condensed discuss document expanded export feedback print share remove reset document_white enquire_white export_white report_white


Caring for a collection: everyday objects from Te Awe

Caring for a collection: everyday objects from Te Awe

by Awhina Rawiri-Erick and Jenna Dudley
Wed, 20 May 2015

Te Awe is a project work space on the ground floor of the Museum just around the corner from our He Taonga Māori gallery. Through the glass doors, you can watch as staff work to care for the collections through conservation, documentation, photography and digitisation. This work will improve our records to make the collection more accessible to communities and get the taonga ready in preparation for gallery renewal projects.

We've just achieved our first major milestone on the Te Awe project - processing and preparing all the personal possessions, the everyday 'practical' tools and utensils or taputapu that have been stored on the Lundia shelving. These sit on the mezzanine of the Carving Store, and it means we are now set to tackle the ground floor which houses mainly architectural carvings and waka (canoes).

Today we share with you some of the highlights of the taputapu and our conservation notes. They all display the incredible workmanship that went into making these objects, emphasising perfectly how talented, skilful and technologically advanced our ancestors were.

Taha huahua, purchased in 1892

Taha huahua were used to hold preserved foods such as birds and were highly prized. The materials used to create this taha huahua include hue (gourd, dried and hollowed out), wood (carved supports), woven harakeke (flax) supporting frame and hawk feather bundles.

Taha huahua were used to hold preserved foods such as birds.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 208.

Conservation notes by Kararaina Te Ira

  • Spots of a greyish substance are on the hue's external surface (possibly fat or grease from the preserved birds that were once stored inside).
  • At every tripod leg there were bundles of kahu feathers.
  • Only one tripod leg has the full feathered bundle remaining. The other two legs only hold the barbs from the full feathered bundles (see my feather structure diagram to identify this structural element), possibly due to some insects feasting on the feathers.
  • The woven mat that surrounds the hue has a few holes but it is still securely in place.

Structure of feathers, sketch by Kararaina Te Ira.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Hue, accessioned in 1950

Hue were commonly used to hold water or preserved food. The hue or gourd, is made from a cultivated fruit which was dried and hollowed to create a hard-shelled versatile container.

The hue were the equivalent for our Māori ancestors of the plastic containers we use for food today.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 33313.1 and 33313.2.

Conservation notes by Kararaina Te Ira

  • A fibre rope with wooden toggles on either end connects these two hue. The wooden toggles are anchored through each hue opening.
  • For storage, since they are bound together they need to stay and move together as if they are one taonga. This resulted in a mount being made for them; which decreases the chances of either hue colliding with each other during transport or while in storage.

Our sketch plan for a storage solution.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Rou kakahi, accessioned in 1907

Rou kakahi were used to harvest fresh water kakahi (mussels). The frame was attached to a handle and dragged across the lake floor where the net bag collected the kakahi.

Unpacking and unrolling the net revealed how fragile and friable the material was.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 5171.

Conservation notes by Karin Konold

  • The object was found rolled up in a plastic bag. Unpacking and unrolling revealed how fragile and friable the net was with some areas broken or missing. The plant material is overall brittle and deformed. The object will need further treatment.
  • Structural stabilisation: For fractures in the woven structure a repair technique will be devised that strengthens the structure. The deformed net might be treated with water, steam or humectants to relax the plant fibres and retain its original form. Once the net is stable it can be cleaned from surface dust.

Teka, accessioned in 1931

The teka (or step) was lashed to a kō (digging implement) and used for agricultural work. This teka is made from whalebone therefore may have been a ceremonial teka.

A teka is a step, and this one would have been lashed to a digging implement.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Ethnology 16477.

Conservation notes by Kararaina Te Ira

  • The flat top end is extremely porous where degradation is occurring (a healthy bone matrix is naturally porous, but not to the point where the whole bone structure is brittle).
  • Orange colouring is present in highly porous areas, possibly from staining.

These cross sections through whale bone help us determine the strength and structure of this teka.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Further reading

  • Post by: Awhina Rawiri-Erick and Jenna Dudley

    Awhina and Jenna are Te Awe's Collection Information technicians. They take over from the conservators to take measurements, record any inscriptions or attached labels, and to photograph the taonga. Besides producing digital images, they're responsible for ensuring all Auckland Museum-held source information on a taonga is cross-checked, verified, and reconciled across its sources.

Discuss this article

Join the discussion about this article by posting your response on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #amdiscuss.