Taonga Research 

Research activities that involve the taonga Māori (Māori cultural treasures) collections vary according to the nature of the enquiry and its purpose. Our team conducts research that is communicated to the public through exhibitions, publications, floortalks, lectures, and on a relatively general level, public enquiries. Research informs our collection development. We also provide supervised access to the taonga held in our care, along with relevant information on these taonga. Most of the team have over ten years of experience and knowledge of the taonga in Te Papa. Combined, this adds up to over half a century of institutional knowledge between eight people. Understanding and respect for tikanga (Māori customs and principles) is a fundamental and necessary aspect of our work.

We are increasingly involved in assisting iwi (tribal groups) with their taonga research. 

Iwi researchers have compiled inventories of their tribal taonga in Te Papa, other museums, and private collections through regional partnership projects with National Services Te Paerangi. These iwi include Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Toarangatira, Tauranga Moana, Arowhenua, Muaupoko, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāi Tahu, and Ngāi Tuhoe. In the course of our research, we work with iwi and tohunga (experts) in the arts. These include such disciplines as whakairo (carving), raranga (weaving), and contemporary visual culture. 

The Te Papa iwi exhibition is an innovative partnership opportunity for iwi to consider exhibiting their unique perspective and history through narratives, taonga, and artworks. A dedicated space is provided for this exhibition with a duration for each exhibition of two-and-a-half years. Among the many benefits of this partnership, the iwi exhibition programme serves as a basis for iwi-driven research on their taonga housed at Te Papa, and in other museums and private collections. 

Te Papa has also engaged the expertise of Māori artists in association with the iwi exhibitions and holds examples of their work in the collections. These people include Te Atiawa kaumatua (elder) John Puketapu, a fit man in his eighties, who was born and raised at Waiwhetu marae, Lower Hutt, Wellington. John is an expert maker of customary fishing nets and fish traps. His skill and knowledge were passed down to him by his father. John has made a hinaki (eel trap) and a taruke (crayfish pot) in a public demonstration at Te Papa. These items have been added to our collections. The collection also has an extremely delicate model of an eel weir once used on the Whanganui River. The small-scale model is a replica of a model eel weir on display in the Wanganui Museum. 

Riria Smith, of Te Aupōuri, Pohutiare, Te Rarawa, and Ngāti Kurī tribal affiliations, is an expert weaver. Te Papa purchased a large rā (sail) woven by Riria. She was supported in this endeavour by Donna Lenol and Donna’s whanau (family). The rā was first exhibited in the Te Aupōuri iwi exhibition, which ran from 28 August 1999 to October 2001. The sail is named Honore (Honour) and is based on the only early Māori sail in existence, held by the British Museum. Honore is made from several hundred strands of prepared harakeke (New Zealand flax, Phornium tenax) and is 4460mm in height and 2400mm at its widest point. The patterns on the rā depict the diverse changes in social landscape since the arrival of Europeans in Aotearoa New Zealand. The rā took an entire month to make. The sail is on display in the Mana Whenua exhibition at Te Papa.

Māori artists, independent researchers, and school and tertiary students regularly visit Te Papa for their own research. Our relationship with Māori art organisations, such as Toi Māori and Toi Aotearoa, is strong, and we regularly interact and work with a wide range of artists for exhibitions, events, and other public programmes.