Maori; People and history
Mana Whenua takes you on a stirring journey that explores and celebrates Māori as tangata whenua (original people) of Aotearoa New Zealand. Stories of voyaging, adaptation, survival, conflict, trial, and triumph are told through a powerful mix of taonga (treasures), oral histories, and contemporary works.
Chairman Mao's cloak
In 1957, the Māori King Korokī gifted a prestigious kahu huruhuru (feather cloak) to China’s leader, Chairman Mao Zedong. Now, more than 50 years later, the National Museum of China has generously loaned the cloak to Te Papa for a brief visit home. It features as part of our Mana Whenua exhibition.
The loan is a gesture of great goodwill as China rarely lends state gifts. The New Zealand China Friendship Society played a vital role in the cloak’s return.
The story of the gift
In 1952, the New Zealand China Friendship Society was formed to encourage understanding of communist China, in a climate of Cold War distrust. Five members of the Society were invited to visit the country in 1957. They included pioneering film-makers Ramai and Rudall Hayward – the first English-speaking film-makers to be invited there.
The group presented the remarkable kahu huruhuru to Chairman Mao on behalf of Korokī. The date was 1 October, China’s National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
For Māori, gifting prestigious taonga (cultural treasures) has long been a custom to seal honoured relationships and signal respect. When Ramai Hayward placed the cloak around the Chinese leader’s shoulders, he said, ‘We are the smallest nation in the world, giving this gift to the largest nation in the world.’ Mao replied, ‘The smallest is as great as the largest.’
The gift featured in a documentary film that the Haywards made during their visit.
More about Mana Whenua
Through the exhibition, you can experience something of the richness, complexity, and dynamism of Māori life and heritage. The concept of ‘mana whenua’ has many layers of meaning. It tells of important relationships that Māori have with whenua (land) and of the value placed upon the land within the culture.
The exhibition celebrates the mana (power) of the culture through taonga tuku iho (treasures handed down) such as the woven and carved works, waka (canoes), and whare (buildings) such as the meeting house Te Hau ki Turanga and the storehouse Te Takinga.
These taonga connect through whakapapa (genealogy) to living descendants and resonate through their voices in waiata (song) and kōrero (personal narratives). Contemporary Māori artworks explore and reinforce the continuum of tīpuna (ancestral) culture and whakapapa, linking past generations to present day descendants and the dynamics of cultural continuity.
Inside the body of Te Hau ki Turanga, one of the oldest and most significant meeting houses in existence, a sound and light presentation enables you to experience a unique perspective on the Māori world.
Mana Whenua is also about journeys and voyages through time. The ancestral voyages from Hawaiki, a distant place of origin, are presented through the story of Te Aurere, a modern voyaging waka. Ngāti Hinewaka, the people of Palliser Bay, narrate their experiences of reconstructing a 500-year-old wharepuni (domestic house).
The challenge of developing Mana Whenua
The unifying concept for the many themes and stories in Mana Whenua is whakapapa and identity, evoking an experience that Māori and many other peoples will readily identify with.
The exhibition has been, and continues to be, developed through extensive consultation and partnerships with iwi (tribes) regarding their treasures. Iwis' direct involvement in the selection, presentation, and interpretation of taonga acknowledges the living nature of taonga. It also ensures that the exhibition speaks with the mana (authority) of the people rather than from an 'other' perspective. The special relationship between Māori and their taonga is a vital dimension in the life of Te Papa Tongarewa now and into the future.
New Zealand exhibitions in China
While Mao’s cloak is on show here, two Te Papa exhibitions are touring China: Kura Pounamu: Treasured stone of Aotearoa New Zealand and Brian Brake: Lens on China and New Zealand. Both opened at the National Museum of China in Beijing on 31 October 2012. This marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China.
Learn more about the exhibitions Kura Pounamu and Brian Brake in China