carved house) Te Hau Ki Turanga.

Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow is part of a journey that began last year with exhibitions of taonga at the Tairawhiti iwi’s five marae.

The motivation for the five marae-based exhibitions was to enhance Rongowhakaata strengths in the cultural and performing arts, to strengthen the iwi’s identity and its connection with the whare whakairo Te Hau Ki Turanga.

In 1867, the whare was taken by commissioner of customs JC Richmond to the Colonial Museum and is now housed in Te Papa.

“The link with Te Papa has been there for as long as Te Hau Ki Turanga has been there,” says Hineiromia.

Another reason for the five maraes’ exhibitions, that was later concentrated in the award-winning Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum before it went to Te Papa, was around identity.

Strengthening identity and reconnecting

Surrounded by larger iwi — Ngati Kahungunu, Tuhoe, Whakatohea and Ngati Porou — Rongowhakaata wanted to strengthen its identity and reconnection with Te Hau Ki Turanga.

“We get kind of forgotten,” says Hineiromia.

“We are tangata whenua here. It was our people who were killed when Cook arrived.

“People don’t realise when they hop off the plane or the bus they’re on Rongowhakaata whenua.”

Another reason for the exhibtions at the five marae was that each marae was assigned to carry out the exhibition how they chose, she says. “They called on their people and out of the darkness came treasures nannies had hidden in their attics, in their cupboards, under buildings — wherever they hid them.”

“Te Hau Ki Turanga is the taonga but people had their own treasures. They brought out more than we had anticipated.

“They would say ‘we have a couple of kete’. Then they would turn up with a dozen, with exquisite patterns we don’t see nowadays.”

Bringing taonga such as the kete into the light gave artists an opportunity to pick up designs they had never seen before, she says.

Young people practiced waiata for the early morning openings of the exhibitions that began with karakia and waiata.

“During preparations for the marae exhibitions, waiata practices were held at each marae,” says Hineiromia.

“Then someone would relate the history of the marae. The young people and others learned a lot about each other.”

The exhibition journey was not purely a matter of physical artefacts and treasures, says Hineiromia.

“It was spiritual and cultural. Our taonga live. We treat them in a different way.”

Manaaki: care and respect

During a review of the five exhibitions, one of the most important features was the manaaki, the care and respect, that arose while sitting, talking and eating together, says Hineiromia.

“Step by step we grew as an iwi.”

Because of the number of taonga across the five marae, a selection process was needed prior to installation of the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.

“There were some pieces the museum wanted to have and each marae could contribute five pieces.”

Tairawhiti Museum’s kaitieki Maori, Tapunga Nepe, became the leader of the exhibition. He brought in taonga housed in other museums around the country and took them to the marae of their provenance first.

“We would have our tangi and karakia and then the taonga went to the museum,” says Hineiromia.

The manu tukutuku, that refers to both bird and kite, is used as a logo for the Te Papa exhibition.

Stories about birds and kites play a significant part in Rongowhakaata and Turanga history, Tapunga told The Gisborne Herald earlier this year. Rongowhakaata was a kite flyer of some renown.

Tamanuhiri contributed taonga to the exhibition and Mahaki people brought in staves to build a palisade for one of the displays. Other volunteers helped with thatching and painting.

“Museum staff worked alongside them. They taught our people mounting and labelling skills but I think our people taught them skills too.”

Te Papa representatives visited the exhibition several times. The national museum is particular “but they wanted the whole display”, says Hineiromia.

Exhibition Excellence — Taonga Maori award

In May, Tairawhiti Museum won the Exhibition Excellence — Taonga Maori award in the 2017 New Zealand Museum Awards for the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition.

The Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition closed shortly afterwards and continued its journey to Te Papa and into the light and into the future.

Former Gisborne man Karl Johnstone, who is affiliated with Rongowhakaata, was the “wedding planner” for the Te Papa exhibition. When the iwi exhibition at the national museum closes in two and a half years time, the relationship between Rongowhakaata and Te Papa will go on, says Hineiromia — and not only because Te Hau Ki Turanga is preserved there for now.

“They have been generous with what they want to assist us with. It’s up to us to work out where we want to go. We could use this platinum opportunity to grow the iwi.”

THE Story of Light and Shadow is a fitting title for the exhibition of Rongowhakaata taonga at New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa.

“The young people looked at master carver Raharuhi Rukupo’s name and used that as their direction,” says Rongowhakaata’s kahui kaumatua (council of elders) former chairwoman Hineiromia Whaanga.

Rukupo means “delving into darkness”. The Maori wording for the exhibition is Ruku i te Po, Ruku i te Ao.

“It was about bringing skills and traditions out of the darkness and into the light.

“We used Rukupo as an exemplar. He was a master carver, orator, leader, trader and businessman. He wasn’t afraid of trying new things.”

New things include the traditional stone, as well as steel implements Rukupo used to carve the whare whakairo (carved house) Te Hau Ki Turanga.

Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow is part of a journey that began last year with exhibitions of taonga at the Tairawhiti iwi’s five marae.

The motivation for the five marae-based exhibitions was to enhance Rongowhakaata strengths in the cultural and performing arts, to strengthen the iwi’s identity and its connection with the whare whakairo Te Hau Ki Turanga.

In 1867, the whare was taken by commissioner of customs JC Richmond to the Colonial Museum and is now housed in Te Papa.

“The link with Te Papa has been there for as long as Te Hau Ki Turanga has been there,” says Hineiromia.

Another reason for the five maraes’ exhibitions, that was later concentrated in the award-winning Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum before it went to Te Papa, was around identity.

Strengthening identity and reconnecting

Surrounded by larger iwi — Ngati Kahungunu, Tuhoe, Whakatohea and Ngati Porou — Rongowhakaata wanted to strengthen its identity and reconnection with Te Hau Ki Turanga.

“We get kind of forgotten,” says Hineiromia.

“We are tangata whenua here. It was our people who were killed when Cook arrived.

“People don’t realise when they hop off the plane or the bus they’re on Rongowhakaata whenua.”

Another reason for the exhibtions at the five marae was that each marae was assigned to carry out the exhibition how they chose, she says. “They called on their people and out of the darkness came treasures nannies had hidden in their attics, in their cupboards, under buildings — wherever they hid them.”

“Te Hau Ki Turanga is the taonga but people had their own treasures. They brought out more than we had anticipated.

“They would say ‘we have a couple of kete’. Then they would turn up with a dozen, with exquisite patterns we don’t see nowadays.”

Bringing taonga such as the kete into the light gave artists an opportunity to pick up designs they had never seen before, she says.

Young people practiced waiata for the early morning openings of the exhibitions that began with karakia and waiata.

“During preparations for the marae exhibitions, waiata practices were held at each marae,” says Hineiromia.

“Then someone would relate the history of the marae. The young people and others learned a lot about each other.”

The exhibition journey was not purely a matter of physical artefacts and treasures, says Hineiromia.

“It was spiritual and cultural. Our taonga live. We treat them in a different way.”

Manaaki: care and respect

During a review of the five exhibitions, one of the most important features was the manaaki, the care and respect, that arose while sitting, talking and eating together, says Hineiromia.

“Step by step we grew as an iwi.”

Because of the number of taonga across the five marae, a selection process was needed prior to installation of the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.

“There were some pieces the museum wanted to have and each marae could contribute five pieces.”

Tairawhiti Museum’s kaitieki Maori, Tapunga Nepe, became the leader of the exhibition. He brought in taonga housed in other museums around the country and took them to the marae of their provenance first.

“We would have our tangi and karakia and then the taonga went to the museum,” says Hineiromia.

The manu tukutuku, that refers to both bird and kite, is used as a logo for the Te Papa exhibition.

Stories about birds and kites play a significant part in Rongowhakaata and Turanga history, Tapunga told The Gisborne Herald earlier this year. Rongowhakaata was a kite flyer of some renown.

Tamanuhiri contributed taonga to the exhibition and Mahaki people brought in staves to build a palisade for one of the displays. Other volunteers helped with thatching and painting.

“Museum staff worked alongside them. They taught our people mounting and labelling skills but I think our people taught them skills too.”

Te Papa representatives visited the exhibition several times. The national museum is particular “but they wanted the whole display”, says Hineiromia.

Exhibition Excellence — Taonga Maori award

In May, Tairawhiti Museum won the Exhibition Excellence — Taonga Maori award in the 2017 New Zealand Museum Awards for the Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition.

The Ko Rongowhakaata exhibition closed shortly afterwards and continued its journey to Te Papa and into the light and into the future.

Former Gisborne man Karl Johnstone, who is affiliated with Rongowhakaata, was the “wedding planner” for the Te Papa exhibition. When the iwi exhibition at the national museum closes in two and a half years time, the relationship between Rongowhakaata and Te Papa will go on, says Hineiromia — and not only because Te Hau Ki Turanga is preserved there for now.

“They have been generous with what they want to assist us with. It’s up to us to work out where we want to go. We could use this platinum opportunity to grow the iwi.”

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