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 Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre

A new space to remember

Auckland Museum Staff
Sun, 9 Oct 2016

Uncle Ralph. That’s who weaver Beronia Scott (Ngāti Whātua) thought of as she harvested the flax and then wove it into the panels that will form part of the Museum’s new permanent gallery: Pou Maumahara Memorial Discovery Centre.

The te reo Māori name for the centre comes from the word 'Pou' which means sign or post and is a reference to all the cenotaphs that have been built around New Zealand as a lasting way to commemorate those who fought for their country.

Beronia Scott, who led the weaving for Pou Maumahara, said she deliberately invited more weavers to be involved because she wanted the woven panels to "have as many hands on them as possible".

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Opening in November this year, Pou Maumahara is being created as a space not only to remember our servicemen and women, but also to learn more about them and discover their individual stories.

It will be an enduring legacy of the First World War centenary period - a reminder that no matter how many years pass we need to remember the personal stories and sacrifices of war.

While the Museum’s Online Cenotaph already offers people a way to research and learn more about New Zealanders who served their country, Pou Maumahara will be the physical home of the online database and will allow people to make more tangible connections with their stories.

Curator Georgina White describes Pou Maumahara as "at heart, a research space" and says it will encourage and enable visitors to make their own discoveries and get to know the stories behind the names etched on the Museum walls.

"Though Online Cenotaph can be accessed anywhere, the Museum experience will be unique. Only in Pou Maumahara will visitors be able to talk with and ask questions of our expert staff, access subject-specific books and connect the Online Cenotaph records to physical objects from our collections."

These tangible collections will include hundreds of New Zealand war medals, each one connected to a unique story that visitors can explore using interactive digital displays.

Pou Maumahara will also be a hub for collecting information. The team developing the space hope it will encourage people to think about how they can contribute to the records held in Online Cenotaph and to grow what is known about our service personnel and the conflicts they fought in.

"I hope that visitors to Pou Maumahara feel excited about the potential for discovering stories in the hidden detail of objects, so much so that they want to rush home and re-examine the treasures they've stored in shoeboxes in their attics," says curator Georgina White.

Items like photos, letters, postcards and diaries from servicemen and women provide an incredible window into the different experiences of war, and they can help fill in the blanks for some individual records where very little is known about the person.

The woven panels for Pou Maumahara took months to harvest and weave with ten weavers from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei in Auckland and help from weavers in Whangarei.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

"Uncle Ralph" - or Te Rauparaha Cullen - is one of those servicemen with only a few details in his Online Cenotaph record but his descendant Beronia Scott had him in mind as she designed and wove the flax that will adorn Pou Maumahara’s walls.

"I was totally honoured to be able to do this work. I thought of my uncle whose name is on the wall of the Museum. I looked him up in the Online Cenotaph too and there’s not much there, but I hope we can add more. I want to see his photo in there."

Her design for Pou Maumahara uses the kaokao or warrior pattern which reminded her of the chevron emblems on the New Zealand soldiers’ arms. She has also used the putiputi or flower woven in red to represent the poppies. Another panel features the putiputi poppies without the colour.

"The poppies in the natural colours are for the people who didn’t come home - that panel reminds me of the whenua, of the land they lie in now."

When Pou Maumahara opens to the public, the woven panels will frame a stage where the faces and stories of servicemen and women will play on a screen. Perhaps, one day, it will play Te Rauparaha Cullen’s story.