Museum returns taiaha to its iwi

Te Runanga o Otakou chairwoman Rachel Wesley takes part in an official ceremony yesterday, when a...
Te Runanga o Otakou chairwoman Rachel Wesley takes part in an official ceremony yesterday, when a significant piece of Ngati Maniapoto history was returned to the North Island iwi by Otago Museum. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A taiaha once used to block Pakeha from entering what is now King Country, and later intended for Parliament as a symbol of peace, has been returned to Ngati Maniapoto by Otago Museum as part of the North Island iwi’s Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

Maori curator Dr Gerard O’Regan said there was no question the taiaha, known as Maungarongo, was an outstanding example of the long wooden weapons traditionally used by Maori.

The taiaha was particularly large and adorned with orange kaka feathers and white kuri (dog) fur, which marked its significance, he said.

However, it was its history — the people who once held it "and why"— that made it deeply significant.

The taiaha was once used by Ngati Maniapoto to defend its boundary in the 1860s.

In 1885, Ngati Maniapoto diplomat and leader Te Wahanui Reihana Te Huatare tried to have the weapon presented to Native Minister John Ballance so it could be housed in Parliament as a symbol of the peace established.

A debate followed and Parliament rejected it.

It was instead given to Port Chalmers MP James Macandrew, who brought it south to the Otago University Museum.

Recently, an approach had been made to the Otago Museum Trust board, which, with advice from the museum’s Maori advisory committee, decided the taonga should be returned to Ngati Maniapoto.

Ngati Maniapoto’s Te Nehenehenui Trust chairwoman Bella Takiari-Brame said having the taiaha return to Parliament was a priority for the iwi as part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

"We are pleased to see that Maungarongo is now, with the support of the Crown and Tuhura Otago Museum, being returned to its rightful place in Parliament," she said.

Yesterday morning, a group of iwi representatives from the North Island were joined at the museum by others living in Otago and Southland to receive the taonga at a special ceremony.

It would now be taken to Parliament, where it would be displayed for several years before returning north again to Ngati Maniapoto, the museum said.