By Emily Norman
An exhibition featuring hundreds of Ngati Kahungunu artefacts is hoped to create a platform of “deep enduring peace” between the iwi and the Crown.
Te Marae o Rongotaketake — Redressing our Kahungunu History opened at dawn this morning at Aratoi Museum of Art and History in Masterton.
It is the largest exhibition of the iwi’s taonga ever to be displayed, featuring more than 200 historical items including a 7.5m waka, 12 Gottfried Lindauer portraits of influential Kahungunu leaders, and an intricately carved wahaika (hand club) on loan from the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles.
Aratoi acting director Susanna Shadbolt said the exhibition was significant as it corresponded with the Treaty settlement between Ngati Kahungunu and the Crown.
“Aratoi Museum is incredibly honoured that, after a 30-year process, the initialling of the deed will occur here at our museum, in late May,” she said.
“While the exhibition has a strong historical link to Kahungunu’s repudiation of the Crown’s land purchases, with 2.5 million acres taken under duress, the exhibition is as much about the future as the past, and is more about harmony than conflict.”
The word ‘Rongotaketake’ in the exhibition title translates as ‘enduring peace’.
Haami Te Whaiti, curator of the exhibition as well as treaty negotiator with Kahungunu, said this peace spoke to the iwi’s future relationships with the Crown and the community in Wairarapa.
“The exhibition aims to publicly present the Treaty settlement to both the iwi community and the wider public,” he said.
The “exhibition-as-marae” is interspersed with key Kahungunu narratives and uses the powhiri process to guide the visitor through the museum experience, complete with karanga, whaikorero, followed by a coming together, including the use of the kihini or kitchen space as a place of learning and socialising.
Visitors to Aratoi will be able to discover and relearn some of the key events that happened during this historical period – the loss and disenfranchisement, as well as the iwi’s hopes and aspirations post-settlement, Mr Te Whaiti said.
Project Leader Marcus Boroughs said the process for the development of the exhibition began two years ago, but a lot of focus on the curation had been over the past 18 months.
He said the most challenging part of the process was bringing together the many stories that had come out of Ngati Kahungunu’s treaty claim process, and using the pieces in the exhibition to tell those stories.
“The exhibition has a certain sense of being bittersweet,” Mr Boroughs said.
“We’re revisiting some incredibly powerful stories about people and what happened in the middle of the 19th century which tends to be forgotten.
“Out of that comes the opportunity to heal within the community.”
He said there was a certain “energy” that built around the taonga when they came together.
The exhibition runs from April 8 to September 3 this year, and fills the entire museum.