The surprising and illuminating tools of trade and exchange that defined the era of Tupaia and the Endeavour

Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum opened the exhibition Voyage to Aotearoa: Tupaia and the Endeavour to commemorate Tuia 250. Taonga selected from across the Museum's collections communicated themes, like trade and exchange, as a part of Tupaia’s role as navigator and translator for Cook and his crew. Including Tupaia’s perspectives in the exhibition sought to balance the Cook-centric narrative of the first encounter with tangata whenua on Aotearoa shores.

The display of trade beads, nails and matau (fish hook) presents the narrative of first contact trading between the Tahitians, tangata whenua and crew of the HMB Endeavour.

Image credit (above): Parkinson, Sydney. Various kinds of Instruments Utensils & of the Inhabitants of New Zealand with some ornaments of the People of Terra del Fuego of New Holland. A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's ship, the Endeavour, 1773. Plate XXVI.

Up-cycling: Tangata whenua adaptations

Tangata whenua adapted the iron nails to form matau much like the image of the jawbone gifted to Maui. Large iron nails were reshaped into chisels, drills and weapon tips as seen in the metal nails that forms the shank of a traditional pa kahawai featured in the exhibition Voyage to Aotearoa. The beads were stripped and used as colourful adornments on kakahu (clothing) or as ear pendants.[1]

Consequently, the stability and longevity of selectively adapted resources incorporated into everyday objects would create this new type of taonga. They too would be passed down through generations as reminders of both the ancient as well as the new legends of navigating through the Pacific.


[1] Stenders, K. and Aitken, S. (2018). The Pacific in the Wake of Captain Cook, with Sam Neill. Essential Media and Entertainment Pty Ltd.

Image credit (above):  Te matau me te mētara, Trade and Exchange case – Voyage to Aoteraroa: Tupaia and the Endeavour. 

Catch the last days of Voyage to Aotearoa: Tupaia and the Endeavour, only at Auckland Museum.


Trade Beads and Nails by Taila Roth - L.A Spedding Associate Curator, Māori, Human History. Published March 2020.