Symbolic Taiaha Returned

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7 September 2022

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One of the most significant tribal treasures held in Tūhura Otago Museum has been returned to Ngāti Maniapoto today ahead of the tribe’s Treaty of Waitangi claim settlement by Parliament.Named ‘Maungārongo’, this taiaha (a long wooden weapon) is famously associated with the enforcement by Ngāti Maniapoto of their aukati or boundary line that in the 1860s saw Pākehā barred from unauthorised entry into the region that became known as the King Country.

In 1885, the taiaha was presented by Wahanui of Ngāti Maniapoto with the intention the taiaha be forwarded to the Hon. John Ballance, Native Minister to be placed in Parliament as a symbol of the lasting peace that had been established. However, a debate by politicians saw Parliament reject the taiaha and it was given to Port Chalmers MP, James MacAndrew, who then placed it in the Otago University Museum.

Investigations saw the taiaha identified and a wish to see it properly respected for the mana of the taiaha and what it symbolised. It was originally named ‘Mahuta’ and renamed ‘Maungārongo’ in respect of its role in symbolising the peace that had been made. The taiaha is particularly large and adorned with orange kākā feathers and white kurī (dog) fur that denotes it significance. “There is no question that Maungārongo is an exceptional example of a taiaha, but it is the whakapapa and history, the hands that have held it and why, that is so profoundly significant” says Dr Gerard O’Regan, Curator Māori at Tūhura Otago Museum.

As part of their Treaty settlement, Ngāti Maniapoto sought the Government’s assistance in
repatriating the taiaha. “Maungārongo is steeped in history within Ngāti Maniapoto, and the reason it was presented to Parliament by our rangatira of the time as a symbol of the peace that existed between Ngāti Maniapoto and the Crown was also significant. Therefore, having this taiaha return to Parliament was a significant priority for us as part of our Treaty settlement” says Te Nehenehenui Chair Bella Takiari-Brame.

An approach was made to the Otago Museum Trust Board who, with advice of local rūnanga through the Museum’s Māori Advisory Committee, determined the taonga should be returned to Ngāti Maniapoto. “Any museum in New Zealand would be humbled to be entrusted with such a significant taonga, but it will foster much greater cultural reinvigoration back in the care of where it belongs” says Gerard O’Regan. “It is humbling for us at Tūhura Otago Museum to be able to contribute to this return” he adds.

A group of Ngāti Maniapoto iwi representatives from the North Island were joined by others living in Otago and Murihiku to receive the taonga at a special ceremony on Wednesday morning. In the ceremony Maungārongo was laid on a special whāriki (mat) woven specifically for the occasion by weavers of Te Whānau Arohanui at Waitati. With the support of Kāi Tahu manawhenua rūnanga, Tūhura Otago Museum handed over the taiaha to Ngāti Maniapoto. Maungārongo will then be taken to Parliament where it will be on display for several years before returning north again to Ngāti Maniapoto.

The transfer to Wellington and display at Parliament is being supported by Te Papa.

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