Carved from totara and dated between the 14th and 16th centuries, Tangonge was discovered in 1920 when Lake Tangonge, between Kaitaia and Ahipara, was drained.
Auckland War Memorial Museum director Roy Clare says the piece is an important linking point in New Zealand’s history because of the difference in its form and style when compared to other carving that followed.
“Historically and culturally it is hugely significant, which is why it holds such an important place in our museum. It also holds massive significance for the people of Te Rarawa, Te Tai Tokerau and the Far North. The museum is very pleased that Tangonge is able to be shared with the people of Kaitaia and the surrounding communities through the Te Ahu Heritage Centre.”
“The return of the carving to the Far North is recognition of the bond this taonga forges between the museum as its custodian, the people of Te Rarawa, its spiritual guardians, and Te Ahu Heritage Centre.”
Haami Piripi, chair of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa, says housing the taonga in the Te Ahu Heritage Centre will ensure that all people of the region can have an association with it and its significance as a national treasure.
“When it was loaned to Te Rarawa for just one week the positive impact upon the spirit and morale of our people was clearly discernible. Now with this one year loan, this will make a major contribution to empowering iwi, an essential element for the community development of our whanau and hapu.”
Far North Regional Museum chairman Phil Cross says the loan is hugely significant for the Te Ahu Centre and the region.
“It’s so exciting for our curator Don Hammond and for me as chair of this little museum trust, someone who is totally besotted by securing its successes, that this loan is taking place. It is one of the most momentous things to happen and it is happening at the right time.
“With the museum opening in its new space in the Te Ahu Centre, with the security and professional processes in place, we are ready to receive the Kaitaia carving and look after it.”
Cross says when Tangonge was previously brought back to the region by the rununga for a short loan it was an incredibly positive experience for the community.
“It was an incredibly emotive, incredibly positive experience and one that created a real sense of pride. It is indicative of that ethos that unless you know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are going. The Kaitaia carving provides that sense of where things have come from .”
The taonga carving is of huge significance to people in the Far North; the carving is also seen as a very important work because it shows the evolution of Māori art from its origins in Polynesian styles.
The design structure, with its central figure and outward-facing manaia motifs at each end, is like later ‘pare’ or door lintels. Unique to the Kaitaia carving, both sides are fully carved for viewing, which suggests it may have stood over a gateway.
Earlier this year, Auckland Museum worked with Ngapuhi to share a precious greenstone mere, thought to have belonged to Hongi Hika, and three other taonga of local significance for the duration of the bi-annual Ngāpuhi Festival.
“It is very important to the relationship of people to our museum that we are able to explore and facilitate conversations with communities who have ancestral connections to taonga in our collections,” says Clare.
Taumata-a-Iwi representative Bernard Makoare says this is an exciting development for iwi and for the museum.
“Exploring relationships with communities related to significant taonga in the museum’s collections is exciting for the museum and indeed for those communities like the iwi of Te Rarawa and the Far North.”
The carving is spending a year at the Te Ahu Heritage centre in Kaitaia under the care of Te Rarawa iwi and will return to Auckland in autumn 2013.
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