600-strong pōwhiri opens Rongowhakaata exhibition

Rongowhakaata senior artist Derek Lardelli whaikōrero during the opening of Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow exhibition at Te Papa. Photograph by Tim Onnes.


Te Papa’s eighth iwi exhibition, Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow opened today following an early morning karakia (blessing), and a pōwhiri (ceremony) which attracted over 600 guests from all over New Zealand.

The major new exhibition showcases the dramatic stories, histories, treasured taonga and the exceptional artistry of the Gisborne iwi, which has been curated by the iwi itself.

The moving ceremony was held in front of whare whakairo (carved meeting house) Te Hau ki Tūranga which lies at the heart of the exhibition.

Te Hau ki Tūranga was wrongfully confiscated by the Crown in 1867 by then Minister of Native Affairs and Acting Director of the Colonial Museum, James Crowe Richmond, supported by Government troops. In 2012 as part of Rongowhakaata’s Treaty of Waitangi settlement, the New Zealand Government apologised for the forcible removal of Te Hau ki Tūranga, stating that the whare whakairo belongs to Rongowhakaata.

Te Papa Kaihautū (Māori Co-leader) Dr Arapata Hakiwai acknowledges that Te Papa and its predecessors have enjoyed and benefited from the presence of Te Hau ki Tūranga for over 100 years and is humbled by Rongowhakaata’s willingness to participate in the museum’s Iwi Exhibition Programme.

“Having Rongowhakaata as iwi in residence starts a new chapter in our relationship, where past injustices are recognised and the pathways of reconciliation and healing advanced. We look forward to working even more closely with Rongowhakaata and actively assisting them with their cultural heritage aspirations,” says Dr Hakiwai.

Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust Chairperson Moera Brown says she is immensely proud of the iwi.

“We are a relatively small iwi of approximately 5,000 people but our creativity, adaptability and resilience have kept us strong.”

“Today marks the 144th anniversary of the passing of Raharuhi Rukupō – the lead master carver of Te Hau ki Tūranga. It is momentous for our iwi to be celebrating the opening of our exhibition on this auspicious date.”

“To open Ko Rongowhakaata and present our story and taonga to the nation through Te Papa marks a significant milestone in our cultural journey, a journey which started with the development of exhibitions at each of our marae, then at the Tairāwhiti Museum and now in Wellington for the world to see.  We look forward to strengthening our relationship with Te Papa further as part of this process,” says Ms Brown.

As part of the Iwi Exhibition Programme Thelma Karaitiana and Tahārakau Stewart will be the Rongowhakaata Kaumātua (elders) In Residence.  They will be kaitiaki (guardians) for the exhibition and will bring life to the identity, history and culture of the Rongowhakaata people.

Te Papa Chief Executive Geraint Martin says: “We are honoured to have Rongowhakaata in residence sharing their stories and histories, and presenting their taonga in their way through this stunning exhibition.”

“The iwi exhibition is important for Te Papa because it helps to affirm the important bicultural relationship on which Te Papa was conceptually created and gives a visible expression to our commitment to the tangata whenua of Aotearoa,” says Mr Martin.

The exhibition is made up of collection items, loans from families and institutions, commissioned artworks, digital media and the stories of the iwi.

Te Papa has commissioned senior Rongowhakaata artist, Arts Foundation Laureate and Professor (Ahorangi) Derek Lardelli to create a major work for the exhibition.

More than 150 taonga will be displayed in the exhibition, including:

  • carving from some of Rongowhakaata’s most important tohunga whakairo (master carvers)
  • Te Kooti’s prayer book from 1866, written by him during his wrongful imprisonment on the Chatham Islands
  • Wi Pere’s whale bone tokotoko (oratory stick) carved by Raharuhi Rukupō
  • intricate kōwhaiwhai panels from the Toko Toru Tapu church built in the mid 1800s
  • an original hoe (paddle) traded during Rongowhakaata’s 1769 encounter with James Cook
  • examples of outstanding weaving, including beautiful kākahu (cloaks)
  • the typewriter Witi Ihimaera used to write Pounamu, Pounamu.

Visitors will be immersed in an engaging audio-visual environment that will include:

  • projections and soundscapes, and the works of Rongowhakaata composers, such as Tama Waipara, and Rob Ruha
  • multi-screen AV’s showing footage of the iwi’s five marae, hapū and the landscape in around their rohe to welcome visitors
  •  an animation by Zak Waipara of Rongowhakaata’s account of Cook’s visit in 1769 to Tūranga (Gisborne).
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