A significant cultural gift from Aotearoa New Zealand to the United Nations is a step closer with the unveiling of a bronze whatarangi (storehouse) at Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) in Rotorua. The kaupapa initiative, called Māori Tū, is led by the Iwi Chairs Forum and has been developed as a demonstration of support from Aotearoa New Zealand for the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The piece has been temporarily installed at Te Puia while engineering tests are undertaken. At more than 3.5 metres high and weighing nearly four tonnes, the gift takes the form of a whatarangi, a raised storehouse where the most precious taonga (treasures) of the tribe would traditionally be stored. The bronze whatarangi symbolises safe-keeping, representing the storage and maintenance of tangible and intangible heritage.
Sir Tumu te Heuheu, chairman, Iwi Leaders Group which is responsible for the direction of Māori Tū, said that one of the key objectives that the gifting of the taonga (treasure) hopes to achieve, is to deepen understanding and to grow a greater social and political consciousness around the significance of the Declaration to both iwi Māori, and to New Zealand. “Furthermore, we hope that the whatarangi will help to nurture the blossoming of a set of values which will help to inform the development of a unique relationship between indigenous peoples and the United Nations into the future. The unveiling of the whatarangi is another important step in the process, not just for technical reasons, but also to acknowledge those who have been involved with this kaupapa and to celebrate its completion,” he said.
Heuheu made special mention of Rotorua kaumatua (elder), Mauriora Kingi, who played a pivotal role in the development of the kaupapa. “Mauriora was not only a graduate of NZMACI, he was an also firm advocate of the protection and perpetuation of Māori art, craft and culture – a mandate which the UN Declaration seeks to protect,” he said, adding that the finer details around the gifting of the whatarangi are being finalised with the United Nations.
Iwi Chairs Forum technical adviser, Karl Johnstone said that Māori Tū has been a significant undertaking for NZMACI, requiring the creation of two whatarangi – a wooden carved original used to cast the bronze work, as well as the final bronze piece. “The carvers and artists have really pushed the limits of the bronze medium to create the work, which captures the finest elements of carving. The process is a meeting of time honoured practices, including the reductive carving process and the reflective casting process,” said Johnstone, adding that while many might consider bronze to be contemporary in terms of Māori culture, the skills and techniques have been used for more than 7000 years elsewhere in the world.
Bronze also has a long history in New Zealand, including bronze patu (clubs) which were traded with Māori on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to New Zealand between 1772 and 1775. “Māori have always adapted to and adopted new technology and while our materials may change over time, the thought processes that underpin the culture remain the same,” said Johnstone.
The substantial size and weight of the whatarangi, at just under four tonnes, will require considerable testing and engineering, hence its temporary installation at Te Puia. “The trial installation provides an important opportunity for iwi Māori and for manuhiri (visitors) to see this unique piece and learn more about its significance and what it represents,” stated Johnstone.