First Floor, Foyer entrance
The gallery focuses on that body of knowledge called matauranga, which includes Maori scientific and technological knowledge and expertise.
Even before entering the gallery, the visitor is introduced to the world of the Maori. Sight and sound are used to present a Maori view of the creation of the universe and of the two primal parents, Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuanuku (the sky mother). This "origins" theme continues on entry. Ranginui is portrayed as a Maori star map featuring the Maori names of major stars and constellations of the southern sky.
Beneath lies Papatuanuku, represented as the isthmus of Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland). Visitors are able to walk over this topographical recreation, which describes the creation of this landscape, depicts the routes of the first canoes and recounts the deeds and stories of the ancestors of the lands first settlers. The narrative of Te Ika a Maui or Mauis fish, which provides an indigenous explanation for the origin and shape of the North Island, is also displayed here. Nearby, exhibits discuss the second theme of the "Polynesian legacy" of the first settlers. A map shows the origin of the plants and animals that were transported by the ancestors throughout the Pacific to Aotearoa.
The gallery then spirals outwards to focus on the four environmental realms of importance to Maori: Rongo (the personification of cultivated foods, particularly kumara), featuring a stone garden; Haumia, featuring native food plant species, especially the bracken fern and ti (cabbage tree) to illustrate Maori approaches to ecology and cultivation; Tangaroa, including fresh water and marine displays; and Tane, the personification of forest, trees, birds and insects.
Completing the gallery is a trio of pou (carvings) representing the three local tribes associated with Maori governance (Taumata-a-Iwi) of the Museum: Ngati Whatua, Ngati Paoa, and Tainui. Alongside the pou is a large hoanga or grindstone and the incisions within it represent the presence of humans as an integral and inseparable part of the rest of the biophysical world. It therefore serves as a powerful metaphor for this gallery, emphasising that in a Maori world view there is no distinction between "natural" or "cultural".
To Maori, supernatural beings and ancestors have always been here, helping to create and shape the landscape - and continue to do so to this day. This spiritual aspect, which is inextricably interwoven with the rich store of scientific knowledge and expertise acquired by Maori about their environment, helps make this gallery a unique experience.
Te Ao Turoa or the Maori Natural History Gallery, has been developed to provide visitors with an opportunity for learning something about Maori knowledge and understanding of what is referred to by others as the natural world.