Te Hono ki Hawaiki: the contemporary wharenui at Te Papa

The wharenui on our marae is called Te Hono ki Hawaiki. Like most wharenui design traditions, Te Hono ki Hawaiki does include elements that connect to the human form; the head, arms, legs, ribs, and spine. However, in this contemporary design, these wharenui building traditions are extended to encompass additional functions of its national museum context.

Te Hono ki Hawaiki

Te Hono ki Hawaiki is the focal point of the marae. It is located on level four of the museum and is accessible during opening hours unless it is in use for formal proceeding such as pōwhiri or whakatau or official events. 

The name of the wharenui is significant in its acknowledgment and connection to the
iwi o te motu as well as acknowledging our links throughout Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. Te Hono ki Hawaiki means The connections to Hawaiki.

Hawaiki is the name associated for many iwi as the ancestral spiritual origin. As a concept, it encompasses a wider network of connection beyond Aotearoa New Zealand, which can be seen in many expressions such as this example of an orator’s farewell to those who have passed:

E ngā mate, haere ki Hawaiki, Ki Hawaiki nui, ki Hawaiki roa, ki Hawaiki pāmamao.
To the dead, depart to Hawaiki, To great Hawaiki, to long Hawaiki, to distant Hawaiki.

Te Hono ki Hawaiki, Rongomaraeroa. Photo by Jane Harris. Te Papa

Rongomaraeroa and Te Hono ki Hawaiki are deliberately modern in their design and function, nevertheless they are taonga and are cared for by Te Papa in partnership with iwi. This ongoing care in partnership with iwi is underpinned by one of the museum’s foundational principles:  the ‘Mana Taonga Principle’ which asserts the rights of Māori through kawa and tikanga as fundamental to operating, maintaining, and upholding the mana of the marae.

The marae shall enhance the mission of the museum and embody the concept of mana taonga.

– Marae fit-out brief, 1992

Why did Cliff Whiting use MDF to make a wharenui?

Cliff Whiting on Rongomaraeroa. Photo by Te Papa (164737)

Papa Cliff wanted a material that was consciously different, sustainable, and presented new possibilities for forms and shapes, allowing wider community involvement, and whanaungatanga; Forty carvers were recruited from several polytechnics representing a diverse number of iwi.

“I wanted this house to be a radical step forward – a new style for a new millennium.

“Built on the past, of course, but these days we don't want to be cutting down taonga like tōtara trees, so I went for custom wood.

“Custom wood is marvellous to use, you can bend it and shape it – and if you don't like what you make you can chuck it away and have another go!

“Also using custom wood meant that some people who weren't experienced carvers could be involved, which is important to me.

“I wanted to make a marae for us all, for all New Zealanders and so I went for that material, and for styles, and colours, and a look that incorporated something from all the people who live here.”

– Cliff Whiting, 1998

Elements of Te Hono ki Hawaiki

View highlighted elements of the wharenui. This slideshow is best viewed full-screen.

Tekoteko – carved figure at the apex of the barge boards

The Tekoteko depicts the eponymous ancestor, in this case Māui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga (Māui). Māui is depicted with a heru, and is reciting karakia over the Tamanui-te-rā. Māui was chosen as the tekoteko of the house as he is a key figure who features in many Māori and wider pacific traditions of exploration, navigation, innovation, and mischievous deeds – ‘pushing back horizons’.

Koruru – the image of the ancestor’s head

The koruru of te Hono ki Hawaiki is Tamanui-te-rā he is depicted being subdued by Māui and his brothers as articulated in pūrākau Māori in order to slow him down in his journey across the sky in effect elongating our days like we experience in summer in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Maihi – the outstretched arms of the wharenui

The maihi of Te Hono ki Hawaiki depict at the tops the four brothers of Māui who feature in many pūrākau. From left to right: Māui-Pae (the calm one), Māui-Roto (the introvert), Māui-Waho, (the extrovert), and Māui-Mua, (the forward one). At the bottom of the mahi merging into the raparapa are the brothers fishing up Te Ika a Māui.

Raparapathe outstretched fingers of the wharenui

The raparapa is located at the end of the maihi and its imagery merges into the maihi and depicts – in reflection on both sides – four figures catching Te Ika a Māui. The matau can be experienced passing though the raparapa.   

Amo – the legs of wharenui

These key front-facing carvings represent the legs of the wharenui and acknowledge the mana whenua of Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Te Upoko-o-te-ika-a-Māui.
The amo on the left represents Te Āti Awa Taranaki whānui. The amo on the right represents is Ngāti Toa Rangatira.         

Roro – entrance wall of the house

However, in this contemporary interpretation, it takes the form of an open house/stage/platform and is a combination of Roro and Mahau (front porch area within the amo).

This dynamic space plays multiple roles and accommodates these various purposes – there are two figures depicted in line with the tatau that represent masculine and feminine entities.    

Tatau – the doorway into the body of the wharenui

The tatau in this contemporary form is an open archway that conceptually depicts the legs of Tāne thrusting upwards an arched beam – as in the pūrākau separating Ranginui and Papatūānuku.

Tāhuhu – the spine of the wharenui

The tāhuhu is the ridgepole of the wharenui and many key pūrākau through atua and a ancestral figures. From the front of the wharenui to the back:

  1. Hinauri o te Marama is the sister of Māui and Irawaru (as a kurī – dog).

  2. Hine-tītama, the dawn, the first human, the daughter of Tāne and Hine-ahu-one who binds earthly night to earthly day.

  3. Hine-nui-te-pō, the guardian of death, and is the suspended figure above the arch in the wharenui. She is flanked by two of her messengers who were Namu poto (sandfly) and Waeroa (mosquito).

  4. Te Māngōroa – the Milkyway.

Heke –the ribs of the Wharenui
The heke of the wharenui are a series of apex beams along the house that utilise kōwhaiwhai painted designs and feature an array of vibrant colours and floating figures.

Poupou – the carved wall posts of the wharenui

The Poupou of this wharenui take a contemporary form as they are designed to represent the various iwi and imi of Aotearoa New Zealand. The tukutuku panels that would traditionally be interspersed with the poupou line the ātea walls.   

Plaques with iwi and ancestors can be found at the base of pou in the wharenui, and have been added to over time usually as part of our Iwi-in-residence programme.

Ngāti Raukawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Kurī, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Kāi Tahu, Whanganui, and Moriori are represented currently.  

Tukutuku – decorative woven panels of the wharenui

The tukutuku panels would traditionally be lattice panels interspersed with the poupou within the wharenui area depicting various relationships and pūrākau about te taiao and ancestral feats.

This contemporary interpretation of ‘tukutuku’ takes the form of larger wall panels designed and led by Sandy Adsett alongside students from Toihoukura, The Māori School of Design at the Tairāwhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne.