In August, Dr Kahutoi Te Kanawa, weaver and Pou Ārahi Curator Māori at Auckland Museum led a changeout of the textiles cases in Te Marae Ātea Māori Court. 

Visitors will now be able to come in and engage with taonga of a similar nature, while the previous items have some much-needed time off display for conservation. 

Along with a new selection of textiles are brand new labels, in te reo Māori and English which bring the taonga tuku iho (special knowledge and skills) of these garments and personal effects to life.  

Why the change?

Why the change?

Items on display in Museums are at greater risk of degradation than if they are stored in specialised conditions intended to preserve their present state. It’s best practice to change out cases regularly to ensure the items are well looked after.  

This is especially true with textiles. Before the introduction of synthetic materials, textiles would not have been expected to last forever. Clothing, and other personal effects such as bags and hats made from natural fibres all face an inevitable process of disintegration. These items face greater risk from the threats of pests, environmental exposure, degradation of their organic materials, along with the added pressure of everyday wear and tear. Though not being worn or used, items in Museum cases are no exception to the threat of decay.  

We have a responsibility to care for the taonga in our care correctly, to preserve the items themselves as well as the knowledge they hold. The textile cases in Te Marae Ātea Māori Court hold invaluable examples of traditional Māori creation and provide insight to an often-underrepresented facet of life.  

The role of these cases

The role of these cases

When telling the story of a group of people, significant points of pride or pain may stand out, however the day-to-day reality that intersperses these moments hasn’t always made it into museum cases. It’s important to question the narratives we see woven together through items on display and their accompanying labels. Particularly in a colonial context, we might see weaponry and relics of warfare taking pride of place, and the nuances of culture and society left out of the picture altogether.  

The textiles cases are an especially important component of Te Marae Ātea Māori Court, providing visitors a glimpse into the rich textile arts, and symbols of social life in te ao Māori. Demonstrating these skills is an integral part of displaying a fair representation of a group of individuals with unique hopes, ambitions, and capabilities.  

Textiles both then and now

Textiles both then and now

The examples of textiles in the cases aren’t ancient artefacts from another era, but components of a cultural practice that continues to exist against centuries of colonial suppression. The burden of colonialism doesn’t fall equally upon its subjects, and with the imposition of British rule wahine Māori were not only disenfranchised politically, but also increasingly alienated from traditional skills and knowledge built up over generations. Weaving, practiced mostly by wahine, was forced into decline by the new colonial structures.  

However, from the mid-twentieth century a group of dedicated and determined women sparked a revival movement of traditional Māori artforms, weaving and fibre arts in particular.  

The textiles display cases are an invitation for Museum visitors to engage with the taonga tuku iho that produced the items inside, and a challenge to carry on the legacy of women such as Dame Rangimarie Hetet and her daughter Dr Diggeress Rangituatahi Te Kanawa, Kahutoi’s grandmother and mother, who championed the Māori weaving revival.  

A bilingual kōrero

A bilingual kōrero

Our goal as a museum is to make visitors feel welcomed and make sure they are supported to learn from the displays. An important element of this kaupapa is to present labels in both English and te reo Māori.  

Language is integral to sharing stories, generational knowledge, and cultural practice. The taonga tuku iho required to create all manner of textile products used by Māori were developed and refined over generations of experimentation and practice. Presenting this information in te reo Māori is an important part of acknowledging the communities that produced the taonga on display, and making sure they have access to their heritage, and can use it as a foundation for future growth.  

On your next visit to the Museum, be sure to stop by Te Marae Ātea Māori Court and check out the changes. 

We're incrementally updating this gallery. Stay tuned for new displays and interactives coming soon.