Te Papa pounamu exhibition opens in the heart of Paris

19 May 2017

An exhibition of more than 200 pounamu treasures opens in Paris on May 22nd showcasing some precious pieces of Aotearoa in the heart of the French capital.

La pierre sacrée des Māori (Sacred stone of the Māori) opens at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac on 22 May and will be open until 1 October.

The exhibition, created by Te Papa, working closely with Ngāi Tahu, features pounamu taonga from all tribal areas of New Zealand.

It tells the story of this most precious of stones, its significance for Māori, and its enduring value from ancient times until today.

The pounamu mauri stone on Te Papa’s marae is a focal point for visitors. For Māori, mauri is the life force that exists in and connects all things. Te Papa

The exhibition includes some very rare cultural treasures, including some 95 hei tiki (pendants in human form), 20 mere (weapons), and four large pounamu touchstones, the largest of which Te Hurikaweighs in at 170kg.

The earliest pounamu pieces in the exhibition may be the toki (adze blades), tools used for working wood. Some are thought originate from early settlement times some 700-800 years ago, and replicate East Polynesian adze shapes.

Te Papa Kaihautū (Māori co-leader) Dr Arapata Hakiwai said the museum was delighted to bring La pierre sacrée des Māori to Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac

“We are delighted to bring some the most precious treasures of New Zealand to the heart of the French capital,” Dr Hakiwai said.

Lisa Tumahai, interim Kaiwhakahaere, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu says that throughout Māori history pounamu has been regarded as a taonga and many share a strong spiritual connection with the stone.

“It’s great that these beautiful taonga can be shared around the world through this exciting exhibition.

“Pounamu rights were returned to Ngāi Tahu in 1997 and we are now the guardians for pounamu in Te Waipounamu,” she says.

The Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac is delighted to be the first museum in Europe to host the exhibition.

“Our museum has strong and intense ties with New Zealand cultural institutions, illustrated by photographic acquisitions of New Zealand artists such as Michael Parekowhai and Fiona Pardington, and by the exhibition Māori. Leurs trésors ont une âme (Their treasures have a soul) presented here by Te Papa in 2011.”

La pierre sacrée des Maori (The sacred Maori stone) is undoubtedly an important part of the rich program of the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac,” says the museum.

Te Papa Kaihautū Dr Hakiwai also recognised the long-standing ties between Quai Branly and New Zealand.

“At the time of the Māori exhibition we strengthened our close ties with our colleagues here in Paris,” Dr Hakiwai said.

“These connections led to a major repatriation of human remains from the collections of the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, and other French museums, to New Zealand in 2012.”


About the exhibition

The exhibition known in New Zealand as Kura Pounamu, Treasured stone of Aotearoa New Zealand was shown at Te Papa from September 2009 to July 2011. It was then reworked for touring internationally and was shown at five venues in China from November 2012 to June 2014.

About pounamu (greenstone)

In 1997, the Ngāi Tahu iwi were recognised as the owner of all naturally occurring pounamu within their large tribal area in New Zealand’s South Island, which is known in Māori as Te Wai Pounamu: the greenstone waters. Today, the people of Ngāi Tahu have resumed their special role as the owners and guardians of pounamu.

For centuries, Māori have prized pounamu for tools, weapons, adornments, and as a symbol of prestige and authority. For Māori, pounamu remains a potent symbol of cultural identity.

There are two systems for classifying pounamu. Geologically, the name pounamu refers to three different types of stone: nephrite, bowenite, and serpentinite. Māori classify pounamu by appearance.

Pounamu is found only in the South Island of New Zealand, Te Wai Pounamu (the greenstone waters). It begins its journey in the rock where it is formed, then is slowly ‘freed’ by erosion. Most pounamu settles in riverbeds, and some is carried out to sea and scattered along the coast.

About Te Papa

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa opened in 1998 as an innovative bicultural museum for the people of New Zealand. It is known globally for its bold, interactive style of storytelling. At the heart of Te Papa is the partnership between the indigenous Māori people and Pākeha, or non-Māori New Zealanders.

The name Te Papa Tongarewa can be translated as the place where treasured things are held.

Te Papa is a multi-disciplinary museum: it is the national museum for science and culture, and it holds New Zealand’s national art collection.

The museum is the kaitiaki (guardian) of the world’s largest collections of Māori artefacts, and honours the links between these taonga (treasures) and the communities they are connected with.

Included in this work is the repatriation programme, which identifies Māori human remains that are held in overseas collections, and returns them to New Zealand, and where possible, to their iwi (tribe).

The museum occupies a six-storey building on the waterfront of New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. In a country of only four million people, Te Papa welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors a year, making it one of New Zealand’s leading tourist attractions.

About the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac

The museum, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, occupies a stunning modern structure designed by Jean Nouvel.

Its collection is focused on the arts and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

The musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac has a mission to create bridges between cultures, enabling visitors discover or rediscover civilizations of the four continents. It is both a museum and a center of teaching and research: a forum open to the world presenting artistic, cultural and scientific events, with varied levels of interpretation and approach.

About Ngāi Tahu

Ngāi Tahu are a resilient, entrepreneurial people who made their home in South Island of New Zealand over 800 years ago. Their ancestors were the first long distance seafarers, riding the ocean currents and navigating by stars on voyaging waka (canoes) from Hawaiki Nui. They populated the islands of the South Pacific eventually making their way to New Zealand.

In the 21st century, Ngāi Tahu identity continues to evolve and adapt as it has always done. The responsibility of current generations is to honour the deeds and values of their tīpuna (ancestors) and to create an inheritance for future generations. Ngāi Tahu has a responsibility to be steward; to grow and use the resources they have fought to reclaim through their Treaty of Waitangi Settlement in order to achieve the culturally rich, boundless future their tīpuna dreamed they could achieve.

Media contact

Zara Potts, Communications Manager
029 601 0180